A P O C R Y P H A
Unnatural smoke dissipated and the blinding light receded. Caleb lowered his arm from his face to look at the pentagram still glowing dimly on the floor.
There was a pair of hooves above it.
Not on it, above it. Hovering several inches in the air. His eyes slid up the impossibly long, narrow legs, over the hollow cavity where a stomach should have been, and the waist barely wider than its exposed spine; everything he saw was covered in a translucent skin and innumerable jagged spikes. At the top of it all sat a skull, unlike any animal Caleb could think of, with long, curved tusks and swooping curled horns, lined with a row of yet more spikes. Solid white eyes in dark, sunken sockets glanced around the bedroom, then down at Caleb.
It said nothing for a moment as it looked him over. Another pause, until finally, the unknowable, unimaginably powerful entity he’d summoned from realms beyond human comprehension finally spoke:
“Well aren’t you just a walking fucking stereotype.”
The gobsmacked look on Caleb’s face must not have been a satisfactory answer, because the being - demon, he supposed; a real, physical demon - raised its bony brows as though waiting for more. When it didn’t come, it continued.
“...Right, well. What do you want?”
“U-uh…” came the intelligent reply. Caleb wasn’t sure if he’d blinked in the past thirty seconds.
“Come on, you can do it. Use your words.” It crossed one arm across its chest to grasp the other, which held its long, spindly fingers and gaff-like talons up nearer its head.
Caleb finally collected himself enough to manage some words, but not much more than that. “Are...a-are you real?”
It rolled its eyes so hard its entire head reflected the motion, scoffing and dropping the raised arm in annoyance. “No, sweetheart, you bought acid off some fuck on the street corner and this is what your shitty brain came up with,” it said, gesturing to its entire body with the free hand.
“You are, aren’t you?”
“....Shit, that usually works.”
Caleb finally shuffled to his feet, though his knees threatened to give out from under him. He braced himself on the windowsill behind him, face still awash with disbelief and awe. “I actually did it…I actually summoned a demon from Hell…”
“What were you expecting, fucking Mickey Mouse?”
Caleb didn’t answer, drawing a groan from the demon. It dropped itself into the nearest chair, bracing its elbow on the arm and its head against its knuckles. The motion was enough to get Caleb’s attention, who finally turned his eyes toward it.
After a moment, he tried to speak-
“No no, go ahead, I’ll wait,” the demon interrupted. Caleb closed his mouth, unsure how to proceed. The demon’s harsh gaze sucked him dry of any sense of accomplishment as the gravity of what he’d just done, and all the fear and dread that came with it, sunk in. The demon clearly wasn’t happy with him. And of all the things Caleb would like to not be happy with him, a fucking demon was no where near the top of the list.
He pushed off the wall, straightened his shirt, and cleared his throat, facing the creature directly but pointedly avoiding eye contact. He bowed his head and brought his hands together in an awkward mimic of prayer. Frankly, he had no idea what the fuck he was doing, but Devin said to be careful not to offend the demon. Unfortunately, none of the two-dollar ebooks he bought on Amazon included a how-to section on proper human-demon etiquette. But every demon summoning he’d seen in a movie showed the Satanic priests worshipping the demon, so prayer hands seemed fitting, somehow. Better than dropping to his knees and prostrating himself. “Forgive me, Mr. Demon. I meant you no disrespect…sir. I only wish to….humbly ask, if you…would be so kind, and if it’s not too much trouble-”
The roll of the demon’s eyes was practically audible in itself, but it was accompanied by a scoff nonetheless. “Cut the crap, kid.”
So much for that idea. Caleb dared to look up without lifting his head. The demon had lifted its head off its hand, now tilting it the opposite direction. He blinked and straightened again, movements unsure and uncomfortable. He shifted his weight on his feet. “Uh. S-sorry…?”
The demon rose from the seat, seemingly without moving any of its skinless muscles, until it was stood upright, once again hovering nearly a foot off the floor, the tops of its horns threatening to scrape against the ceiling. It loomed over him, eyes half lidded in what he could only assume was judgement, and he shrunk back even while his feet stood their ground.
