For the Terribleminds Flash Fiction challenge, “Life Is Hell“.
The stairs under the curio shop go down, down, down.
Marcia didn’t mind the exercise, and the decent actually helped her clear her head. The ambient noises and constantly guttering lights no longer set her on edge, as was certainly their intent. She was able to screen the flickering incandescence and barely intelligible pleas for mercy out as she mentally prepared herself. When it came to these negotiations, even moreso than with the fae or the vampires, one had to word things in a very particular and precise way.
Demons loved loopholes.
She finally arrived at the bottom of the stairs, 666 steps from the trapdoor in the curio shop’s back room. Demons loved shit like that, too. Marcia wasn’t in the mood for any of it. She pricked her finger with her knife, knelt in the semi-darkness that dominated the space outside of the stairwell, and touched the groove set into the stone floor.
Dark red light blossomed from the pentagram carving as the beacon activated. The star was pointed towards the stairs, making it inverted from Marcia’s perspective. An upright pentacle, like the one around her neck, was a symbol of protection. Its opposite was anything but. A howling noise from deep in the darkness beyond the pentagram began to rise and increase in volume, and after a few moments, the ground began to shake.
Marcia crossed her arms impatiently, and waited.
Symbols and script of an unspoken language began to float above the circle, and from the midst of them a gaunt figure slowly emerged. It towered over Marcia, clad in tight black leather, a dire cassock stained with blood that caught the light in a disturbing fashion. Its collar was high and tight, jutting its chin permanently upwards. It bared its teeth without choice as it had no lips to speak of, and its eyes were bound with what appeared to be vinyl, held in place with iron spikes through the eye sockets. Air hissed between its blackened teeth, and pale skin stretched as it spoke.
Marcia rolled her eyes.
“Not today, Bee. I’m not in the mood.”
Silence, for a moment.
“WE HAVE SSSSSSSSSUCH SSSSSSSSSIGHTSSSSS….”
“Did you watch the Hellraiser movies again last night? I’d say you do that religiously but I don’t want to be that insulting.”
“Come on, Beelzebub. Cut the bullshit.”
There was a pause. Then, all of the black leather burst outwards, taking the form of bats and flying away with squeaks and squeals. Underneath them was a gentleman slightly taller than Marcia, wearing a suit that, if it had been bought in one of the boutiques far above their heads, would have easily cost $10,000 or more. The man’s eyes, set in a deceptively handsome face, mirrored the red glow of the circle he stood in.
“You should have seen the last would-be summoner that happened down here. Making your lot piss themselves never gets old.”
“Hilarious. I told you I’m not in the mood.”
“Dear Marcia, when are you ever in the mood?” The Arch-Duke of Hell sighed. “This is why you can’t get a date.”
“No. I can’t get a date because I have to keep cleaning up your messes.”
An ancient mason’s hammer hit the stone floor without Marcia breaking Beelzebub’s eye contact.
“I found this in the home of a murderer. For some reason, when he killed someone, the spouse or nearest next of kin got pinched. Evidence and everything. I’m sure you know what that is.”
Beelzebub’s smile didn’t waver as he glanced at the hammer. “Well, well. These are increasingly rare.”
“I want to know what it is, in full, and I want to know what it’s worth.”
The demon crossed his arms. “I don’t think I like your tone.”
Marcia raised her chin. “Do something about it.”
For a moment, they stood and regarded one another. Then, Beelzebub started laughing.
“This is why you stay around, Marcia. I may not care for such disrespect, but I do admire your courage.”
“You can’t moisten me up that way. Tell me about the hammer.”
“It was one of many tools used to build Gomorrah. When the city was destroyed, so were most of those tools, along with their people. A few survived, including this one, saturated with the brimstone that fell from Heaven. As it was most often wielded by wicked men…”
“So it’s magical.”
“If you wanted to be utterly pedestrian about it…”
“What’s it worth?”
“Name your price.”
Money meant nothing to demons. A snap of their fingers could make extra zeroes appear in any number of bank accounts. But Marcia knew that if she wanted to maintain an edge in this game, she needed more than that.
“I want to add a clause.”
Beelzebub shook his head. “You keep doing this, we’ll have to redraft the entire contract.”
“That isn’t an option and you know it. The original stipulations stand. I just want to add a clause. My sister just had a baby boy. He’s off-limits.”
“Hmm. A good job keeping that hidden from us, girl. I didn’t even see anything on Facebook.”
“Do we have a deal, or not?”
The demon glanced down at the hammer. “You said this was used in murders? Recently?”
“Where is the murderer now?”
“I don’t know.”
“Would you like to?”
Marcia hesitated. Beelzebub smiled.
“We can’t have a loose end running around, Marcia. This is the deal: leave the hammer and kill its wielder when you depart this place, and your clause will be added. The contract itself remains unmolested. What say you?”
Marcia frowned. She wasn’t a killer by nature. Part of the reason she was in this situation in the first place was because she’d been too chickenshit to go after her assailant on her own. But after the contract had been signed, it’d been frighteningly easy. And now Beelzebub was telling her to kill again.
She thought of her radiant sister, and the innocent baby.
“Okay,” she said. “Deal.”