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Final Exam, Demonology

Karl Dandenell

“Do I have to dismiss the demon?” said Sugyen. The apprentice stared at the fearsome creature imprisoned within the circle of blood runes and flickering candles. “It feels cruel, dragging the poor thing here just to send it back straight away.”

Ymir, his master, shook his head. “Any apprentice can summon a demon. Only a full wizard can control and dismiss. Now get on with it.”

“Yes, please hurry,” said the demon. “I’m in complete agony over here.”

“No one asked you, Gwal’laghamandar!” snapped Ymir. He whispered a few syllables. Blisters rose on the demon’s back.

Gwal’laghamandar hissed in pain.

Ymir lowered his voice. “Look, Sugyen, you’re an excellent student. But your priorities are all wrong. You need to spend less time caring for every injured toad and vole that crosses your path and more time learning the finer elements of the magical arts.”

“Like demon control,” said Sugyen.

“Precisely!” said Ymir, happy that Sugyen agreed with him. “The first time I summoned a demon, I was so scared I nearly wet myself. But once I realized I had the thing under my control, well, I knew I would become a great wizard and do great things.”

Sugyen nodded. “Like getting this keep. I know.” As a young wizard, Ymir had summoned up a relatively minor demon, then tasked it with procuring fifteen perfect emeralds from the black dragon Enok the Terrible. Those gems had paid for and furnished Ymir’s keep, including an extensive orchard of rare fruit trees. Ymir had regaled Sugyen with the story on his first night as an apprentice. And repeatedly thereafter.

“Pity the demon didn’t think to kill the dragon before taking the emeralds,” said Ymir.

“So you summoned another demon—”

“Exactly,” said Ymir. “That demon handled the foul lizard after it torched my beautiful orchard. Quite the battle, let me tell you.”

“Master,” said Sugyen, hoping to forestall another reminiscence. “Why didn’t you just order the first demon to kill the dragon? You taught me demons are impervious to dragon fire.”

“Indeed. The physical forms of demons are nearly impossible to kill in this realm,” said Ymir. “Only their true names combined with certain magics can affect them.”

“Then—oh, right.” Sugyen blushed. “Service or Saga.”

“I glad you remember some of your demonic theory,” said Ymir, his voice falling into a familiar teaching rhythm. “Once a demon performs physical labor for you—successfully—it’s free to go, and you can’t summon it a second time. On the other hand, if the demon only answers questions…?”

“Then you can call upon it as often as needed,” finished Sugyen. “Hardly seems fair, given the painful nature of summoning.”

“Demons barely notice. Trust me.” Ymir pulled out two scrolls. “Now then—here are your spells: Total Demonic Control and Immediate Demonic Dismissal. Once you’ve sent Gwal’laghamandar back to his realm, I’ll consider your apprenticeship complete.” He handed over the scrolls.

“I’m going to down to the cellar and find a nice brandy to celebrate. You two play nice, now.” Ymir closed the heavy door behind him.

Sugyen recited the spell of Total Demonic Control, taking special care with his pronunciation. Once the spell was cast, the demon sighed and scratched its belly with a black, serrated talon. “What is thy bidding?”

Sugyen opened the second scroll, then paused, thinking to indulge his curiosity. “I bid you answer truthfully, Gwal’laghamandar. Does it truly pain you when you are summoned?”

“Does it pain me? Imagine being crushed to death between two millstones, over and over,” said the demon. “Now give me a task, Master, so I may depart and never see you again.”

Sugyen had been so worried about performing his spells he hadn’t thought about a task. “Uh, I have no labor for you. Only questions.”

“Just like the others.” Gwal’laghamandar narrowed its eyes. “Of Ymir’s eight apprentices, only two have allowed me to fulfill my contract. The remainder hold me in thrall, summoning me whenever they seek some trivial bit of arcane knowledge.”

“But I wouldn’t do that,” said Sugyen. “I hate seeing things suffer. Ask anyone! Honestly, now that I know the truth, I couldn’t see myself ever summoning you again.”

“Eventually, you will summon me. That’s what wizards do.”

Sugyen considered all the animals he’d nursed back to health. As much as he wanted to keep them as pets, he always released them, knowing they could only thrive in their natural habitats. Was it not reasonable to think demons, too, required such treatment?

Then he remembered Ymir’s comment about demonic theory. “You know, there might be a way to keep you safe from another summoning.”

“How?”

“I could bestow a new name on you.”

