Speaking With Your Demons
10: Meg’s Turn
All serious daring starts from within.
“So you’ve been medically cleared to continue?” Phil asked when Abe and Tracy accompanied Meg back to the treatment area.
“Yeah, despite a few bumps, I’m officially concussion free,” she declared.
“I figured as much, after you trailed Ted for so long.”
“You should talk,” she countered. “How’s your neck? I wasn’t the one who was strangled.”
“My neck’s fine, though I may not stick it out quite so far the next time.”
“I think she should call it a day,” Abe said, holding his niece. “She’s been through a lot, and it’s late.”
“We can still make it through her treatment without an prolonged delay.”
“I’m not sure that’s wise,” Meg hedged. “I’m nervous after the attack and I’m not sure—”
“That’s bull, and you know it!” Phil insisted. “You know what you’re doing, you reacted immediately when something went wrong—saving my life, by the way. It’s always better to ‘get back on the horse’ right away. If you delay, you’ll grow ever more doubtful. It doesn’t get easier, and nothing restores your confidence like discovering nothing’s changed.”
“You really think that’s best?” she asked, cocking her head. Abe rubbed his forehead, not venturing an opinion.
“All right, I’ll do it,” she answered, more confident than she’d been moments before.
“You’re sure you’re okay?” Phil pressed. “No headaches, no dizziness? Your thinking is clear and you aren’t sleepy?”
“Nope. They already asked me those questions. No symptoms, at all. I’m fine ... except...”
“Except what?” Phil crossed his arms, considering her.
“I’m nervous. If something could go so wrong for someone as experienced as you, what’s likely to happen to me?”
He smiled, reaching out to grasp her shoulder. “Don’t worry. No matter how angry the devils get, they can’t touch you.”
“It’s not the invisible creatures I’m worried about. They only gave you a few scratches, but you almost died because someone was strangling you. If some huge adult man decides to hurt me, what chance do I stand?”
Phil wrapped his arm around her, pulling Meg into him. “I’m always watching over you, and I can warn you when something is about to happen.”
“You didn’t know you were about to be attacked,” she mumbled into his chest, but he didn’t appear to hear it.”
“You know what you’re doing. You not only have terrific instincts, but you have the ideal attitude. You’re great at bluffing, and when someone as cute as you gets pissed, it scares even the mightiest warriors. You need to trust yourself. Whatever happens, you’ll adapt. Now get back in there, and let everyone know who’s boss. After all, you don’t want anyone thinking you’re a helpless little girl.”
She giggled. “That’s right, I’m a girl who knows how to kick berserker ass!”
Despite Meg’s bravado, her doubts remained. She was nervous, close to shaking when she entered the treatment room, sitting across from a large beefy man suffering from severe depression.
“All right,” Phil nudged her, speaking in her ear, “everyone’s waiting.”
Meg swallowed, looking above the man’s eyes.
Phil groaned. “Uh ... that’s not the proper term.”
“The word is Silsk, which you know. Keep calm. Whatever else, you’ve gotten their attention, they’re all staring at you, only more curious than surprised. They’re opening their mouths wide—which isn’t an aggressive power display—it looks more like a yawn. No, Slavsin tells me it’s a sign of derision. You need to regain the upper hand. Put the fear of God into them!”
“Listen you, you ... dragons,” she said, in anything but an authoritative tone.
“Uh, you’re not looking at any of them, turn you head thirty degrees to the left and tilt it up fifteen.”
“Is this part of the treatment,” her patient asked, “or is this practice before you begin?”
“You’re losing it, kiddo. You need to reassert yourself.”
Instead of responding she twisted, leaning over and fumbling in her backpack.
“Uh, Meg, they’re all yawning now.”
She still didn’t react, continuing to shift things around in her bag. A moment later, she straightened up again. “Where are they?” she whispered.
“Directly in front of you. What are you—”
She stretched her hand out and sprayed something at them. The dragons all started coughing, choking and hacking. Her patient wheeled back, his eyes watering.
“All right, bitches, laugh at me, will you? Listen up, we know all about you. Not only can I curse with the best of you Sslaussens, but we understand how to track, hurt, and yes, kill you. Why the hell do you think they sent a child against you? Because you don’t scare anyone! Consider your human. Despite your best efforts, he’s doing better than ever, because he’s heard all about you. You’ve been exposed, and once the curtain’s been drawn back, you’ve lost all your power.”
“They couldn’t follow the last line, try the following.”
“Slessin Zlest, ssiso.”
“Jackpot! They’ve all paled, their jaws are hanging open. The lead just asked ‘What now?’”