“First of all, I am not Mr. Demon. You walk up to strangers and say ‘Hello Mr. Human, pleasure to meet you’?” the demon said, with a dramatic wave of its hand in pantomime of a greeting.
“No. No you fuckin’ don’t.” Caleb didn’t argue. The demon nodded its head and splayed its fingers at him, accepting the victory. “Now clearly you have no idea what the fuck you’ve just gotten yourself into, so I’m going to hold your hand like a fucking child.”
Caleb glanced down at his own hand and back up just in time to see the demon’s eyes zeroed in on it as well.
“Metaphorically speaking, dumbass,” it droned, drawing out the syllables as though it was trying to communicate to someone who didn’t speak the same language. It dragged one hand down over its face, muttering to itself, “Cur semper stulti…”
It inhaled and waved the same hand off flippantly, looking down at Caleb again. “Okay, look. People don’t just summon us for shits and giggles. They want something. And you didn’t just summon any demon, you summoned me. And you have a ratty ass copy of the shitlist on the floor over there.” It gestured to Devin’s book. “So I assume that, at the very least, you know my goddamn name.”
Caleb’s eyes fell to the book. Truth be told, he’d picked one with a random number generator on his phone. And he was not paying attention. If he had any chance of remembering the demon’s name, it was undoubtedly shattered by the shock of success and the anxiety currently threatening to cut off his air supply altogether. He looked sheepishly back up at the demon.
It looked back at him for a moment while the realization sunk in. The pupil of the eye in the center of its chest constricted as a burst of flame punctuated its frustrated snarl. Caleb barely contained his flinch, heart pounding in his chest. The demon stopped, took a deep, slow breath, black smoke pouring from between its teeth, and straightened itself again. “Fine,” it snapped. “I am Dantalion, Duke of Hell, commander of thirty-six legions, and temporary babysitter of one incompetent meatsack. And who, pray tell, the fuck are you?”
Okay, maybe he definitely bit off more than he could chew. “M-My name is Caleb St. Claire…”
The demon’s brows rose. “St. Claire, huh? Your ancestors must be so proud of you. Well, Caleb, you’ve managed to turn your canoe up the biggest shit creek in existence with no paddle and a hole in the floor. So I’m going to give you some duct tape and a stick and you’re gonna do your very damnedest to keep up, okay camper?”
“Good.” Dantalion reached across the floor to pick up Devin’s book, took both Caleb’s wrists in his free hand, and dropped the book into his. He tapped the cover with the claw of his index finger. “This is a very important book. I am going to go home now, and you have two options. One, which I strongly suggest you take, is to turn that canoe back around and pretend this little exchange never happened in the first place. Give that pretty girl her book back and convince yourself this was all just a fucked up dream or a drug-induced hallucination.”
Caleb furrowed his brows and wondered how the hell he knew about Devin, or that the book wasn’t his at all, but Dantalion didn’t give him time to question it. “But if, for some unimaginable reason, your feeble, testosterone-laden mind is hellbent on doing this, you are going to read this book, cover to cover, and pay the beings listed in it the proper respect they’re due, because many of them will not be so kind as I was. And hopefully I’ll get lucky, and someone else will be better equipped to fix your insignificant little problems, and my insignificant little problem,” he growled, prodding him only somewhat gently in the chest, “all at once. Do I make myself clear?”
Caleb watched Dantalion’s intense but unreadable face for a long moment, then looked down at the book. Reading long texts was never his forte. But maybe Devin could read it to him; surely Dantalion’s point was for him to understand the contents, not the act of reading, right? Finally, he nodded.
Dantalion finally released his wrists. “Good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have better shit to do than wrangle harebrained teenagers. Ad Deum.”
A flash of blue fire and smoke, and the demon was gone, leaving nothing but a few trailing ashes to fall to the now inert pentagram on the floor.