“You’ve been dead a hundred years and never once ran into demons before?”
I shove myself against the door as a human with something wholly Other inside them slams into it. Demons can remove the limits humans put on flesh and bones; I’m a ghost made solid – long story, not important – and I’m far stronger than the deathly-thin kid I appear to be. I hold the door. Barely.
Charlie is pacing the storage room, the god inside her burning in her eyes. I eat ghosts; I can’t do much against demons. She eats gods, which as near as I can tell means she can get rid of the demons.
“Met demons often, have you?” I snap, shoving my back harder into the door as it shudders.
There are eight people outside with demons inside them, and we just happened to enter the corner store as they finished sacrificing a pigeon for something. Charlie flexed the god inside her, a monster from under beds and in closets, all claws and teeth and the things shadows are scared of. It gave us time to make it past them and into the their storeroom as two other demon-held people were coming in the front door with bags and cleaning products to remove the pigeon stains from the counter.
“Once before.” Charlie says nothing else, but there is something grim and private under the words. “I was very lucky to survive it.”
“You eat gods; Demons are lesser. So?” I press, wincing as something sharp drives into my back, the wound sealing a moment later. I don’t have flesh and bone like humans do, but I can still be hurt.
“They’re too deep inside for me to get them out without killing the hosts.”
“We can tell them we work for the government. That might stop them.”
She blinks, her eyes the only light in the store room. “Since when do you get sarcastic, Dyer?”
“Since a demon stabbed me in the back with a machette a few seconds ago. I can’t hold them out forever!”
Charlie swears softly and pulls out her cell phone, punching in a number. “I am going to regret this so much. Hi. Yes, it’s me.” She winces, pulling her ear away from the phone.
“You finally called,” a boy’s voice yells from the other end of the line. “I’ve been calling you for montth! Even Honcho wath getting worried and he doethn’t get worried and we’re your friendth and I’m fine!”
I’ve never heard the word fine yelled like a challenge before. I don’t think Charlie has either because she stares at her phone, then puts it back to her ear. “We can talk about this later, Jay. I have demons I need help with. Is he around?” She pauses. “I know magicians don’t like to use phones, Jay, but we need help.” She growls. “I’m helping someone, okay? It’s government stuff but not the bad kind. Will you hurry up!”
Whoever this boy is, he’s done more to annoy and rattle Charlie in under a minute than I’ve done in four months. I don’t know whether I should be impressed or scared.
Charlie taps a foot on the floor. “Yes. Yes, I’m fine. Demons, inside people. I can’t remove them alone, my friend is with CASPER. He deals with ghosts, and – right. Okay.” She sets her phone down on the floor in the middle of the store room as two demons drive into the door.
I push back; I can hear chanting on the other side, in languages not meant for human throats to utter. I snap out banishing phrases in Enochian that cause the demons to flatter a little, more in surprise than anything else; my accent is quite good.
The cell phone smokes and a man steps out of the air above it. He looks human, in his twenties, with brown hair, eyes, unremarkable build. The kind of person you could drop into an office building and no one would ever notice. He smiles crookedly, shoving hands into jean pockets. “I can make your phone relay all the insults Jay is shouting at you, if you want?”
Charlie just glares at him, but I notice the god inside her has faded, claws flowing back, its presence no longer something cold and ancient pressing on the air. “Demons.”
“Ah, yes.” The man turns, and his eyes aren’t bland at all as he studies me, staring at me, into me. Through me, it feels like. “Dyer, I imagine?”
“How did you –?” Charlie says before I can speak.
“He is a ghost who eats ghosts and is barred from the grey lands,” the man says gently. “Word gets around.” He doesn’t raise his voice, but the words are everywhere at once, without and within me at the same time, echoing into and off each other in the air. “Demons. You know me. You know what I can do. Leave the hosts before I get cranky.”
There is silence in the grocery store, then the sound of bodies falling to the ground unconscious.
“You know them?” I say, my voice thin even to my ears.
The magician grins at that, and it takes at least five years away from his eyes. “Not at all; I have no idea which magician they even thought I was. It worked, though.” He stretches a little and cracks his knuckles. “If Jay had known it would only take a few demons to lead to a phone call, he’d have likely found some and sicced them on you,” he says to Charlie, who actually blushes even as she glares at him.
“Call him soon,” the magician says, and there is no power behind it, but there doesn’t need to be. He turns and smiles at me. “I’ve heard stories about you; we should meet sometime,” he says, and the phone flickers and the magician is gone again, somehow stepping into it.
“Magicians.” Charlie picks up her phone gingerly as smoke trails off of it. “You’d think he could use a phone as a gateway and not drain the battery.” She smiles strangely. “Or maybe he’s saving me from talking to Jay for a little while.” She puts the phone in her pocket and turns to me. “I think we need to get to a bigger grocery story and forget about this place.”
I pull the door open, stepping over unconscious people, checking pulses to make sure they’re okay. Charlie walks over to the door, flips the sign to closed and just waits for me.
“So,” I say once we’re outside, seeing Charlie brace herself for questions out of the corner of my eye, “what you said to the magician: that was true?”
“That we’re friends?”
“We have been travelling together for over three months, Dyer.”
“That’s work. That’s not the same as being friends.”
“Oh.” Charlie laughs at that. “I honestly never saw it that way. Anyone who can put up with me for more than two weeks is a friend in my books.”
I shake my head at that, wise enough not to laugh with her, and just walk back toward our vehicle. Demons. Magicians. Boys with lisps who can drive Charlie up the wall. It’s going to be interesting piecing this all together, but I suspect a magician might be helping me with that.
My phone buzzes as we enter the RV, showing a new contact added. The name ‘Jay’, and nothing else. I close the notification and check Yelp for the nearest large grocery store as if nothing happened at all.