practical demonkeeping - Page 13


27

AUGUSTUS

Augustus Brine lit his pipe and played back the details of Travis's story in his mind. He had finished the bottle of wine, but if anything, it had brought clarity to his thoughts by washing away the adrenaline from the morning's adventure.

"There was a time, Travis, that if someone had told me a story like that, I would have called the mental-health people to come and pick him up, but in the last twenty-four hours reality has been riding the dragon's back, and I'm just trying to hang on myself."

"Meaning what?" Travis asked.

"Meaning I believe you." Brine rose from the chair and began untying the ropes that bound Travis.

There was a scuffling behind them and Brine turned to see Gian Hen Gian coming through the living room wearing a flowered towel around his waist and another around his head. Brine thought he looked like a prune in a Carmen Miranda costume.

"I am refreshed and ready for the torture, Augustus Brine." The Djinn stopped when he saw Brine untying the demonkeeper. "So, will we hang the beast from a tall building by his heels until he talks?"

"Lighten up, King," Brine said.

Travis flexed his arms to get the blood flowing. "Who is that?" he asked.

"That," Brine said, "is Gian Hen Gian, king of the Djinn."

"As in genie?"

"Correct," Brine said.

"I don't believe it."

"You are not in a position to be incredulous toward the existence of supernatural beings, Travis. Besides, the Djinn was the one who told me how to find you. He knew Catch twenty-five centuries before you were born."

Gian Hen Gian stepped forward and shook a knotted brown finger in Travis's face. "Tell us where the Seal of Solomon is hidden or we will have your genitals in a nine-speed reverse action blender with a five-year guarantee before you can say shazam!"

Brine raised an eyebrow toward the Djinn. "You found the Sears catalog in the bathroom."

The Djinn nodded. "It is filled with many fine instruments of torture."

"There won't be any need for that. Travis is trying to find the seal so he can send the demon back."

"I told you," Travis said, "I've never seen the Seal of Solomon. It's a myth. I read about it a hundred times in books of magic, but it was always described differently. I think they made it up in the Middle Ages to sell books of magic."

The Djinn hissed at Travis and there was a wisp of blue damask in the air. "You lie! You could not call up Catch without the seal."

Brine raised a hand to the Djinn to quiet him. "Travis found the invocation for calling up the demon in a candlestick. He never saw the seal, but I believe it was concealed in the candlestick where he could not see it. Gian Hen Gian, have you ever seen the Seal of Solomon? Would it be possible to conceal it in a candlestick?"

"It was a silver scepter in Solomon's time," the Djinn said. "I suppose it could have been made into a candlestick."

"Well, Travis thinks that the invocation for sending the demon back is concealed in the candlestick he didn't open. I'd guess that anyone who had that knowledge and the Seal of Solomon would also have an invocation for giving you your power. In fact, I'd bet my life on it."

"It is possible, but it is also possible that the dark one is misdirecting you."

"I don't think so," Brine said. "I don't think he wanted to be involved in this any more than I did. In seventy years he's never figured out that it's his will that controls Catch."

"The dark one is retarded, then!"

"Hey!" Travis said.

"Enough!" Brine said. "We have things to do. Gian Hen Gian, go get dressed."

The Djinn left the room without protest and Brine turned again to Travis. "I think you found the woman you've been looking for," he said. "Amanda and Effrom Elliot were married right after he returned from World War One. They get their picture in the local paper every year on their anniversary  –  you know, under a caption that reads, 'And they said it wouldn't last.' As soon as the king is ready we'll go over there and see if we can get the candlesticks  –  if she still has them. I need your word that I can trust you not to try to escape."

"You have it," Travis said. "But I think we should go back to Jenny's house  –  be ready when Catch returns."

Brine said, "I want you to try to put Jenny out of your mind, Travis. That's the only way you'll regain control of the demon. But first, there's something you ought to know about her."

"I know  –  she's married."

"No. She's Amanda's granddaughter."

28

EFFROM

Never having died before, Effrom was confused about how he should go about it. It didn't seem fair that a man his age should have to adapt to new and difficult situations. But life was seldom fair, and it was probably safe to assume that death wasn't fair either. This wasn't the first time he had been tempted to firmly demand to speak to the person in charge. It had never worked at the post office, the DMV, or return counters at department stores. Perhaps it would work here.

But where was here?

