Speaking With Your Demons
04: Searching For Additional Allies

Copyright© 2017 by Vincent Berg

You don’t tell people who disagree with you
{ci}they’d be better off somewhere else.
{ci}And you don’t reduce them to stereotypes;
{ci}you address them as fully formed people worthy of respect.
{ci}You try to persuade them.
{cb}Peggy Noonan

Phil was on his way out the door when his cellphone rang.

“Crap! Who’s calling my private line this time of day?”

Mizo and Slavsin found this hilarious, chortling. Tristan had other ideas.

“Please, you’re better than that. You need to practice expressing yourself since you need to convince so many in the coming weeks.”

“You’re right, I should behave better, damn it!” That set Mizo and Slavsin off again, but before Tristan could respond, Phil answered his phone.

“Hello, Phil speaking.”

“Dad, this is Toni.”

Phil grinned. Even though it interrupted his schedule, he enjoyed hearing from his daughter. “Hey, sweetie, what’s up?”

As Tristan was interested in his private life—and the other two weren’t unless it involved misery—she flew near his ear to eavesdrop on the conversation. Phil eyed her warily, but couldn’t comment without alerting Toni that something was up.

“Since you’re fitting into Seattle and making friends, I figured this would be an ideal opportunity to visit.”

“Uh...” Phil said, unsure how to respond.

“I know you’ve struggled with your notoriety, so we’ve kept our distance. But as that’s not such an issue now, this seems the perfect time. I’ve missed you these past seven months, and I’d love to discuss these new ideas of yours.”

“Um...”

“I understand you don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up until you’ve fleshed out your plans, but I’m the perfect foil to bounce ideas off. Not only do I know how you think, but it’ll make up for all the time you refused to tell me what you were up to.”

“That’s ... wonderful, honey. Would it be just you?”

She giggled, which warmed his heart, though he still wasn’t sure how comfortable he was with her visiting.

“To be honest, once I mentioned it, several others suggested tagging along and making it a big reunion. Emma and Ethan would love hearing what you’re up to as well.”

“Wouldn’t that be too many people out at the same time? I mean, you’re all so busy with various interrelated tasks.”

“Hell, I’ve been working non-stop for so long, if I don’t take a break, I’m not sure how productive I’ll continue to be. I’m sure that’s true for the others as well, though I can run it by them. If we think it’ll be a problem, we’ll schedule subsequent trips so we won’t all be gone at the same time.”

“That ... I can’t think of anything wrong with the idea.”

“So you don’t mind? I found a terrific last-minute deal via Kayak. I can be up there by Saturday.”

Phil wandered to his bed, flopping down on it while massaging his temple. Mizo, caught by surprise by the unexpected move, squawked and scrambled to escape before Phil collapsed atop her. “That’ll be great, honey, though there’s no need to rent a room. I have one, and it’s plenty big enough for both of us.”

“Are you sure? It’s not a problem getting my own.”

Phil bit his lip. Having her stay with him would limit his options. He hadn’t considered what sharing the room would entail. “Well, the room’s a little small. There’s only one bedroom with twin beds and a separate office/living room.”

“That’s no problem,” she giggled. “You’ve seen me at my worst plenty of times. Besides, it’ll give us more time together while I’m there.”

“Uh, how long would you stay, if you came, that is?”

“It’s only for the weekend, as I’ll return on Sunday evening. I wasn’t sure how comfortable you’d be with my asking, but I can easily extend my trip. Kayak is a snap, I just booked the ticket. I’m arriving on Saturday morning, which gives us time to explore the city without the usual commuter traffic.”

“Terrific,” Phil said, grinding his teeth. “It’ll be wonderful seeing you. You’re right, it has been way too long.”

“I’ll let you know what the others say. I’m so excited! I don’t know how much work I’ll be able to do today. Maybe I should go ahead and book a longer trip?”

“That’d be terrific, but are you sure you can afford spending so much time away from home?”

