Lindsey pulled up to the curb, killed the Accord’s engine, and glanced out the passenger-side window. The house was small and well-kept, and the surrounding neighborhood agreeably upper middle class. The newish Lexus ES 350 in the driveway said her prospective clients had money–not millions or anything, but more than enough to afford her services.
She got out of the car and went around to the trunk. She popped it open and made a face at the awful stench that wafted up from the dark enclosure. It was a pungent mix of the worst fart overlaid with rotting meat and old garbage.
“Jesus,” she said, covering her mouth. “Can’t you control that?”
Within the trunk, lying face-up, was a jumbo-sized Raggedy Ann doll that had seen better days. Its pinkish cotton face was pocked with moth holes, its once-bright dress dirty and stained. Only the red yarn that served as its hair retained its original color.
Adramelech’s voice drifted up from the doll, faint and irritated. “You know I can’t help it,” the demon said. “You keep a demon in physical form, you get the stink. That’s just the way it is. Maybe you shouldn’t stick me in a small, enclosed space.”
“And have that stench up front with me? No thanks,” she said. “Hey, switch to silent mode. It’s almost show time.”
Are we doing this again? Lindsey heard Adramelech’s voice in her head now, as she’d requested. It wasn’t quite telepathy. He couldn’t read her thoughts, just like she couldn’t read his, but they could “hear” each other when they wanted. It’s demeaning, you know. I’m a demon of the first order, a goddamn chancellor of Hell. I’m not some bullshit scare artist.
Lindsey stifled a chuckle. Chancellor, my ass. I’ve read de Plancy. He says you were nothing more than Satan’s fashion consultant.
She could feel Adramelech’s anger surge against the back of her brain, a red haze of demonic power that would be terrifying if she didn’t have complete control over its source.
De Plancy was an asshole and a liar, Adramelech said. His voice was a droning buzz, like a thousand angry flies. Most of what’s in the Dictionnaire Infernal he got from Titivillus, the biggest fucking liar in Hell, and I don’t need to tell you that’s saying something. I commanded fifteen infernal legions, and I was the—
Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard this before, Lindsey cut the demon off. You were a big deal in Hell. Well, if that was the case, maybe you should have stayed there rather than acting like the boogeyman in a cheap horror flick. She’d had Adramelech for five years, acquiring him in the one and only case in her entire parapsychology career that actually was supernatural.
Don’t be a bitch, Adramelech said, a noticeable pout softening his insectile rasp. Eternity is boring. Possession breaks the monotony. How was I to know you would know the one spell that (a) actually works and (b) would bind me to this stupid doll?
When she’d encountered Adramelech and the college girls he’d been tormenting, she had immediately realized the opportunity. She’d performed an exorcism that contained a bit of Haitian voodoo mixed into the Latin. The exorcism was for show; the Haitian spell, however, had trapped Adramelech in the doll he’d been using to terrorize sorority row for the term of sixty-six years. The spell also bound him to her will for that same period of time.
Self-pity is an unbecoming trait in a demon, Lindsey said. Face it. You’re stuck, and this is how I—check that, we—make a living. She scooped the doll out of the trunk and held it up, staring into the vacant depths of its glassy eyes. Don’t make me give you a command. We’re past that now, aren’t we?
Adramelech was silent for a moment, and she could feel his anger festering in the back of her mind like an old wound. Fine, the demon said at last, and she felt his anger fade. What’s the play?
Good boy. Lindsey walked up the driveway toward the front door, cradling the doll in her arms. She told people the doll housed her “spirit medium,” a friendly Native American soul who helped her identify and remove supernatural activity. Most clients ate that shit up. Those that didn’t just thought the doll was weird, but accepted it as part of the whole kooky parapsychologist thing.
It’s pretty typical, Lindsey said to the demon. A couple of yuppies are hearing noises—rattling, babies crying, that kind of stuff—and smelling smoke when there’s no fire. They’ve got overactive imaginations, and they’re convinced their home is haunted. We are just going to make sure they believe it one-hundred percent before we leave. Then we come back, do the clearing, collect the fee, and we’re down the road.
Babies crying? Smoke? Adramelech said.
Lindsey detected a hint of interest from the demon and stopped a few yards from the front door. Does that mean something to you?
