Petrichor

Alex Weber had a good-sized house in the suburbs, a BMW, two kids in private school that he didn’t pay attention to, and a dead body leaving a large stain on the very expensive rug in his living room. He was also more than an hour late.

If there’s one thing guaranteed to get you on my bad side, it’s tardiness. That, and asking about my name. He managed to dance over that line within two seconds of sitting down.

“Is your name really Petrichor?” he whispered in a sort of panicked voice. The smell of cheap whiskey filled the air around him, making my food court salad even less appetizing.

“You were told to meet me here at six,” I said, looking at my watch. “It’s almost seven-thirty.”

He was a thin, short man, with nervous hands that constantly fidgeted. Staring at the people around us, he ran a hand through his thinning black hair. “I wasn’t sure it was you. They told me where to meet you and what you’d be wearing, but they didn’t mention you were, y’know…”

“What?” I asked with a raised eyebrow. “A woman?”

He nodded, “I was going to say ‘black’, but that, too.”

I shrugged. “Not my problem. My services require time, and now there’s less of it. Less time, more chances of mistakes. More risk means my price goes up.”

“What do you mean, ‘your price goes up?” he hissed at me. “I can barely afford you as it is.”

It was all I could do not to choke on the fumes that wafted across the table. There was a heavier stink hidden under the booze. I focused on taking at least one bite of the wilted pile of vegetables I’d bought earlier. In my line of work, the illusion of control means everything.

“Mr. Weber, I provide very exclusive services. If you were given my card, then you can already afford to pay for them. The real question is how much do you value your freedom?”

Before he could stammer out a reply, I cut him off. “Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to sit here with me while I finish this horrible salad. You can sit quietly, or we can chat like we’re old friends. We leave together. I will help you with your problem, and you will pay me double the rate you were quoted, and you will do so without complaint.”

He nodded and I smiled. “Excellent! And to save the sad attempt at conversation, yes it is my real name; yes, I know what it means; and no, my parents were not hippies. My mother was a lawyer and my father was a police man.”

Personal details matter. If you tell someone something about you, then they feel as if they know you. I don’t know what my real parents did for a living, but if telling a client they were on the right side of law and order helps set their minds at ease, then it’s something I’m willing to do.

The salad didn’t taste any better with Mr. Weber impatiently watching me. After a few more bites, I gave up on it entirely, and we headed for the exit. I followed him out to his BMW. It was a nice car, with just enough wear that you could tell he’d bought it used.

He looked around awkwardly. “So, do I give you a ride, or…”

“Go home,” I told him. “I’ll be there in about a half an hour.”

He started to say something, then appeared to think better of it. I watched him get into his car, and had to fight off the urge to wave at him as he left. I waited for his tail lights to fade into the distance before heading back to my van.

Normally, I don’t work the suburbs. My business is referral only, which means that I very rarely deal with people in this income bracket. In the city, with people coming and going at all hours, nobody notices one more person. Out in the land of neighborhood watches and Home Owners’ Associations, though, you never know who is keeping careful track of late night visitors.

I parked down the street from his house and killed the headlights. Alex Weber was either much better connected than he was showing, or setting me up for something. Either way, it paid to be cautious.

Ten minutes passed and nothing seemed amiss. Keeping the headlights off, I drove up the street and pulled into his driveway. The garage door slid open in front of my van, and I was grateful that Weber at least seemed moderately competent.

The garage door closed behind me and I waited in the van. I was tempted to leave it running, but didn’t really feel like dying of asphyxiation while I waited for him to take the hint and come out to see me. After a few minutes, he poked his head out of the door connecting the garage to the rest of the house. I grabbed my toolbox, and followed him inside.

We came in through the kitchen, where a pile of dishes waited in the sink. Old pizza boxes were stacked on the counter, and in general, the place was in dire need of a good cleaning. “The wife and kids are out of town for the week,” Weber said apologetically. “But they’re coming back in a couple of days, so you understand the urgency.”

I followed him into the living room. An overturned chair sat in front of the coffee table, next to a puddle of tar-like blood. A slight breeze came in from a broken window. I nodded to myself, all the glass was in the bushes right underneath the window. The real question was what happened to the body.

“You mind telling me what happened?” I asked, setting my toolbox down next to the stain on the carpet.

“The family was out, so I, uh, called this woman. For sex.”

“Of course you did,” I sighed. I pulled out a rubber glove and snapped it on my hand, then very delicately poked at the blood on the ground. “Then what happened, Mr. Weber?”

