General Fiction posted August 14, 2021 Chapters:  ...5 6 -7- 

This work has reached the exceptional level
Joel attempts to resolve the situation

A chapter in the book Looking for Demons

The Swap

by snodlander

Ms. Anderton has hired Joel to find Ahsur (Frank) an Assyrian god. He is found under the control of The Croatian.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” asked Ms Anderton.
Joel shrugged.  “It worked for the Croatian.  I don’t see why it shouldn’t work for us.”  Fortunately, the weather had remained dry.  Ms Anderton had insisted that Joel could not use chalk on her parquet, so he’d recreated the god trap on her patio.  This time he’d made sure it could comfortably accommodate the bulk of Ashur.
“But you don’t know?”
Joel looked to and fro between the diagram on his screen and the complex design on the flagstones.
“Hmm?  Know?  No, but nothing in this life is certain, right?”
The candles were guttering in the breeze in Ms. Anderton’s back garden.  What would happen if one blew out at the crucial moment?  Nothing, Joel hoped.  Stupid woman and her house-proud rules.
“It won’t hurt him, will it?”
Everything was perfect, as far as Joel could tell.  “Hurt him?  Ashur?  I mean, Frank?  Madam, I can’t think of anything in this world or his that could hurt him.  Well, his wife, maybe, but isn’t that the truth the world over!”
“And you think this will work?”
Joel sighed and turned from the design on the ground.  “Ms. Anderton, this is the best plan I could think of.  I’m using the Croatian’s tactics against him.  I’ve lined up all the ducks.  The very worst that can happen is that Frank will return to the Croatian.  The best is that he can return to you and discuss impressionism and its influence on the cubist movement.”
“Look,” said Joel, stopping her before she could explain to Joel the two -isms had nothing to do with each other.  “I think this will work.  If it does, you win.  If it doesn’t, we’re back where we started.  You agreed to let me try this and I’ve invested a lot of effort and money, your money, into getting this set up.  So if you pardon my French, piss or get off the pot.  It’s now before the candles burn out, or you find another phantom voice.”
Ms. Anderton stared at him, her lips pursed and her jaw muscles standing out in her cheeks.  Finally she gave a curt nod.
“Okay.”  He flipped windows on his screen.  “You guys ready?  Wait, where’s Barong?”
“He got decorporealized ,” said a demon in one of the windows.  “Tried to take on a Shaman in Bermondsey.”
“Dammit.  But the rest of you are up for this, right?”
There was a chorus of assents.
“Right, stand by.”  He turned to Ms. Anderton.  “And, action!”
Ms. Anderton cleared her throat and held the sheet of paper at arm’s length, trying to focus through her reading glasses.  She started reading, the infernal language enunciated in a cut-glass English accent.  Joel repeated his own powerful mantra in his head, which went. ‘Please let it work.  Please let it work.’
She came to the end.  They both looked at the magic circle.  Joel realised he was holding his breath.  Then suddenly, Ashur appeared.  Ms Anderton screamed, and Joel wondered if he should have warned her about the way Frank looked.  He turned to the screen.
“Now!” he shouted.  The figures on the screen disappeared.
Ms Anderton was staring at Ashur, her eyes wide, a hand frozen halfway to her open mouth.  Ashur, for his part, stood in the circle, dazed and confused.  For a seven-foot monster, he looked frightened and vulnerable.  He stepped towards Ms. Anderton, an arm out, and fetched up against the circle as though it were a brick wall.  He turned towards Joel.
“What have you done?” he bellowed.  “I didn’t want her to see me.  Not like this.  And I told you, he’s just going to call me back.”  He turned back to the woman and dropped to his knees.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I’m so sorry.”
“What are you talking about?”  Ms Anderton stepped forward.  Joel leapt forward before she could cross the chalk markings.
“Stay outside the circle,” he said.
Ms. Anderton looked down, as if noticing the chalk on her patio for the first time.  Then she looked at Ashur’s face.  “Frank?” she asked.  “Is that you?”
Frank nodded, staring at the ground.
“Oh my God,” she said.  You – you – you’re beautiful.”
“Yeah, maybe I – sorry?”  Joel shook his head.  A dictionary of adjectives sprung to mind when he looked at Ashur.  Beautiful wasn’t one of them.
Joel turned to the screen.  “Yes?”
A demon stared back, a grin on his face.  “Job done, boss.”
“You sure?”
“You want to see him?  Well, bits of him?”
“No, no.  Good job.  Thanks.”
He switched off the screen.  Ms. Anderton and Ashur were staring at each other.
“Well, The Croatian has been dealt with.”  Joel splashed some holy water on the circle, washing away an arc.  “So when you’re ready, you can just release him, yeah?  Ms Anderton?”
Ms Anderton waved her acknowledgement, not sparing him a glance.
“So I mailed you the ritual to release him, okay?  Okay.  Well, best of luck.  Um, I’ll come back later with the invoice, yes?  Yes.  Okay then.  Um, have fun.”
Joel gave up talking to himself and let himself out through the house.