“It’s no problem. I haven’t taken a vacation all year, and the money continues to pour in. We’re not strapped for cash. Everyone insists we get paid so we can concentrate on our jobs and create a more professional environment for investors. They don’t look kindly on unpaid staff running things.”

“Uh, what about school?” Phil asked, fishing in the dark.

“Don’t be silly! You know I suspended my studies. However, they keep pushing me to consider a Ph.D. based on my experience working with you. They’re offering me a custom-designed program with several professors working with me privately to accomplish it. They think it’ll reflect well on them, which I can’t argue with. Everyone will be eager to read the details of your adventures in my dissertation.”

“Yeah, I ... can’t argue with that, either.”

“So I’ll see you in two days. I’m scheduled to arrive on flight 17, arriving at eleven o’clock. Oh, this is going to be so exciting, I can’t stand it.”

Phil turned his phone off, resting his arm over his eyes rather than rising.

“Why don’t you want to see your family?” Tristan pried. “Aren’t you close?”

“We are, but it limits my actions.”

“She’d understand, wouldn’t she?”

“That’s not the point,” he answered, sitting up. “When I regained my abilities, that wasn’t the only gift I was given. I can now operate with near anonymity. While everyone knows who I am, and are forever stopping to thank me, no one expects me to do anything for them. Instead, they know my reputation and don’t wish to impose. If anything, they’re willing to go out of their way to please me.”

“Wha’ problem, then?” Mizo asked, unable to ignore their discussion any longer.

“The issue is, with no one expecting anything, I can act without suspicion again. I’m not about to squander that advantage unnecessarily. That’s why I’m starting slow, not running out into the street and curing people.”

“You still helpin’ people,” Tristan said.

“Yes, but they’re so grateful, they’re unlikely to question the gift—especially if they’re unsure how to explain it. That’s unlikely to last, especially once I start treating large numbers at the university. The fact I’m losing several days, just as I’m gearing up, puts a crimp in my plans. What’s more, now she’ll expect me to take her into my confidence, revealing what I’ve been withholding. Since I wouldn’t reveal what I was doing before, she’s unlikely to allow me to do it again.”

“Tell her,” Tristan advised. “It’s the easiest approach and opens communications so you won’t have to worry.”

“No,” Mizo countered. “Truth limit. Not do what want. Tell no one!”

“Yes, don’t say, feel guils,” Slavsin suggested.

“Well,” Phil said, standing and heading for the door, “I’ll figure out what I’ll, say later. For now, I still need to meet Abe and Meg.”


“So where are we going?” Abe glanced around the unfamiliar neighborhood. “I’m guessing you didn’t come all this way to buy car parts or rent kayaks.”

Phil led them across Southwest Alaska Way. “Somewhere to find allies unlikely to shoot us.”

“A VFW?”

“VF who?” Meg asked.

“Veterans of Foreign Wars,” Phil explained. “Cops and criminals carry guns. Here, people with anger issues come to commiserate with others in a safe environment.”

He stopped at the door, opening it. “After you, young lady.”

“Thank you,” Meg said, curtsying.

“See, that’s why you’re so useful. You’re too cute to suspect of doing something suspicious.”

After they signed in—Abe signing Meg in as a guest—he glanced around. “What are we searching for?”

“Recent vets, likely someone sitting alone or nursing a beer at the bar, though I’ll know them when I see them. Ah, there’s a prime candidate.”

“These people all fought in wars?” Meg asked.

“Yep, just as Phil and I did,” Abe said.

“Which war did they fight in?”

Abe chuckled. “A bunch, everything from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the various Middle East conflicts.”

“Wow. We’ve sure been in a lot of fights.”

“Yeah, I should probably treat most of our presidents,” Phil quipped. “In that case, maybe they wouldn’t be as quick to start more.”

“It wouldn’t help,” Abe said with a long sigh. “As long as one side has something the other wants. It’s less about anger, than naked greed.”

