Wyld FLASH – 2 October 2020
There is a demon trapped in the car in front of me.
Driving down the winding route of 116, streetlights illuminate the beige sedan in bursts. Orange light creates a visual Doppler effect, rising and falling as the sedan slides through. At first I thought there was a strap trapped between the trunk lid and its latch. The breeze sent it spinning erratically, snapping against the back of the sedan. The trunk is not quite closed, bobbing up and down with every pothole, every frost heave. Passing under another headlight, I saw the tip. Not a strap at all: a tail.
The car pulls into a gas station and—through either curiosity or stupidity—I follow. There’s no law against it, but I hate seeing the thing suffer. When the sedan’s driver—a bearded man with a sword strapped to his back—goes inside the station to pay for his pump, I get out of my car and approach his.
The demon lashes the night air with its tail. The tip of its tail is the dangerous part. If it strikes me, it can cut deep. And when a demon smells blood, the game changes.
The catcher must’ve gotten this one from the woods. Hunters didn’t like demons interfering with their catches, materializing at the first whiff of a kill. A deer could be reduced to bones in as little as twenty minutes if a demon was in the vicinity.
I don’t like hunters. Demon catchers aren’t much better.
I give the trunk lid an experimental tug. Something is holding it down, though it’s not latched. I glance towards the gas station building. The demon catcher is at the cashier.
I crouch down and the tail sweeps up past my face, momentarily freezing me. The sharp tip narrowly misses my cheek. I stay frozen as the tail twitches a couple more times, then lowers. Exhaling, I peer through the crack where the lid doesn’t quite meet base.
Illuminated in the trunk’s automatic light, the demon lies curled in a net of metal mesh, red eyes blinking almost too fast for me to follow. Its inner eyelid flashes back and forth, a white shutter over old film.
“Calm down,” I whisper, as if the thing could understand. I try to imagine it as a trapped squirrel, or something else harmless. My heart pulses in my chest. Why am I doing this? What am I doing?Demons are pests, but they don’t deserve what the catchers do to them. Some are killed, others are…changed.
The demon hisses as I slide my fingers into the trunk. A bungee cord is looped through the trunk’s latch to keep the trunk from springing open. I can feel the tension in the elastic.
Across the lot, the door to the gas station slides open.
Panic surges through me. The demon flicks its tail and I jerk my head away, only vaguely aware of how close it was to cutting me. What will the catcher do if he finds me? There are laws against releasing demons where people live. Not to mention breaking into a car that’s not my own.
Footsteps approaching. I should leave, but I don’t. Instead I yank down on the bungee cord, pinching my wrists and the demon’s tail together. My fingers slide along the cord as I try to unhook it. Just a few inches from my face the demon spits, filling my nose with the scent of sulfur.
The catcher grabs my shoulder just as the tension in the bungee cord crumbles. He pulls me back; the trunk springs open. I hold up my hands and feel the heat of blood running down them as I stumble against the gas pump. The demon catcher curses—at me or at the demon, I’m not sure—and draws his sword.
A wet sound. His sword falls onto the pavement. My hands sting from where the demon’s tail sliced across my palms.
The demon catcher has his hands around his throat. Blood seeps between his fingers. His eyes are wild as he looks at me, face glowing in the fluorescent gas station lights. He drops to his knees. On the ground in front of him lies his sword, and next to it the demon’s severed tail.
Blood, blood. I stand frozen, staring at the trunk, now fully open. The demon will smell all the blood. I should run back to my car, drive away.
I edge forward, peering into the bloodstained trunk. The bungee cord lies coiled, one end still hooked to the latch at the trunk’s base. I look for the demon in its net. The trunk is empty, aside from a tire iron and a dirty rag.
Blood drips from my fingertips. Did it flee? I’ve never heard of a demon leaving fresh blood.
I look down at the tail. Lying on the cracked pavement, it twitches. I don’t know what compels me to reach down.
When I pick it up, slick and warm, it curls around my wrist, squeezing. I let go, but it stays, wrapped tight as a brace. The tail’s point lies flat in my palm. I run my thumb over it. Smooth, like fingernails.
As I drive home, I keep glancing in the rearview mirror. I’m looking for headlights. Was the demon catcher’s death my fault? Did the gas station attendant see anything, call the police? My hands bleed onto the steering wheel. Blood drips down onto my lap.
The demon tail stays wrapped around my wrist. I hardly notice the pressure anymore.
When I look in the mirror, I think I see an ambulance. But it’s only my eyes, glowing red in the dark.
Author Bio: Marisca Pichette has stories forthcoming in Black Hare Press, Room, and Aurelia Leo. Her work has been published in Daily Science Fiction, Unsung Stories, and Voyage YA Journal, among others.
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