Two days later Joel rand the doorbell of Ms. Anderton.  She answered the door and smiled at Joel.
“Oh, hello.”  The smile suddenly disappeared.  “Is something wrong?”
“No, no.  I’ve just brought around my invoice, that’s all.”  Joel waved an envelope.
“Oh, right.  Well, I suppose you’d better come in then.”  She stepped to the side, out of sight of the roadway, and performed a rapid series of arm movements.  Joel smiled to himself.  At least she had learned something.  He stepped inside and Ms. Anderton showed him into the parlour.
“Is everything okay?” he asked, as Ms. Anderton perched her reading glasses on her nose and opened the envelope.  “With Frank, I mean?”
“Hmm?  Oh, yes.  Thank you.”  She studied the invoice.  “No receipt for this, I see.  Informant?”
“You had to be there.  She put me onto The Croatian in the first place.”
She nodded as she continued to peruse the invoice.  Finally, she placed it carefully on the coffee table.
“And he won’t try to get Frank back?”
“He won’t be able to try anything ever again.”
Ms. Anderton looked over her glasses at him.  “I shan’t ask.  Was it difficult?”
“A lot easier than I thought.  Demons live for their offerings, whether that’s sacrifices, prayers or just ritual.  The Croatian put them all on the dole when he expelled them.  Some of them might even have done it for free, but you wanted receipts so I had to go through brokers for that.  Scores settled and all that.  And you get to have your arty chats now?”
Ms. Anderton gave a brittle smile and rose.  “Thank you very much.  I’ll forward the payment forthwith.”
“Honey, I need some more crimson when – “  Frank appeared in the doorway and stopped suddenly when he saw Joel.  He was earing an apron splodged with paint and brushes poked out of various pockets in it.  “Oh, hello.  I didn’t know we had company.”
“Frank, hey,” said Joel.  “Look at you, all visible and stuff.  And wearing… something.  No more invisible voices?”
“No.  The mistress prefers me visible.  And she’s got me painting.  She says I have a talent, but I don’t know.  I’m recreating a frieze from my temple.”  He waved a brush.  “But I need more crimson.”
Joel decided not to ask why the colour of blood had run out.
“Wait.  Mistress?”  Joel turned to Ms. Anderton.  “You got my email with the release spell, right?”
Ms. Anderton crossed her arms and pulled herself ramrod straight.  “Yes.”
Frank showed Joel a fearsome set of fangs.  It took a moment for him to realise that the god was smiling.  “It’s fine,” said Frank.  “We – we’ve come to an agreement.”
Joel maintained as much of a poker face as he could manage.
“Fine.  Well, I’ll get out of your hair.  Ms. Anderton.  Ashur.”
He turned and walked towards the door.  He made it to his car before he finally burst out laughing.  It was true then.  Women were always suckers for a god-like body, even when it was one like Ashur’s.

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