“Alright, bitches, if you want to be strong again, you need to start from scratch, and I don’t mean when you were children. Instead, do what your creators intended. Yeah, that’s right, we’ve been communicating with them.”
She proceeded to detail what they had to do, what they had to gain, and what would happen if they didn’t. One started to object, and she sprayed him in the face, causing him to double over, spitting up. “You don’t interrupt me, cockroach!” None of them did it again.
“That was a phenomenal recovery,” Phil said, when Meg joined them for the after-treatment briefing. “What was that? Mace?”
“Perfume. My mom gave it to me as a gift yesterday. It smells terrible!”
“How’d you know it’d ... never mind, after seeing it in action, it’s clear how it works.”
“Care to explain for the rest of us?” Abe asked.
“These creatures draw energy from the environment because they can’t consume solid food. However, they still breathe air. You can’t substitute the role of oxygen in the bloodstream, and you can’t generate it, or get it into the lungs, without breathing.
“Clearly, anything physical won’t affect them, but something less solid, or gaseous in this case, interacts with them normally.”
“Damn, that’s a game changer! It gives us a new tool, not just to distract these creatures when they attack, but to physically hurt them.” Curious, Abe leaned over, lifted Meg’s hands and sniffed, wincing and drawing back.
“It’s not that bad!” Betty argued.
“I’ll tell you what,” Phil suggested, “why don’t you ask the dragons what they think of it?”
“Is that what you were thinking, Meg?” Tracy asked, not totally satisfied and curious how to handle other similar situations in the future.
“Uh ... sure, that’s what I planned.” Meg flashed her a weak smile and looked at her feet.
“Whatever,” Phil said, pulling her to him and hugging her. “I’ll tell you what, as cute as you are, I prefer the tomboy in you. If it wasn’t for her, I’d be dead now. The only reason I survived Ted’s attack was because you distracted him, giving me the chance to break free. If you were the typical girl, standing in the corner and screaming, this entire movement would be over.
“You’ve got plenty of time to be a girly-girl when you’re older and become interested in boys. But for now, I need a warrior who knows how to fight like a girl.” Phil grinned. “Besides, both Mizo and Slavsin report many of their races mightiest warriors are women. It’s only humans who foster helplessness in their females.”
“So should I pick us all up cans of mace?” Abe asked. “It seems more effective than dog whistles.”
“No, it’s too concentrated. There are many instances of police-strength mace stopping full-sized men’s hearts. Given these creatures small size, it will likely kill them. Meg somehow intuitively knew the perfect solution. That’s why I trust her judgment so much. She doubted herself, but when push came to shove, she knew how to respond. Sometimes, the best arrows in our quiver are the tools we find around us when we’ve leave our quiver at home.”
“You sure it wouldn’t hurt keeping the mace on standby—just in case something goes wrong?”
“No, Meg’s perfume works better than a Taser.”
“Excuse me?” Abe asked.
“Oh, sorry, I guess I never explained. Back home, the Philadelphia police wanted my assistance. But when I made demands, they requested a guarantee that I was legit. I fried a demon with one of their Tasers—which worked incredibly well. Unfortunately, I ended up fighting for my life as everyone watched helplessly. No, Meg’s approach is subtle, but won’t be seen as a direct attack. It merely insists that we be taken seriously.”
“I still don’t like the idea of my little girl risking her life,” Betty said. Before Phil could respond, she held her hand up. “I know, I know, they can’t touch her. But like you say, if she becomes their enemy, they’ll start searching for ways to hurt her, too.”
“Sis, could you give me the name of that perfume?”
She glared at him, but Meg rode in to the rescue.
“It’s ‘Miss Pepper Pot’s Perfume’,” she said, holding the container up for him to study.
“If you’re purchasing supplies for yourself, why don’t you order a case—at our expense,” Tracy suggested. “Once this is finished and you move on, the school will need to teach our students how to defend themselves.”
“You should buy another case for the Philadelphia Walker Institute,” Phil said. “It’ll be difficult explaining how we know it works, but it’s something they can definitely use to get the creatures to pay attention to them.”
“I’ll order them, but hold off on shipping it,” Abe countered. “After all, there’s no sense tipping your hat until after the university releases the results of their study.”
“How ‘bout if I send her a single bottle?” Meg asked. “Since she knows me, it won’t seem strange. I can suggest she use it against her invisible creatures, since nothing can withstand the smell.”
Betty rolled her eyes. “That’s what you get for trying to treat your daughter on a limited budget!”
“Believe me, I’m very glad you gave it to her.” Phil gave her a quick hug. “I’ll return the favor three-fold whenever she uses it to save my life.”