Nope, Adramelech said. It’s just out of the ordinary.
Lindsey stood for a moment, trying to tell if the demon was lying to her. He could still do that, despite the spell that bound him to her service. Adramelech hadn’t held anything back from her as far as she knew, but he was still a demon, and fair dealing wasn’t exactly in his nature. She elected to hedge her bets with a bribe.
Look, if this thing goes smoothly, we’ll pick up another season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the way home. To keep the demon occupied, she often set his doll in front of the TV and let him watch what he wanted. Adramelech’s tastes ran to reality shows and anything that dealt with the supernatural, which the demon found howlingly funny. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of his favorites.
Really? Adramelech’s eagerness was naked. Season four?
Yep. Just do you part, help me without any bitching, and you’ve got twenty-plus hours of Sarah Michelle Gellar and company headed your way. Lindsey suppressed a smile. She knew the demon would take the bait.
Deal, Adramelech said.
“And when did the disturbances begin, Sandy?” Lindsey said, directing her question to the short, mousy woman seated on the couch across from her. Lindsey had set Adramelech in the loveseat next to her so he could see and hear everything happening in the Miller’s living room. Right now he was looking at Mrs. Miller, who was hands-down the most ordinary-looking human Adramelech had ever seen. Her soul was a bunch of vanilla custard dumped inside a boring sad-sack body.
“About a month ago,” Robert Miller said before his wife could speak. He was seated next to her, one hand resting lightly on her leg. Whereas Sandy Miller was white-bread dull, her husband was a malignant diamond–his soul was a lump of black slime pulsating in the middle of his chest: wretched, warped, and wonderful. To put it in no uncertain terms, Robert Miller was a monster to make a demon proud.
“Uh huh.” Lindsey nodded. “Can you describe the events?” She glanced at Adramelech’s doll seated on the loveseat next to her. You getting anything? she thought at him.
Adramelech considered telling Lindsey about Robert Miller, but then decided against it. It was a small rebellion, but small rebellions were all he had. Nope. This place is clean as a nun’s twat, he said.
Gross. Let me know if that changes.
“Well, we started hearing noises a week ago,” Sandy Miller said. “Bumps in the wall, and what sounded like babies crying in the middle of the night.”
“That’s pretty common with a haunting,” Lindsey said, nodding sagely. “Anything else?”
“The smoke,” Robert Miller said. “Like I told you on the phone, we’ve been smelling smoke in the house for the past week. Like burnt pork or something.”
“Do you think we’re haunted?” Mrs. Miller asked, her eyes wide and fearful.
“I’ll do a thorough investigation of your home, Mrs. Miller,” Lindsey said. “I’ll determine if a supernatural presence is the source of your problems. If there is a paranormal factor, I will remove it.”
Adramelech had heard Lindsey lay down her shtick a dozen times, scaring gullible idiots into paying thousands of dollars to be rid of ghosts. It was all nonsense, of course. There were no ghosts. Human souls didn’t linger; they went to Heaven or Hell as intended. The few real hauntings were just bored demons creating havoc for kicks. That’s what he’d been doing when Lindsey trapped him.
Still, Adramelech’s interest piqued at some of the details of this case. It wasn’t your typical bump-in-the-night bullshit. In fact, it was pretty damn specific . . . and familiar. He moved his focus away from the Lindsey and the Millers, scanning the house. He was supposed to be waiting for cues from Lindsey to shake some picture frames, rattle the floor boards, or even throw his voice down the hall. It was all the demon mojo he could muster in his current form–well, and the stink, which he could control, but told Lindsey otherwise to fuck with her.
He wanted to turn his head, but moving the doll so overtly would piss off Lindsey. Still, he had other senses beyond sight and hearing. It only took a few seconds to locate the other. It was a familiar sensation, comforting almost. It’d been a long time since he’d encountered another demon.
You look ridiculous, Adramelech, Baal said from across the room, revealing himself as a shadowy bat-winged shape hunched on the floor next to Mr. Miller, visible only to Adramelech. One smoky, spade-claw hand was wrapped around the man’s leg, and Adramelech could feel Baal’s corruption worming its way through the human’s body and soul. He was instantly jealous.