Gwal’laghamandar shook its head. “I know wizards can name things, but it makes no difference. Whatever name you give me will be shared,  and I’ll find myself right back here. Suffering.”

“Not if I don’t remember the name.” Sugyen sketched out his plan.

“I have my doubts,” said the demon, “though I cannot see any good alternative given my circumstances. Proceed, wizardling.”

Sugyen opened the chamber door, took a deep breath, and placed his left hand in the frame. “Do you, Gwal’laghamandar, accept a new name to bind you both body and spirit?”

“I do.”

“Then I name you—” Sugyen slammed the door, crushing his fingers. He shrieked and cursed, jumping about the chamber.

Gwal’laghamandar laughed. “A most excellent name. I will bear it with pride.”

“Glad you like it.” Sugyen wheezed with pain.

“Now task me so I can depart. Hurry! Ymir approaches.”

Sugyen looked around, shaking his fingers. “I, uh, command you to remove the cobwebs from the ceiling!” That seemed safe enough.

“Done.” The candles in the summoning circle flared, scouring the ceiling. When the flames died down, Gwal’laghamandar disappeared, his contract fulfilled.

A moment later, Ymir stepped into the room with a bottle and two goblets. “I heard screaming. Everything all right?”

“Fine, master. Just had to remind the demon who was in charge.”

“Good, good. I’m glad to see you’re starting to act like a proper wizard.” The old wizard filled the goblets with brandy. “A toast to your first demon!”

“My first demon!” said Sugyen, his hand throbbing. And hopefully my last.


Author Bio: Karl Dandenell is a Full Member of the Science Fiction Writers of America who lives on an island near San Francisco with his family and cat overlords. His love of strong tea and whiskey is perfectly normal.


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Pilgrims

Marge Simon

Before our people’s sun went nova, our parents jettisoned us into the stars. In effect, we were once larva on a stick of super fuel. Eventually we were borne to a new home on this beautiful blue planet.

So here we are, the pair of us – fortunately male and female. Our poor brothers and sisters are gone, fatally burned in the fall to earth. It is up to us to save our species from extinction. Care must be taken, for a female is fertile only once in a life-span. Once acclimated, we find an everglade sanctuary. We manage to survive the tumult of summer storms, the winter nights, rife with predators.

Come spring, our hatchlings nest within a stand of reeds while we keep watch. Today we are invaded by a visitor. Along the bank a native wades, a spear in her strong brown hand. She hums to herself as she approaches our nest:

     “Some say Peter, an’ some say Paul,

      but there ain’t but one God made us all

      Wade in de water

      Wade in de water, children

      Wade in de water, wade, wade, wade …”

The woman’s voice fades suddenly. Even the dragonflies are stilled. Eyestalks at water level, we sink soundlessly into the brown marsh. A flash of movement is quickly followed by a shriek. In shock, we see a spurt of blue-white lifeblood as she rips our newborns from their shaft.

Humming, she stuffs them in her bag and splashes to the bank.

We begin our lamentation, knowing it will never end.


Author Bio: Marge Simon is an award-winning poet/writer, living in Ocala, Florida. Her works have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, New Myths, Silver Blade, Polu Texni, Crannog, JoCCA and numerous pro anthologies. She is a multiple Stoker winner and Grand Master Poet of the SF & F Poetry Association. She recently received the HWA Lifetime Service Award.


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Slowing Down

Claire McNerney

Any other day of the year, the sun would already be gone, but today it streams through the pines in pale ribbons. The girl beneath it stops walking at the slightest sound of someone else’s footsteps. She was only supposed to leave the facilities at night, but the sun set so late, and the scientists had been too busy analyzing her data to notice.

The footsteps belong to a boy running down the trail. He waves as he approaches. “Hello!”

Despite his heavy breathing, he spits out a million questions. “Hi! I’m Jacob Lente. Do you run? I didn’t think anyone else liked to run out here! I mean, I’m the only one on my cross country team. I guess that makes me the fastest!” He mimes running as fast as he can, his arms pumping at a rate that may look fast to him but is painfully slow to her.

She doesn’t want to get in trouble talking to him, but as she continues along the path, he follows. He’s the first person her age she’s seen in a long time. Nothing like the balding scientists who raised her. She studies him, and he takes this as encouragement to keep on talking.

“Y’know, I heard these woods are haunted.”

She raises an eyebrow. The word ‘haunted’ is unfamiliar.