“I’ll do better than that,” Tracy offered. “Let’s go shopping, and I’ll buy you whichever perfume you like, and you can recommend anything else we can use against these creatures.”
Somehow, Betty didn’t seem to appreciate Tracy’s gracious offer.
Phil entered the treatment room after the patient had been waiting for some time, twiddling his thumbs. Sitting down, Phil leaned back, considering the man for some time, not saying a word. The man began to get edgy, unsure what was happening, but his demons weren’t any better. They could tell Phil was watching each of them as they flitted around their human’s head, so they recognized he was aware of their presence. However, his refusal to act on the knowledge unnerved them. What’s more, he was like a walking menagerie, with creatures of all kinds sticking close by his side, awaiting his instructions. Someone behind the partition knocked on the window, but he still didn’t budge.
Finally, he leaned forward, speaking not to the impatient man, but to the demons circling his head. “I just killed three berserkers, ripping them asunder or decapitating them with my bare hands.” He held his hands up, as if demonstrating them to the demons, but did so without making any threatening gestures. “Frankly, I’m finding it tiring. As most battle-hardened warriors know, the deaths begin to wear on you, and you realize the futility in the continual pointless killings.”
When several of the man’s demons seemed confused by his speech, Phil signaled Dezpik, Mizo and Desttr to translate for him. The devils responded defensively, but the trio—who’d been briefed ahead of time—simply stated what he’d already said.
“Due to the constraints of this study, I’m required to eliminate at least two of you. Yet I’m frustrated by this arbitrary limit—especially since you’ve done nothing to provoke it—aside from tormenting Ralph here, of course,” he said, indicating his patient. He paused, studying the creatures who’d responded noticeably every time he referenced killing their kind. Again, he made them wait for what he was leading to.
“He slaughter others,” Desttr confirmed, demonstrating his ripping someone apart with his hands.
“However, nothing specifies that I need to kill you, only that you no longer imperil Ralph.” That revelation triggered the demons curiosity. They studied his every move, cocking their heads, trying to figure out his intent.
“Here’s what I’m proposing,” he continued, “two ... no, three of you leave your host and come work for me.” Before they could object, Phil lifted his palm, forestalling their protests. “Of the devils involved in the attack earlier today, the one who set me up, returned home intact only hours later, after he resolved to change tactics, following our advice.”
When Phil paused once again, the demons couldn’t constrain their curiosity. “What do?”
“Oh,” he said, sitting up as if he’d forgotten what he’d been discussing. “Your creators enlisted my aid. I’m authorized to clean up your act, either through wholesale slaughter or negotiation. I’m opting for the negotiations. But as Trror shows, you stand to gain much more by working with me than continuing as you have.”
Rather than continue, Phi leaned back, studying Ralph, who blinked in confusion. As the demons glanced at one another, unsure how to proceed, Dezpik, Mizo and Desttr proceeded to lecture them on what they needed to do to meet his demands.
After some negotiations, during which Phil said nothing more, three demons stepped forward. “We go.”
Phil leaned in, examining each.
“No, not you, I want him,” he said, indicating the lead devil.
“I number one. Others depend on me.”
“No, you do what you’ve always done. If you stay, no one will improve. Instead, if you come with me, you’ll need to adapt, and those left behind will have to learn what to do on their own. Without you to reinforce what you’ve always said, everyone advances.”
The demon nodded, acknowledging his logic. “I Trkrr. We go you.”
“No,” Phil said, holding his finger up, waving behind him with his other hand. The door opened a moment later, and Meg and Abe entered. Only they seemed as confused as the demons were, not having been forewarned or even sure how this was expected to operate. Phil then pointed out the individual volunteers. “Smk, as the largest, you join forces with Abe. Mrrzl, as the smallest, you go with Meg. Since you’re both hungry to advance, you’ll work harder together than with anyone else. You,” he said, indicating Trkrr, “will come with me, as I won’t put up with any of your shit!” With that he stood, waiting. When the three demons flew to their newly assigned hosts, Phil continued.
“Introduce yourselves, so they know how to refer to them. You’re required to check in regularly, just so they know what you’re up to. If you want them, use their names. If you need me to intervene, ask for me.” With that, Phil left the room, leaving everyone else to hash out any remaining questions.
“You know,” Abe said, considering the unseen demon hovering beside him, “I wasn’t sure how this would work, but with them acknowledging whatever we say, it’s actually not that hard. What’s more, instead of acting on my inherent susceptibility, Smk is actively trying to correct my weaknesses.”
“It’s true,” Meg agreed. “Just like you, having our own demons who can see those creatures we can’t, allows us to communicate with those we can’t observe.”