Have pity, Adramelech said. I’m trapped like this for another sixty years.
We’re demons. We don’t have pity. Who’s the woman? Baal said, nodding his shadowy head toward Lindsey.
Parapsychologist and charlatan, Adramelech said. She’s studied some real demonology, though, so be careful.
Bullshit, Baal said. She’s no priest.
Suit yourself, Adramelech said. If you wind up bound to a My Pretty Pony, don’t complain to me. Baal’s bravado wasn’t entirely unwarranted; he was a demon of the first order, a Great Duke who commanded sixty legions in the infernal army. Of course that army hadn’t done jack shit since the beginning of time, leaving one of its most important generals free to slum it on Earth.
You working for her or something? Baal said. His eyes flashed crimson in the wispy darkness of his face. That’s kind of pathetic.
Look, I’m making the best of a bad situation, Adramelech replied. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t piss on my parade.
Are you going to tell her about me? Mr. Miller has given me quite a bit of enjoyment.
I won’t say anything if I don’t have to, Adramelech said. What’s this guy’s deal anyway? His soul looks like liquefied dog shit. You do that?
Baal laughed. Found him that way. All I’ve been doing is nudging him a bit, adding some spice to that rotten little soul of his.
Hey! You paying attention? Lindsey’s voice broke into Adramelech’s mind.
Adramelech pushed Baal’s thoughts away and focused on Lindsey. I’m here. I don’t think hubby is convinced yet, he said. Robert Miller’s eyes were locked on Lindsey, and his right hand was clenching and unclenching the arm of his chair.
Understood, Lindsey said. I’ll look for a way to nudge him along. Be ready.
“I think it might help if I were to show you where the disturbances are most common, Ms. Wallace,” Robert Miller said. The eagerness in his voice was unmistakable, and Adramelech could feel the surge of malice in the room. It was like sweet perfume, the subtle scent of human evil that was ambrosia to a demon.
My boy’s about to make his pitch, Baal said.
“Yes, please,” Mrs. Miller said, also quite eager. “Maybe something will happen while you’re here.”
“Okay, um, where have the disturbances been concentrated?” Lindsey said.
“The basement,” Robert Miller answered. “I have a workshop down there–I like to tinker a bit–and I’ve smelled smoke and heard strange noises more times than I can count.”
These two are starting to creep me out, Lindsey said to Adramelech. You getting any weird vibes?
She’s talking to you, isn’t she? Baal said. She’s getting nervous, right?
Adramelech was silent for a moment, weighing his options. He replied to Lindsey, stalling for time. Nah, they’re fine. I’ll see about making some noise in the basement when you get down there.
Nice, Lindsey said. That should seal the deal.
Why don’t we work together on this one? Baal said, his eyes glinting. His excitement caused him to become more visible, revealing the scaly ruin of his face. Baal was ugly even by demonic standards.
A tempting offer, Adramelech admitted. But after, could you free me? He tried not to sound too desperate.
He saw something that looked like a frown in the shifting mass of shadows that made up Baal’s face. No, the demon said after a long pause, and Adramelech knew it was the truth. But we could make your handler pay, Baal added. That was the truth too, and the malevolence in Baal’s voice was immensely pleasing.
“I’m not surprised,” Lindsey said. “Spirits often seek the lowest points of a house–psychic energy tends to gather there.”
If Adramelech had eyes, he would have rolled them. Lindsey was ad-libbing, but her total bullshit was delivered with such conviction that no one ever called her on it. She was in full snake-oil-salesman mode again, confident as hell with her pet demon by her side. It made him sick and angry.
Robert Miller stood. “Let me show you the basement, Ms. Wallace.”
Lindsey stood as well and picked up her purse. “Sure,” she said. “Let’s go have a look.”
Time to shit or get off the pot, Baal said. You joining me for playtime?
Adramelech did not reply, and he moved the doll’s head an imperceptible few inches to watch Lindsey and Robert disappear down the hall to the basement door.
Robert Miller opened the door to the basement, trying to control the shaking in his hands. She was so pretty, so vulnerable, so full of life and energy. If it wasn’t for the whisperer urging him to wait, to hold off because it would be so much better when they got down to the workshop, he might have given in right there.