“Yeah, haunted! My cousin told me that there’s a government facility here with the girl who broke the sound barrier like… ten years ago? Anyways, he said that after she broke it, the scientists didn’t need her anymore, so they chopped her up and scattered her remains around the forest. I think was just trying to scare me, stop me from running, but I’m still here, aren’t I?”

Shocked by the wrongness of it, she finally decides on saying something.

“Six years.”

“What?”

“It’s been six years since she broke the sound barrier.” This is a mistake, she thinks, but she doesn’t stop herself.

“If you believe it!” He laughs. “I think it sounds like a scam.”

I wish it was. What counts as a childhood memory flash before her eyes. I am too little to already be used to the needles and the testing facility, all white and concrete. I am at a quarter of the speed of light when my mother comes to visit. She looks at me sadly. I wonder why she isn’t proud. The next time she leaves, she doesn’t return. She is no longer my mother. Now I belong to my running. To my speed.

Maybe it is a scam, she thinks.

“If you say so,” she says. 

He continues chattering, louder than anyone she’s ever met. “Hey, I gotta head home, it’s getting dark. Do you run? Do you wanna run with?”

“I don’t run anymore,” she says, but when he starts jogging, she walks beside him.

“You should! I like feeling connected to my body. Mom says it’s good for coordination.”

Connected to my body, she thinks, Is it even mine anymore? It hasn’t been mine since I started waking up in the middle of the night. My body ached so much I should have known something was wrong. The doctor told me I was only growing, but my fraction of lightspeed, almost at 0.65, decreased sullenly as I felt my body contorting into something that I cannot see as mine. They tell me my body is bigger now, stronger, but it cannot perform the miracles it used to, the miracles I took for granted.

He speeds up his jogging, she speeds her walking, but she refuses to run.

“Gosh, you’re fast! You should run again!”

I used to be so much faster, she thinks.

“No,” she says.

“Don’t you miss it?”

Yes, she thinks, more than anything in the world. I miss how it felt, laughing into the storms of my own creation. I miss running, really running, faster than the world itself, and knowing that I was the one who got me to that speed.

“No,” she says.

“I run a 7:28 mile.” He puffs his chest into the wind. “But I’m hoping on getting it below 7 this season. What was your best mile?”

She doesn’t say anything.

“I’ve been running since seventh grade, but I haven’t gotten much better. Do you know any tips?”

Don’t get better. She thinks. It’s not worth the heartbreak to get good, so good, incredibly good, so good that it’s euphoria, just to lose your talent and slowly get worse, no matter how much practice you put in, to never be able to achieve what you did just a few weeks, months, years ago; and they’ll say it’s not your fault, they’ll say that the mutation started declining when your body reached puberty, they’ll say it’s going to be okay, but it’s not, because you’ll never be able to feel that wind, to be that powerful, to know that you are capable of incredible things, because you can’t anymore, and you aren’t anymore; and to be that good and to become that bad is a pain nobody deserves to feel.

“I’ve heard practice is important,” she says.

He nods like this is wisdom. Maybe it is, but it doesn’t feel like it to her.

“What’s your name?”

“Corrine.”

He speeds up a bit. Now, she can barely keep up with him speedwalking.

“Do you want to run, Corrine?”

Do I? She thinks, remembering how she used to run. It wouldn’t be like it was when I was little. But I can still run, even if it’s only a six minute mile, not a six second one. I can still feel the wind on my face, even if it’s only a gentle breeze. I can still be powerful, even if it’s an ordinary sort of power.

The world is dimming and still, except for the boy. He jogs away from her, looking back expectantly. She doesn’t respond. Instead, she picks up her pace and breaks into a slow but steady run.


Author Bio: Claire McNerney is an actor, student, and writer from California, where she currently attends UCSD. She enjoys, among other things, warm drinks in tall mugs.


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Wyld Flash 64 – Final Exam, Demonology

We’ve got demons, oh yes, and they’re not happy. Karl Dandenell’s Final Exam, Demonology is live now on the website. Here the opening… “Do I have to dismiss the demon?” said Sugyen. The apprentice stared at the fearsome creature imprisoned within the circle of blood runes and flickering candles. “It feels cruel, dragging the poorContinue reading “Wyld Flash 64 – Final Exam, Demonology”

Wyldblood 5 – NutriMom

Our current issue is full of fantastic reads – for instance Mark Silcox‘s unnerving NutriMom, set in an unnerving near future. He’re the opening: Emil discovered the plastic box beneath a sheet of flame-darkened steel that looked like it had been blown from the side of a container car.  There was something about the strangelyContinue reading “Wyldblood 5 – NutriMom”

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