Speaking With Your Demons
05: A Little Devil Goes to Heaven
We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white.
It’s our basic human right.
They were in the middle of dinner—Phil was introducing Meg to sushi for the first time before they called it a night—when his cellphone rang.
“Pardon me. Not many people have this number, so there’s a decent chance this is serious.”
“Don’t worry about us.” Abe popped a piece of tuna roll in his mouth. “I’m enjoying this. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to afford something this good.”
“I almost ‘spect it is one of your invis’ble friends,” Meg said.
“Amen to that.” Abe held up his sake glass, toasting Phil’s invisible minions. “Once they figure out our technology, all bets are off. They’ll be calling him all day and night.” He ended by drinking more, the best he’d had in a long, long time.
“Phil, I’m glad I caught you. This is Nathan Kelly. I realize it’s late, but we’ve just concluded a University Committee meeting. I must say, it’s not easy convincing people to invest in a project you can’t provide details on, but they finally agreed. We decided the benefits far outweigh the risks. Your study is on. How soon do you think you can come in and discuss it?”
“Uh, I’m going to be busy this weekend, but I’ll be available Sunday afternoon, and I can hit the ground running on Monday.”
“Excellent! I’ll make the arrangements. We’re looking forward to working with you.”
After he ended the conversation, his phone rang again before he had time to put it back in his shirt pocket. He mumbled, rolling his eyes to Meg’s delight—though she was enjoying her reverse California roll and wasn’t objecting on any account.
“Phil, it’s me, Betty. We ... we need to talk.”
“Betty?” he exclaimed, a bit loudly. He covered the receiver, as if it would make any difference, but both Abe and Meg lowered their food, concerned.
“What’s wrong? Is Mom okay?”
Phil absently waved her concern off until he could determine it for himself. “What is it, Betty? It’s not like you to call me out of the blue.”
“We need to talk. Something ... something’s happened.”
“Something good or something bad?”
“I can’t do it justice over the phone. Where are you? If you’re at your hotel, I’m within walking distance.”
“No, we’re having dinner. Give us another twenty to thirty minutes and we’ll meet you in the lobby,” he said, waving for their waitress.
“What is it?” Meg asked, her voice cracking.
“I don’t know, she wouldn’t say, but she sounded upset. She was sniffling like she was crying. Let’s box this stuff up and get out of here. If those devils are up to no good, I’ll wring their little necks!”
“I zure not,” Mizo cautioned. “They ‘vinced.”
“Let’s hope so, otherwise this whole approach may be in jeopardy,” Phil said, pulling his wallet out.
“Believe in them until you know for sure,” Tristan urged. “If not, then you respond. Not before.”
It was exactly twenty-three minutes later when they arrived at Phil’s Best Western Plus Hotel, rushing into the lobby to discover Betty looking better than the last time they saw her, but obviously distressed. She had cleaned herself up, dressed and was well put together, but her face was damp with tears, and her mascara was running.
“What’s wrong, Momma?” Meg cried, but while Betty clutched her to her side, she headed for Phil.
“Phil, I ... I don’t know what’s happening, but ... they want you.”
“Wait, who wants me?”
“The ... things inside my head. They keep calling your name. At first they spoke mine, and I thought I was imagining things. When they repeated it, I thought I’d lost it, but then they switched to yours. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, but they clearly think it’s important.”
“Okay, first, those ‘things’ are your devils, though you can say ‘your addiction’ when in mixed company. Secondly,” he said, waving away something no one else could see, “how are you feeling?”
“Actually, terrific. Every time I avoid something bad, I feel an almost drug-intense high. It doesn’t last long, but it’s relatively easy to keep doing things to improve myself.”
“Then why the tears?” Abe asked.
Betty stared at him as if he was the one acting irrationally—not an unreasonable assumption, considering his recent history. “They’re tears of joy! My life is coming together, everything is working out.”
“Hold on,” Phil said. “Let me check with the experts.”
Before he had a chance to say anything, Roddger—who’d been waiting for him—started speaking.
“We need. We do you ask, but no has words.”
“And you asked her to contact me?” Roddger nodded enthusiastically. “And you’ve started talking to her, calling her by name when you want her to pay attention?”