Meg appeared shocked. “Wait, these guys all fought nude?”

“Hey, it’s not only the guys,” Phil teased, “the women here served just like us.”

“I’d want to wear something! Otherwise, I’d be too busy coverin’ myself to fight.”

“Trust me,” Abe told her honestly. “When someone is trying to kill you, it’s not hard firing back.”

“Pardon me,” Phil said, approaching someone. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but could we talk, possibly somewhere there aren’t as many people watching?”

The young man turned. His hair was neatly trimmed and his clothes pressed, but his eyes had a distant gaze, even when standing in front of him. “Who the ‘ell are you, and what do you want?”

“It’s not what I want; it’s what we both need. Like you, I wrestle with the devils the war left in our minds which won’t allow us to escape what we experienced.”

“You had troubles too? How ... how did you know I did? Normally, no one suspects until I blow up and get myself in trouble.”

“I can help, but it’ll be better if we’re not disturbed.”

The man glanced at Abe and Meg. “What about them?”

“Abe’s one of us, though his PTSD resulted in his becoming homeless, while Meg is what helps keep the both of us on the straight and narrow. My name’s Phil.”

“I’m not comfortable with how you play fast and loose with the truth,” Tristan argued, fluttering by Phil’s head and studying the subject of their discourse.

“Mine’s Jeff Worst.” He considered Meg before continuing. “I’m not sure I can be honest with someone as ... impressionable as she is.”

“Trust me,” Abe said, “she’s dealt with more than you imagine. She’s never been to war, but she’s seen me and her mom at our worst, and she’s there whenever I needed a hand back up.”

“You think you can help?”

Phil shrugged. “It wouldn’t hurt. If nothing else, I can give you a few techniques which work relatively well.”

“Trust me, he’s got an excellent record,” Abe said. “Until recently, I was homeless. He not only screwed my head back on, he’s given me a job.”

Jeff stood, indicating for them to follow. “A job I’ve got, but I’m never sure what might set me off. My boss knows about my condition, but it always causes trouble whenever I spook someone at work.”

Jeff took them to an enclosed booth, which only those standing directly in front of could see into.

“Okay, this is going to be a little ... unusual, but I’m going to address your inner devils, symbolically, in a discussion about relinquishing control. It sounds odd, but it’s surprisingly effective.”

“If you say so,” Jeff responded, looking doubtful.

Phil motioned for someone else to take the lead. “Please, Mizo, kindly introduce me.”

Jeff cocked his head, but Mizo undertook her task. “Screw dat! Do me best, but they differ from us.”

The red devils were unfocused, appearing lazy and half-asleep. However, Mizo shoved one—hard—causing him to bump into another. They both spun, upset, stopping when they saw her. She pointed at Phil, behind her.

“Human, Phil, want warn you: change or die. He kill many, no delay.”

The five new devils glanced up at him, baring their teeth, their tails switching rapidly.

“Take it easy,” Phil said, “though what Mizo says is true. I’m hardly afraid of you, but I’m here to offer a compromise. Your creators are back after a long absence, and they’re pissed! They’ve tasked me with limiting the damage you inflict, though I’m free as to how I do it. I’d rather you relearn your old ways, becoming more productive and returning home sooner. That requires you to help your human, Jeff, grow and develop.

“You should only provoke your humans when their lives are in danger or warn them they’re in danger. To accomplish that, you need to stop once they respond, encouraging them to get better.”

“Why we liss’n you? Who you? You no scare us!”

In answer, Phil lifted his hand, flicking his switchblade with a definite click, causing the devils to leap, as did Jeff. Two of them took their pitchforks and headed for Jeff’s head. Anticipating their actions, Phil swept them aside, grabbing the other’s pitchfork. When those thrown aside recovered, he pulled it back in a preparatory throwing motion.

