Playing Kazoo: Rituals

Fiction
Jason Arbogast


Demons, in Roger’s experience, weren’t any worse than gods. Sure, they tended to be a lot uglier, but they were also a lot more honest, in their own way. They were evil and out to steal your soul, but at least you knew where you stood with a demon. Gods had more of a penchant for mystery than most demons, and you never really knew if they were trying to help or hinder you. You could always count on a demon to be trying to hinder you. And that kind of duplicitous honesty was something Roger could respect.

That being said, they also squealed like a snitch with Tourette’s on helium when they didn’t get their way. The eight-foot-tall, unicorn-headed monstrosity Roger had trapped in a summoning circle was currently doing this. Given the fact that this demon had interrupted a quiet night Roger had been intending to spend with his girlfriend, he was less than moved by the wailing.

“Now then,” Roger said calmly from his seat atop a laundry machine, “tell me exactly why I shouldn’t bind you into a urinal cake at the free clinic for the next decade.”

The night had started off quietly enough. Roger had just finished helping a little old dead lady move on to the afterlife, and was on his way up to Erin’s second floor apartment at West Campus Apartments, silently thanking whatever higher powers that listened to him that the old woman had been the only ghost to bother him that day, when he’d heard the scream from the laundry room.

“I’ve gotta stop thinking happy thoughts,” Roger said aloud.

He looked in the direction of the laundry room, looked up towards Erin’s apartment, then back. “I could just ignore this. It might just be a mugging. Nothing ghostly or at all supernatural. Could just be a rat.”

The laundry room’s window exploded outwards, a cloud of yellowish smoke right on the heels of the flying glass.

“Big rats.” Roger took a deep breath, smelling the vaguely rank stench of rotten eggs. “From Hell.”

Roger sighed and dropped his chin to his chest. “Is it too much to ask for a night off?” he asked the city of Kalamazoo as he started walking towards his ’86 Sunbird. “It’s not that I mind being the resident supernatural detective. It’s got bad hours, low pay, and no retirement plan other than a horrible death, probably at the hands of something big and toothy that’ll eat my soul, but other than that it’s great.”

He went around to the car’s trunk and opened it. “I mean, look at all the hot women I get to hang around with.” He opened a little red tacklebox and took out a piece of chalk and a small vial from it. He swished the thick, auburn liquid inside it around a bit to loosen it up. “Granted, they’re all dead, and I’m the only one that can see them, but hey, that’s just a technicality, right?” He patted one of his trench coat’s pockets to make sure it still contained a urinal cake. Feeling that it did, he closed the trunk.

A roar that Roger heard more in his soul than his ears came out of the laundry room.

“And look at the people I get to meet.” Roger began walking towards the laundry room. “Not to mention the gods, demons, elves, lawn gnomes, and the occasional flying toilet seat. Who wouldn’t want a job as exciting as this?”

A guy, Roger guessed he was twenty at the oldest, wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans ran across the parking lot to the other apartment building across from Erin’s. “Even his hair’s black. Cute.”

The sound of shattering timbers and falling furniture came from the apartment above the laundry room. An entertainment center, complete with TV, VCR, and DVD player, shot through the apartment’s sliding glass window and landed on someone’s blue Cavalier. A car alarm tried to go off, but quickly gave up, going from a shrill screech to a dull moan, and then to nothing.

Roger continued on his way to the laundry room. He walked down the steps to its door and went in. An ugly recliner the color of dish mold lay shattered into several pieces on the floor next to a dented dryer. Plaster and wood littered the rest of the room. Carpeting dangled from a large hole in the ceiling.

Roger nudged the chair with his foot. “At least that thing’s dead. Can’t be too bad of demon if it destroys ugly furniture.”

He wandered over to the remains of a summoning circle done in red chalk on the floor. Knocked-over black candles surrounded it, and melted wax was flung all about the area. Roger examined the circle.

“He tried to summon a duke of Hell. Well, the kid’s ambitious, I’ll give him that. Doesn’t make up for being an idiot Goth boy, though.”

Roger filled in the parts the kid had missed and dribbled the blood in the vial around the circle. “Get down here, dammit,” he said up to the hole in the ceiling. “I haven’t got all night.”

The demon appeared in the circle in a flash of light. It promptly started roaring at Roger and clawing at the air in front of it.

“My circle can hold you, so don’t even try it.”

Roger hopped up onto a washing machine to sit down. “Now then, tell me exactly why I shouldn’t bind you into a urinal cake at the free clinic for the next decade. And put on a human form. I’m not some little Goth punk you can scare by looking hideous.”

The demon stopped making noises. A human form replaced the demon form with no transition, making Roger’s eyes water a little. He pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head to clear it.

“I’ve never understood why you guys feel the need to show up as the most hideous thing you can imagine.”

“It is part of what is expected.” The demon smiled, its yellow teeth out of place on the overly handsome face. “We do have an image to maintain, after all.”

“And stop with the cheap theatrics. Just tell me who you are so I can get rid of you.”

“Do you not recognize me, Detective?”

Roger looked at it more closely. “Aguares? Don’t tell me you’re answering summons now.”

Aguares shrugged. “You seem to think I had a choice.”

“Last I saw of you, you’d disappeared after eating the jackass who’d bound you in a beer stein. Which I freed you from, by the way.”

“I have not forgotten the favor I owe you,” Aguares said icily, literally causing the temperature to drop in the room.

“Yeah, well, subtlety was never one of my strong points. Go home without remodeling any more of this place and we’ll call it even.”

“You would deny me the soul of the child that summoned me so rudely?”

Roger scratched his head. “Well, here’s the thing, I can’t let you kill people just because their etiquette is lacking. Even if I agree that it’d teach him a valuable lesson.”

“I must have vengeance.”

“Give him gas, or hemorrhoids, or something. What’d he want from you? Use that.”

“He wanted to be a singer.”

“There you go. Take his voice away, or give him Tourette’s. Something. I don’t know, you’re the demon, you think of something appropriate.”

“And then we shall be even?”

Roger nodded. “Curse the kid, get out of town, and we’re square.”

“Agreed.”

Roger jumped down from the washer. “Great. No offense, but I hope I never see you again.”

Roger started to leave and the demon cleared its throat. He turned.

“The circle?” Aguares asked impatiently.

“Oh, yeah. You’re free to leave.”

The demon flashed out of existence.

Roger looked at his watch. He should have been at Erin’s ten minutes ago. “Great. Like our relationship isn’t strained enough as it is.”

Once in the parking lot, Roger heard the scream he’d heard earlier, this time coming from one of the second story apartments across the parking lot. The roar sounded again, and there was silence.

Roger shook his head and hoped the demon hadn’t found some way to trick him and kill the kid. He wasn’t overly concerned if it had, though.

“Can’t win ‘em all. Maybe some time in Hell will do him good.”

Roger saw Erin standing on her balcony, glaring down at him as he approached the stairs. “I wonder if it’s too late to get Aguares to take me with him.”

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“I graduated from Western Michigan University with degrees in creative writing and elementary education. I currently live in Toledo, but mostly against my will. Personally, I like Goths, but they do take themselves too seriously, so they are very fun to poke fun at.” E-mail: jakobar330[at]cs.com.

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