Charm City Darkness #3
The demon mark on Assumpta’s back itched, and she sat up straight in bed. The harsh glare of a streetlight shone right into her window, making her squint against the brightness. A tower of cardboard moving boxes generated deep shadows into which anything could hide. She felt it, but she didn’t see a thing.
“Goddammit!” she shouted, looking around the room. She’d just managed to find the place yesterday and move in, but she’d been so exhausted she hadn’t taken the time to ward the doors and windows.
The mark on her back, easily confused with a small tattoo between her shoulder blades, was her personal demon finder. But it also had bound her to the demon who’d owned it, and still if she died right now, she was going straight to Hell. For eternity.READ MORE
She had killed the demon who’d marked her—The Big Guy, he’d called himself—which meant the mark should have disappeared. Unfortunately, her mark remained. She couldn’t figure out why. And while she was still bound for Hell if she died this very second, at least she wouldn’t become the personal slave to some vicious demon. Small comfort.
So who—or what—invaded her home tonight?
The mark on her back twitched again. Ten-thirty p.m. according to the clock. She’d fallen into bed a mere half hour ago. Crap, she was exhausted.
She reached for the holy water she put on the cardboard box serving as a night stand last night. Father Tony had tsked at her irreverence when he saw she used a mustard squirt bottle to hold the blessed liquid, but she refused to give it up until she found something better. She could hit a demon twelve feet away with a good squeeze and keep the water trained on it until its skin started peeling from its body. Sometimes, they exploded.
Demons kept their distance when she showed them she could do that.
“Show yourself!” she shouted, her heart thumping wildly in her chest. She’d been to Hell and returned, fought two major demons already, but it didn’t make her immune to the fear of them—especially when they showed up unannounced on her turf.
“It’s just me,” said a voice from the hallway. She heard footsteps, and then a head peeked around the doorframe and into the bedroom.
It was the demon, Kenny. He wore navy blue work pants and shirt, and steel-toed boots. His black hair was brushed off his forehead and back, and just curly enough to cause a slight pompadour. All he needed was one of those old-fashioned lunch boxes to look like he was heading to work down at Sparrows Point. Too bad they’d closed the Bethlehem Steel mill ages ago.
She breathed a sigh of relief, but didn’t put down the holy water. She knew this one, the blue-collar demon who’d been trapped in Hell—apparently due more to bad choices than evil ones—but she still didn’t trust him.
“What do you want?”
He stepped into the room, put its hands in his pockets, and shrugged. He certainly had the hang-dog look down pat. “I want you to help me get out Hell,” he said.
“Are you kidding me? This couldn’t wait until tomorrow?”
She rubbed her forehead, then reached to the night stand for a chopstick she’d used to keep her wavy auburn hair in a bun while she’d moved her few things in. She shoved it down the back of her shirt between her shoulder-blades and scratched the demon mark there. Ah, sweet relief. But only for a moment. It would continue to itch until the demon went away. It was torture—but the best asset she had in her arsenal right now.
“You might have the place warded up by tomorrow,” Kenny said. “I had to get in while the getting was good.”
“It’s not like you can’t accost me on any old street.” Assumpta threw the chopstick at him. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
He disappeared and reappeared eighteen inches to the left, the chopstick passing by him. “I couldn’t wait.”
“Not even a few hours?”
“I hate Hell. It’s awful.”
“Not my fault.”
“Well, it’s not mine!”
“We’ve been over this ground before, Kenny. Now please—” She reached for her pillow and punched it a few times, then laid down. “Get the hell out. I can’t help you.”
“You’ve got power.” He ran a hand through the pompadour of black hair falling over his forehead. “And influence—you can get me out. With your help, and Jak’s—”
“Jak’s gone!” she snapped, sitting up in bed again. She felt the burn in her eyes and willed the tears not to fall. Her sinuses got all tight. Jesus Christ. She would not cry in front of a godforsaken demon.
He looked contrite. “Sorry. What happened?”
She so did not want to discuss this with a demon. Jak had been ...what? A fallen angel? A messenger from God?
She’d rescued him from demon imprisonment, gotten herself demon-marked in the process, and fallen in love, despite him being... Not a demon. Not a human. Certainly not a ghost. God himself had sent him back to Earth in human form to fight beside her when she challenged the high-ranking demon who’d owned her mark, and he’d been killed in the process.
Killed? She wasn’t certain. But he’d disappeared in the fight—along with Saint Michael. How could he not be dead?
And even after killing The Big Guy—the demon who had owned her mark, who had owned her—she was still slated to roast in Hell for eternity. It had been a massive effort to defeat him—she’d almost died—and she had nothing to show for it.
“I haven’t heard from Jak in months.” Two months, three days, and fourteen hours. She gave Kenny an inquisitive look. “Why don’t you know that? You guys always seem to know everything else.”
He shrugged. “I try not to pay attention to what goes on in Hell.”
“What?” She threw the covers back and stood up. “You’re a demon who resides in Hell. You see what goes on down there all the time.” She threw the other chopstick at him, and he dodged it just as easily as the first. “You were the freakin’ message boy for The Big Guy. How can you not know what’s going on down there?”
“I just don’t care about it.” He shrugged again. “It’s not like I asked to be there. I don’t want to hang out. I just want to be out.”
“Of course you do, like every other convicted felon.” She held up her hand. “Don’t tell me, you’re innocent.”
“Is anyone completely innocent?”
Assumpta couldn’t decide if he were being deliberately obtuse to deflect her insult or if he were asking a serious question.
“Get out,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about this tonight.”
“You can’t throw me out. I’ll just stay here and jabber, jabber, jabber all night until you decide to talk to me.” He leaned against the wall and slid down to sit, resting his hands on his knees as if he were staying there for the long haul. “I can outlast you,” he said, then started la, la, la-ing to some nursery rhyme tune she recognized but the name of she couldn’t recall.
“You do that,” she said, inflecting her voice with every bit of anger she felt right then, “and see if I ever raise a finger to help you.”
He disappeared in a puff of smoke, with only the lingering scent of sulfur to prove he’d been there.
Assumpta crawled back into bed, vowing to ward the apartment first thing in the morning.