“We’d been doing some coke, when all of a sudden she just went crazy and attacked me,” he said with a slight hint of hysteria. “Cut me up real good. There was a knife on the table from earlier. I don’t know what happened, I just went crazy. I stabbed her with it. She was dead. I saw the body, it was right there. I killed her.”

“You change your clothes after?”

“No,” he said, cocking his head. “I was told to keep everything the way it was.”

I glanced over at his cheap cotton suit and nodded. He didn’t have a mark on him. The girl’s body was nowhere to be seen. Inside the toolbox, I keep a few small things for encounters like this. They won’t do shit to a larger demon, but for minor ones it’s best to keep things low-key. Some holy water, some silver, and a little bit of salt are good enough in most cases.

“Mr Weber, can you tell me what she looked like?” I asked, as I dug around in the toolbox.

“What? She was blonde. White. Usual height and weight. Why?” he asked.

“Well, it’s a matter of proportion and mass,” I said. “You see, a demon can’t make itself any bigger on this plane of reality. Whatever size it is when it comes through, that’s pretty much where it stays. When it comes to possession, they tend to gravitate towards others of a similar build.”

I found the bottle that I was looking for and quietly unscrewed the cap, before nodding at the blood pool on the ground. “Let me show you what I’m talking about.”

He edged forward and I splashed him in the face with the open bottle of silver. Admittedly, colloidal silver isn’t going to kill a demon. It will do a reasonable amount of damage if you get it in their eyes. And it stings like a mother fucker.

Weber grabbed his face, smoke pouring out from underneath his fingers. I pulled a knife from the box and drove it into his foot, pinning him to the ground. He roared loud enough to shake the walls, and I backed away quickly. I needed to put a stop to this before some well-intentioned neighbor woke up and called animal control.

Very quickly, I made a circle of salt around Weber, holding the demon in place. It pawed at the knife, fingers burning when they brushed the metal. The guy who sold me the knife said it was infused with angel-hair. I’d never had the chance to test it before now, but I made a mental note to send him a nice thank you card and some booze if I got through this.

There are well over three hundred different banishing spells for demons, depending on the level of possession and how much discomfort you want to put the host through. Some require days of meditation, and a good variety of incense. I didn’t really care about Weber, but I did need him alive to sign the check.

I grabbed the sage from the tool box and burned it while beginning the incantation I wanted. Weber’s face twisted in front of me. His eyes had burst from the silver, and the skin was beginning to slough off in places. His left arm popped out of socket and hung loosely by his side. The whole room began to stink of sulfur.

The first time I’d done this, it scared the shit out of me. It’s rare that demonic injuries carry through to the human host beyond this initial manifestation. Usually, the demon does it to try to get you to stop. You rush in to help the client, and now it has a new body to possess.

The demon began to scream louder, and I glanced nervously out the window to see if the neighbors had called the cops yet. That was the last thing I needed. A few items flew off the shelves, narrowly missing my head. I chanted faster, and smiled as the salt began to glow.

There was bright flash of light, and Weber lay crumpled on the ground, breathing heavily and sobbing. I waited, not wanting to break the salt circle. A few of your savvier demons will fake the light show and try to hide inside the host. There’s really only one way to know for sure.

“Mr Weber,” I said in a strong, clear voice. “Can you please step out of the salt circle?”

He stared up at me in confusion, and then threw up. “I’m not cleaning that up,” I told him. “That one’s on you.”

After a few seconds, he crawled out of the circle and collapsed on the floor. I helped him to his feet, and got him up on the couch. He lay there moaning while I went about the next part of my job, which is clearing any sign of the demonic intruder.

The salt and other things I’d used were easy enough to clean; demonic blood, however, is a major pain in the ass to get out of carpet. Whatever it was that had possessed Weber had left a lot of it behind. The key to clearing demonic blood out is a solution of holy water, silver, and a dash of bleach. Nobody has ever been able to explain why the bleach works, but it is absolutely necessary. If you scrub hard enough, the stain does eventually come out, although you’ll need something for the fumes.

It took hours to get everything cleaned properly. Weber spent the time recovering on the couch, so I didn’t feel bad at all when I handed him the bill. “Next time, avoid the hookers altogether and just stick with internet porn,” I said with a smile.

He still looked a little green around the edges when he signed it. By the time I left his house, the sun was peeking up over the city, and a few people had come out to walk their dogs. I suddenly felt very tired. I stopped at a red light and closed my eyes for a second, promising myself a vacation somewhere tropical and isolated.

Demons are easy. It’s the people that’ll drain the life out of you.

 

©2016 Chris Page. All rights reserved.

 

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