“I will only warn you once. Stop making Jeff miserable! Help him heal, and you’ll return in years, instead of decades. If you don’t, I’ll not only kill each of you, I’ll slaughter every one of your kind!”

“You no do nothing. You human, you can’t do—”

Phil flung the miniscule trident hard. Despite it looking flimsy, he doubted it was made of traditional materials as it wasn’t as lightweight as it appeared. His aim wasn’t true, catching his target’s arm, but Phil’s switchblade followed. Jeff’s eyes opened wide—though he was shocked he wasn’t terrified by the violent action, only surprised.

The knife embedded itself in the devil’s thigh and it howled, the others glancing from him to Phil. Phil extracted his knife, causing the wound to bleed more profusely. He then bent the pitchfork and threw it at the wounded demon, forcing him to duck.

The bent trident, though, struck Jeff, who jerked, grasping his shoulder and looking for what struck him. He suddenly realized that this was no symbolic act, but an actual combat between a human and otherworldly creatures invisible to everyone else. His eyes grew even larger as he studied Phil’s every move.

“This is going to be interesting,” Meg commented, noting Jeff’s reaction.

“You can’t hurt me, but I can end you!” Phil hadn’t noticed the change in Jeff’s reaction, paying attention to other things, so he didn’t slow down. “I’ll check back. If you continue as you have, you’ll return home in bloody fragments. If you follow my lead, you’ll return to teach others how to do their job. In exchange, one of you comes to work with me, convincing others of your kind. Every time you improve your host’s life, you’ll be rewarded by returning home, allowing a new student to replace you to be taught the proper way to operate.”

They glanced at one another, then descended on the one Phil injured, dragging him kicking and screaming to Phil.

“You injure him, you take him. He no good if die!”

Phil sighed, before plunging his knife in the wounded demon’s heart. “You don’t get my point. You don’t dictate actions. You do as I say, or you all die. Give me your most clever, those young and capable of learning. Delay, and more die.”

“I warn you!” Mizo taunted.

They glanced at one another, frozen in indecision, before one flew forward.

“I Dezpik, top devil. I go, but others lost without me.”

“Thanks for volunteering,” Phil answered. “The others will learn faster, having to adapt, while you’ll need to learn fast in a new environment.” He turned to his helper devil. “Mizo, cover the rest of the details with them.”

When he returned to Jeff, Jeff chuckled. “Man, that was one crazy conversation! I know you’re legit, because when you pulled the knife, threatening to kill whatever it was, I never lost control. You apparently know how to tell my ‘devils’ to f•©k off, and for that I thank you.”

“Don’t get cocky, yet. I told them the approach I want them to take, but they still have to figure it out on their own.” Phil handed him his business card. “Call me if they screw up, and I’ll return to remind them. Remember, the frights and adrenaline rushes serve a purpose, though the anger doesn’t. Give them space and only call when it gets out of hand—becoming unproductive. As it is, based on the demons you’ve lost, you’ve now lost forty percent of your disability. So you’re already doing significantly better. That should make even kludgy approaches easier to manage.”

“That said, who the hell are you, and how did you ... learn this shit?”

“Like you, I learned it in battle—though of a slightly different sort than yours. Now I’m learning and using new techniques. Once I get it straight, I’ll introduce it to the world. Until then, keep it under wraps, otherwise I’ll have to expose it before it’s ready for consumption.”

“Sounds like you’ve already mastered it.”

Phil grinned. “I have, but I want anyone to be able to do it, even shrinks.”

“Ah, I understand now. That’s a tall order. You may do better teaching it to hamsters ... or drill sergeants.”

It was only then Phil noticed Abe and Meg’s worried expressions.

“What?”

“You, uh, when you threw whatever it was, it struck Jeff.”

“Really?” Phil stood, walking slowing around his and Jeff’s chairs, studying the table under the floor in detail. “Ah, here it is,” he announced, standing, brandishing something they still couldn’t see.

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