“Work well. Hear name, stop, listen.”
“You’re learning to communicate, a major advance!” Phil turned back to Betty, who’d been following his side of the exchange. “Your devils don’t understand English well, but want to talk. You should visit the library, check out multiple children’s books and read to them. Use the illustrations to explain anything they’re not familiar with. They’re eager to learn, but need instruction. Anytime they require something, they’ll call your name—as you’ve noticed. When they’re finished with one set of books, they’ll tell you to get more. When you think they’re being unreasonable, or you need a little latitude, speak to Roddger. It’s still up to him, but like you, he’ll respond faster if you refer to him by name, and clearly state what you need. Likewise, they’ll only use your name when it’s vital.
“They may not always be able to express what they want, but between cravings, rewards, punishments in terms of aches and pains, and adrenaline rushes, you should figure it out.”
“It’s ... it’s like having a sponsor, following me every step of the way, only they always anticipate what I’m feeling. I never listened to my sponsors before, but now the rewards and benefits are immediate, rather than weeks or months away.”
“Tristan says the fairies have been speaking to their hosts for a long time, suggesting ideas so they’ll assume they’re the host’s own. However, they never considered talking directly to them, as they were afraid of exposing themselves. She’ll give them a few hints, with Mizo interpreting—her English is coming along well.
“I think this is an unmitigated success. You’re both communicating, listening to and helping each other. Working in unison, you’ll progress rapidly. The next thing you need to—” As Phil spoke, another devil appeared, fading into existence seeming out of thin air. As he materialized before Phil’s eyes, Roddger’s eyes widened.
“I take it this is unexpected?”
“It is,” Mizo answered. “New recruits come, but only at set time. Odd!”
“Is it a replacement for those already lost?” Phil asked. “I killed three of Betty’s devils and you voluntarily left. Wouldn’t they send someone to fill in the gap?”
“Home not know. When we die, blood and guts explode home, but not know where from. We wait for regular recruit.”
“Okay, so something different is happening, and it seems it’s keyed to Roddger’s actions. Tristan, do you have any further information?”
“This is new, even for us. Recruits replace those lost, but only when one returns home.”
“All right, help me understand. How, are your replacements sent? Do they volunteer? Use a machine? Are they selected and transferred automatically?”
“It automatic,” Mizo said. “When reach age, we go where needed.”
“The ... beings who gave me my abilities stated you somehow figured out how their techniques worked and used them for your own purposes. How did you do that if you aren’t in charge of the equipment which transfers you here?”
“They fiddle controls, change settings,” Slavsin said.
“Once they arrive, confronting someone susceptible, they seek to harm rather than help,” Tristan explained. “They didn’t sabotage the equipment—which remains protected—instead they perverted the process, sabotaging the intent.”
“Okay, that gives me a better idea of what we’re dealing with. They adjusted the settings so low, they can assault anyone susceptible rather than those in actual need, worsening their innate tendencies instead of correcting them. But it doesn’t address why...” Phil paused, as a second devil appeared in midair.
The new devil, glanced at everyone around him, staring at Phil, and rotated in place, taking everything in.
“They see us,” the other new arrival told him. “Could ‘splain what happen?”
“I Roddger. Me lead. We ... change, learn new way. We...”
Just as the new arrivals appeared, Roddger began to disappear, only slower than the others had arrived.
Tristan clapped her hands. “It’s happening again. He’s being rewarded. He’s being sent home!”
“How long does he have?” Phil demanded, considering all the various creatures.
“Not long, I tell new need.” Roddger, taking control, motioned the newbies to him. “I not long here. Follow Phil lead,” he said, indicating the human at the center of the discussion. “He find new way. It why I go. You listen, you go, too.”
“All right,” Phil said, waving everyone else towards him, leaving the devils alone for the vital transfer of knowledge. “This is getting out of hand, but I think I understand what’s happening. We’ve tapped into the creators’ original programming. When you,” he said, indicating the mythological creatures surrounding him, “make a significant advancement towards achieving your goals or changing someone’s future, you’re rewarded, and replacements are sent in your place.”