“Let me get the light, Ms. Wallace,” he said, reaching past her to flick the switch. The motion brought him close to her, and he could smell her perfume, the shampoo in her hair, and maybe, yes, just the subtle hint of her sweat. It was a personal stink that excited him; he loved the smells both inside and out. It was the best part. His began reaching for the short, hooked Spyderco folding knife in his back pocket, almost unaware he was doing it.
No. Not yet, the whisperer said, and Robert’s excitement dwindled, became more manageable. He moved his hand away from the knife.
“Thank you,” Ms. Wallace said. “You can call me Lindsey.”
“After you, Lindsey,” Robert said, smiling. It was the fake smile, the one the whisperer had taught him, the one that made the women trust him. He looked over his shoulder at his wife; she was standing at the end of the hall, her hands clasped before her. He smiled at her. A different smile, the one he only showed her. It said, “Let me do what I need to do, and things will be normal again.”
He had told Sandy the noises and smells came from the whisperer. She believed him, even though she couldn’t hear it. They scared her, but when Robert did his work, she knew they stopped for a while, and her husband was hers again. He didn’t let her go down to the basement, and she didn’t ask questions. Sandy knew her place, and she wanted to keep it.
Lindsey started down the steps, and Robert followed, pulling the door closed behind him. The steps led down into an expansive basement, mostly unfinished. Robert had installed fluorescent lights overhead, and they cast a bright white glow over a new washer and dryer, racks containing bleach, detergent, and other household cleaners, and two wooden work tables. The tables were just for show; he did his real work elsewhere.
“What do you do down here?” Lindsey asked, moving into the center of the room.
“Tinker, mostly,” Robert replied.
“Do you build things?”
He smiled. “No, I’m much better at taking things apart.”
Soon. Wait. Let her put it together; let her be afraid before you begin. The whisperer always knew how to make it right, how to make it better.
“What’s behind that?” Lindsey asked, pointing to a door in the wall he’d put up to separate the basement into two large rooms.
“That’s where I keep my tools,” he said. “Most of the noises and smells have been coming from there.”
“We should take a look,” Lindsey said. She was confident, and there was no hint of fear or even unease in her voice. It bothered him. It felt like she was in control. That was wrong; this was his space.
Patience, the whisperer said.
“Absolutely,” Robert said to Lindsey, and reached into his pocket for the key. That door was always locked. He crossed the room, put the key in the lock, and opened the door. There was a light switch inside, but he didn’t turn it on. Not yet.
Lindsey took a step into the room and then another. “Dark in here. Can you turn on the light?”
“Sure,” Robert said. He was trembling with excitement now. She was so close. He flicked on the light.
The room was bathed in white, revealing his tools in racks on the walls and his work table, its granite top stained with the leavings of his last project. He had left them because he liked the smell: an old coppery tang and the ripe odor of opened bowels. It was enough to remind of him of the work until the whisperer said it was okay to do another project. His tools were assembled from a variety of cutlery and butcher shops: hooks for hanging, small knives for delicate work, big knives for opening and digging, saws for removing unneeded parts.
Robert shut the door behind him and locked it with the key. Lindsey had her back to him. What terror she must be feeling. She had to realize what was going to happen, that she was his now. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the Spyderco. He’d start with that. He opened the knife with an audible click, its hooked blade gleaming, hungry.
“This is where I do my real work,” Robert said. “What do you think?”
Lindsey didn’t turn around, but he could hear her saying something under her breath. Words he didn’t recognize.
KILL HER! The whisperer’s voice filled his head. NOW. It sounded desperate, afraid, and that made him afraid. He took a step forward, and Lindsey turned to face him.
Robert stopped midstride. Lindsey was holding a very large automatic pistol in her right hand, and it was pointed at his head. She must have had it in her purse. In her other hand she held a doll—a Barbie doll in a pink dress.
She was smiling, a crooked mocking smile that both enraged and terrified Robert. And she was still speaking, louder now. The words were in a language he didn’t understand. Some of them sounded like Latin, others more like grunts than actual words.
KILL HER. KILL HER. KILL HER, the whisperer howled in Robert’s head. Its power was undeniable, unstoppable. He brought the knife up and lunged.
The world ended in thunder and darkness.