He heard voices; that was a good sign. It didn't seem uncomfortably warm  –  a good sign. He sniffed the air  –  no sulfur fumes (brimstone, the Bible called it); that was a good sign. Perhaps he had done all right. He did a quick inventory of his life: good father, good husband, responsible if not dedicated worker. Okay, so he cheated at cards at the VFW, but eternity seemed like an awfully long sentence for shuffling aces to the bottom of the deck.

He opened his eyes.

He had always imagined heaven to be bigger and brighter. This looked like the inside of a cabin. Then he spotted the woman. She was dressed in an iridescent purple body stocking. Her raven-black hair hung to her waist. Heaven? Effrom thought.

She was talking on the phone. They have phones in heaven? Why not?

He tried to sit up and found that he was tied to the bed. Why was that? Hell?

"Well, which is it?" he demanded.

The woman covered the receiver with her hand and turned to him. "Say something so your wife will know you're okay," she said.

"I'm not okay. I'm dead and I don't know where I am."

The woman spoke into the phone, "You see, Mrs. Elliot, your husband is safe and will remain so as long as you do exactly as I have instructed."

The woman covered the mouthpiece again. "She says she doesn't know about any invocation."

Effrom heard a gravely male voice answer her, but he couldn't see anyone else in the cabin. "She's lying," the voice said.

"I don't think so  –  she's crying."

"Ask her about Travis," the voice said.

Into the phone the woman said: "Mrs. Elliot, do you know someone named Travis?" She listened for a second and held the receiver to her breast. "She says no."

"It might have been a long time ago," the voice said. Effrom kept looking for who was talking but could see no one.

"Think," the woman said into the phone, "it might have been a long time ago."

The woman listened and nodded with a smile. Effrom looked in the direction of her nod. Who the hell was she nodding to?

"Did he give you anything?" The woman listened. "Candlesticks?"

"Bingo!" the voice said.

"Yes," said the woman. "Bring the candlesticks here and your husband will be released unharmed. Tell no one, Mrs. Elliot. Fifteen minutes."

"Or he dies," the voice said.

"Thank you, Mrs. Elliot," the woman said. She hung up.

To Effrom she said, "Your wife is on the way to pick you up."

"Who else is in this room?" Effrom asked. "Who have you been talking to?"

"You met him earlier today," the woman said.

"The alien? I thought he killed me."

"Not yet," the voice said.

"Is she coming?" Catch asked.

Rachel was looking out the cabin window at a cloud of dust rising from the dirt road. "I can't tell," she said. "Mr. Elliot, what kind of car does your wife drive?"

"A white Ford," Effrom said.

"It's her." Rachel felt a shiver of excitement run through her. Her sense of wonder had been stretched and tested many times in the last twenty-four hours, leaving her open and raw to every emotion. She was afraid of the power she was about to gain, but at the same time, the myriad possibilities that power created diluted her fear with a breathless giddiness. She felt guilty about abusing the old couple in order to gain the invocation, but perhaps with her newfound power she could repay them. In any case, it would be over soon and they would be going home.

The actual nature of the Earth spirit bothered her as well. Why did it seem… well… so impious? And why did it seem so male?

The Ford pulled up in front of the cabin and stopped. Rachel watched a frail old woman get out of the car holding two ornate candlesticks. The woman clutched the candlesticks to her and stood by the car looking around, waiting. She was obviously terrified and Rachel, feeling a stab of guilt, looked away. "She's here," Rachel said.

Catch said, "Tell her to come in."

Effrom looked up from the bed, but he could not rise enough to see out the window. "What are you going to do to the wife?" he demanded.

"Nothing at all," Rachel said. "She has something I need. When I get it, you can both go home."

Rachel went to the door and threw it open as if she were welcoming home a long-lost relative. Amanda stood by the car, thirty feet away. "Mrs. Elliot, you'll need to bring the candlesticks in so we can inspect them."

"No." Amanda stood firm. "Not until I know that Effrom is safe."

Rachel turned to Effrom. "Say something to your wife, Mr. Elliot."

"Nope," Effrom said. "I'm not speaking to her. This is all her fault."

"Please cooperate, Mr. Elliot, so we can let you go home." To Amanda, Rachel said, "He doesn't want to talk, Mrs. Elliot. Why don't you bring the candlesticks in? I assure you that neither one of you will be harmed." Rachel couldn't believe that she was saying these things. She felt as if she were reading the script from a bad gangster movie.

Amanda stood clutching the candlesticks, uncertain of what she should do. Rachel watched the old woman take a tentative step toward the cabin, then, suddenly, the candlesticks were ripped from her grasp and Amanda was thrown to the ground as if she'd been hit by a shotgun blast.