The cop was a good-looking guy, youngish and well built. He was also incredibly stupid—he was eating up her damsel in distress act. They were standing in front of the Millers’ house in the strobing lights of six police cars, a fire truck, and two ambulances. There were cops and paramedics all over the place.
“You’re very lucky, Ms. Wallace,” Sergeant Victors said. “Robert Miller was a very bad man.”
“I was just so scared,” Lindsey said, tears streaming down her face. She clutched Adramelech’s doll to her chest. “He came at me with the knife, and I . . . and I . . .”
Oh, Jesus fucking Christ, Lindsey, Adramelech said. Laying it on a bit thick, aren’t you?”
Sergeant Victors reached out and put a hand on Lindsey’s shoulder. “You did the right thing. He would have hurt you.”
Just thick enough, I think, Lindsey thought back.
“I didn’t want to kill him,” Lindsey said, continuing the show. “I was trying to shoot him in the leg, just to stop him, but the gun kicked so much. I’ve only fired it once or twice.” Bullshit, of course–she’d put three thousand rounds through her Sig 220 and could shoot one-inch groups at thirty yards. She’d been carrying the gun in her purse for years. Parapsychology attracted all kinds of freaks.
Sergeant Victors stepped close. “I’m glad you killed that son-of-a-bitch,” he said. “Who knows how many women you saved tonight, starting with his wife.”
Lindsey glanced over to where Sandy Miller was sitting in the back of one of the ambulances, a blanket wrapped around her, a vacant look on her face. She was long past saving, Lindsey thought.
“Do you think he’s killed a lot of people?” Lindsey asked, genuinely curious.
Sergeant Victors licked his lips and glanced around. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but I will because I want you to understand that you did the right thing and that you had no other choice. We found evidence of at least two victims. He kept . . . trophies.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he looked guilty for saying them.
Lindsey repressed a real shudder. “Can I go home now?” she asked, squeezing a few more tears out to seal the deal.
Sergeant Victors nodded, obviously eager to change subjects. “We need to get a complete statement from you, but, I don’t see why we can’t do that tomorrow after you’ve had some time to get yourself together. Officer Johnson will follow you home.” He indicated another cop standing a few feet away.
“Thank you, sergeant,” Lindsey said. “Should I ask for you at the station tomorrow?”
“Yes, ma’am,” He said and smiled at her. “I’ll take your statement personally. Now get some rest.”
Lindsey reached out and took one of Sergeant Victor’s hands and squeezed it. “You’ve been so kind. Thank you.”
“I’m . . . I’m just doing my job,” he said and blushed, but he held Lindsey’s hand for few seconds before letting go.
No wedding ring, Lindsey thought at Adramelech as they walked toward the Honda.
Couldn’t hurt to have a friend in the police department, the demon admitted.
They reached the car and Lindsey popped the trunk. She put Adramelech inside. You did a hell of a job tonight, she said and meant it. There was no doubt in her mind that things could have gone very badly, that Baal and Robert Miller could have ended her life in a way she could hardly imagine. She also knew that Adramelech had had a choice, and he’d chosen her. She didn’t know why, but it didn’t matter. She was never one to focus on what could have been. Maybe the demon had some infernal version of the Stockholm syndrome. Still, he had been loyal. He had warned her, and for that he deserved a reward.
You know, she said. I see two full seasons of Buffy in your future.
Really? Adramelech replied, so eager. Four and five?
You got it. She reached into her purse and pulled out the Birthday Wishes Barbie doll, smoothing down its pink, frilly dress. How you doing in there? she thought at Baal. There were no words in the reply, just a hurricane of rage and power that buckled her knees. She pulled away, shaking her head. It might take a little longer to tame this one. Maybe Adramelech could help with that.
Lindsey put the Barbie doll next to the Raggedy Ann. “Play nice,” she said out loud, and just before she closed the trunk, she heard Adramelech’s muffled voice.
“Hey, Baal, do you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer?”
Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer and editor. He is also a notorious dinosaur nerd, a rare polearms expert, a baseball connoisseur, and he has mastered the art of fighting with sword-shaped objects (but not actual swords). Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @Blackdirge, or check out his blog on writing and rejection at www.rejectomancy.com