"No!" Rachel screamed.

The candlesticks seemed to float in the air as Catch carried them to her. She ignored them and ran to where Amanda lay on the ground. She cradled the old woman's head in her arms. Amanda opened her eyes and Rachel breathed a sigh of relief.

"Are you all right, Mrs. Elliot? I'm so sorry."

"Leave her," Catch said. "I'll take care of both of them in a second."

Rachel turned toward Catch's voice. The candlesticks were shaking in the air. She still found it unsettling to talk to a disembodied voice.

"I don't want these people hurt, do you understand?"

"But now that we have the invocation, they are insignificant." The candlesticks turned in the air as Catch examined them. "Come now, I think there's a seam on one of these, but I can't grip it. Come open it."

"In a minute," Rachel said. She helped Amanda get to her feet. "Let's go in the house, Mrs. Elliot. It's all over. You can go home as soon as you feel up to it."

Rachel led Amanda through the front door, holding her by the shoulders. The old woman seemed dazed and listless. Rachel was afraid she would drop any second, but when Amanda saw Effrom tied to the bed, she shrugged off Rachel's support and went to him.

"Effrom." She sat on the bed and stroked his bald head.

"Well, wife," Effrom said, "I hope you're happy. You go gallivanting all over the state and you see what happens? I get kidnapped by invisible moon-men. I hope you had a good trip  –  I can't even feel my hands anymore. Probably gangrene. They'll probably have to cut them off."

"I'm sorry, Effrom." Amanda turned to Rachel. "Can I untie him, please?"

The pleading in her eyes almost broke Rachel's heart. She had never felt so cruel. She nodded. "You can go now. I'm sorry it had to be this way."

"Open this," Catch said. He was tapping a candlestick on Rachel's shoulder.

While Amanda untied Effrom's wrists and ankles and rubbed them to restore the circulation, Rachel examined one of the candlesticks. She gave it a quick twist and it unscrewed at the seam. From the weight of it, Rachel would have never guessed that it was hollow. As she unscrewed it, she noticed that the threads were gold. That accounted for the extra weight. Whoever had made the candlesticks had gone to great lengths to conceal the hollow interior.

The two pieces separated. A piece of parchment was tightly rolled inside. Rachel placed the base of the candlestick on the table, slid out the yellow tube of parchment, and slowly began to unroll it. The parchment crackled, and the edges flaked away as it unrolled. Rachel felt her pulse increase as the first few letters appeared. When half the page was revealed, her excitement was replaced with anxiety.

"We may be in trouble," she said.

"Why?" Catch's voice emanated from a spot only inches away from her face.

"I can't read this; it's in some foreign language  –  Greek, I think. Can you read Greek?"

"I can't read at all," Catch said. "Open the other candlestick. Maybe what we need is in there.

Rachel picked up the other candlestick and turned it in her hands. "There's no seam on this one."

"Look for one; it might be hidden," the demon said.

Rachel went to the kitchen area of the cabin and got a knife from the silverware drawer to scrape away the silver. Amanda was helping Effrom get to his feet, urging him across the room.

Rachel found the seam and worked the knife into it. "I've got it." She unscrewed the candlestick and pulled out a second parchment.

"Can you read this one?" Catch said.

"No. This one's in Greek, too. We'll have to get it translated. I don't even know anyone who reads Greek."

"Travis," Catch said.

Amanda had Effrom almost to the door when she heard Travis's name. "Is he still alive?" she asked.

"For a while," Catch said.

"Who is this Travis?" Rachel asked. She was supposed to be the one in charge here, yet the old woman and the demon seemed to know more about what was going on than she did.

"They can't go," Catch said.

"Why? We have the invocation; we just need to get it translated. Let them go."

"No," Catch said. "If they warn Travis, he will find a way to protect the girl."

"What girl?" Rachel felt as if she had walked into the middle of a plot-heavy mystery movie and no one was going to tell her what was happening.

"We have to get the girl and hold her hostage until Travis translates the invocation."

"What girl?" Rachel repeated.

"A waitress at the cafe in town. Her name is Jenny."

"Jenny Masterson? She's a member of the coven. What does she have to do with this?"

"Travis loves her."

"Who is Travis?"

There was a pause. Rachel, Amanda, and Effrom all stared at empty air waiting for the answer.

"He is my master," Catch said.

"This is really weird," Rachel said.

"You're a little slow on the uptake, aren't you, honey?" Effrom said.