The demon is crouched in the corner, between the Cheetos and the onion dip. It’s a small one, only about four feet tall: a low-level creeper. I flick my gaze over the spot like I don’t see it and open the cooler door to get a Coke.
I watch the cashier behind me in the security mirror as he finishes ringing up a customer. He notices me—eyes my ratty hoodie, grungy backpack, scruffy jaw, tattooed fist gripping the cooler handle—and reaches one hand under the counter, probably to grab the butt of a shotgun or a bat he’s got hidden there. He’s totally oblivious to the real danger that’s hanging out in the junk food aisle.
The bell on the door rings as the customer leaves.
I walk past the demon casually, hoping it doesn’t sense my awareness. It’s not here for me, though; its bulbous black eyes are trained on the cashier. Its scarred and misshapen wings twitch and knock at the shelf as its leg muscles tense, like it’s ready to pounce. Clawed feet dig into the linoleum floor, surrounded by traces of black ash and sulfur that seep from its skin.
I set the can of Coke down on the counter and toss a Snickers up there too—dinner of champions.
“Hey,” I say to the cashier. The chill of being too close to the demon crawls over me, but I clench my jaw and ignore it.
The cashier nods back, ringing up the soda. “Two-fifty.” He glances at my tattooed hand again—probably looking for a gang symbol, which he won't find. Then he studies my face, like he’s trying to memorize it for the cops, just in case: about seventeen-years-old, olive-skinned male, dark brown hair, hazel eyes, 5’8”, looks like a homeless junkie.
He’d be right about everything but the junkie part. I am homeless these days. Everything I own is in the backpack I'm wearing.
I pull change from my pocket. It clangs onto the counter, along with an old stick of gum, some lint, a rubber band. And a Star of David.
Damn. Forgot I had that in there.
I slip the gold star into my pocket again, but not quick enough. The chill of the demon stings at the back of my legs as it comes alert to my presence.
“You know, forget it. I’m good,” I say to the cashier. The medallion was blessed by a rabbi a few weeks ago and it’s supposed to keep me from seeing things. It doesn’t work, obviously. Instead it has the opposite effect. I meant to ditch it, but...well, I have a lame inability to ditch anything.
I head for the exit, leaving my meal and change. It’s my fault, really. I should’ve known better than to roam around on the night of the full moon without taking precautions. I almost make it to the exit before the smell of sulfur fills my nostrils. The demon’s right behind me.
“I wouldn’t follow me if I were you,” I say. I really don’t want to deal with this shit tonight.
“What’d you say?" the cashier asks. "Don’t want no trouble here.”
I ignore the guy and turn to face the demon, scanning the shelves for salt or rye, but there’s not much rye in a Circle K. My stomach rises, the scent of sulfur bringing back old memories.
...My sister, Ava, screaming in her crib, the demon’s claw digging into her tiny shoulder, marking her. Mom on the floor, eyes wide to another world, the blood spreading beneath her like a growing shadow...
I start to whisper a prayer for protection under my breath, “The light of Elohim surrounds me, the love of Elohim enfolds me. Wherever I am, Elohim is...” and the demon hisses at me, backing away a little. “I’m telling you. Just leave me be,” I say.
Saliva drips from its teeth and it makes a garbled noise in its throat, like words, but all backwards and upside down. It can’t hurt me, not physically, since it’s not corporeal. Right now, it’s like the demon’s behind glass, on the other side of a Veil that separates the human world from the spirit world. It’s only able to influence people, to whisper into their minds, telling them to do dark things. It feeds off their negative emotions. And it’ll likely cause bad shit to happen if it follows me.
“You want this?” I ask, pulling the Star of David from my pocket again and dangling it in front of the demon’s hole of a nose. It seems more interested in the tattoo on my hand, though, hesitating at the sight of it.
“Get the hell out!” the cashier yells, “I’m callin’ the cops!”
“I’ve had a rough night,” I say to the demon. “And you can see I’m not scared of your sick mug, so you know this game isn’t new to me. Just do your job and leave me alone.” I wave to the spot it was crouching in before and it follows my motion, head bobbing up and down like a cat following a string.
Then it lunges and sinks its teeth into my tattooed hand.
Fire shoots up my arm and into my head. I fall back, banging into the glass door, shock and pain sparking in my gut.
I scream and kick the thing but it doesn’t do any good. Its jaw only locks tighter.
This can’t be happening. It can’t. The thing’s not manifested! It’s not even here. Still, the teeth sink deeper, stinging like a swarm of bees on my hand. I breathe through the burn and fumble in my jacket pocket. I’ve got a pouch of sacred dirt somewhere. Old habits die hard. But it’s been so long since I’ve been this stupid, let one know that I can see it. And now I’m suddenly lunch.
My fingers find the pouch and I pull it out, shoving the earth into the demon’s eye socket. The creature’s flesh sizzles and pops. It lets go of my hand, stumbling back and screeching so loud I’m sure my ears are about to start bleeding.
I snatch up the Star of David again and begin reciting Zachariah 3:2 in stuttered Latin and English, “Increpet Dominus in te Satan. The Lord rebuke you, O Accuser—”
Then I’m hit in the back of the shoulder, the wind knocked from my lungs.
“Out!” the cashier screams. “Get out, crazy bastard!” He swings at me again with a bat.
I try to shield myself from the blow, but he hits my arm with a painful thud, rocking my bones, and then I’m pissed, catching the bat on the next swing, tight in my fist.
The guy pulls back, but I grip harder and yank it out of his hands.
“Enough!” I toss the bat across the store. “You're in danger, moron. You need to leave, now!” Demons love chaos. I have no doubt this one was here because a crime is about to happen. Soon.
The demon is still sizzling on the floor, skin getting paler, almost blending into the linoleum. It’ll be gone any second, heading back home to tell its big brothers about the guy in the Circle K that could see it. With my blood, like a fingerprint, on its teeth.
Can’t let that happen.
“Go home!” I scream in the cashier’s face, hoping I’m scaring the shit out of him. He should be scared.
He stumbles back and fumbles for his cell phone. Then drops it.
I grab the closest thing I see—a can of bean dip—and hit him square in the jaw, knocking him to the floor next to his phone, out cold.
The can slips from my hand and I realize I’m bleeding pretty bad. Blood’s dripping onto the linoleum. The smell permeates the air like raw meat.
I drag the cashier’s limp body into the alley behind the store and go over the Rite in my head, trying to remember everything. It’s been too long since I’ve done this. I start reciting Zachariah 3:2 again, this time in Hebrew, as I go back into the store and find the salt on the shelf.
I pop the top off the shaker and start making a circle of white around the demon. It takes another three salt-shakers before I’ve completed the prison walls. The creature’s twisted body flickers for a second, disappearing into the linoleum, then it comes back full-bodied and louder than ever, green smoke rising from it. The thing squeals and screeches like I’m stabbing it with a hot poker.
I finish reciting the verse for the third time and stand over my little prisoner. “I warned you. Now you’re gonna be stuck in this altar-to-the-carb-gods for the rest of eternity. Hope you’re happy.”
I don’t have a spirit bowl or a hex box to lock it up, so I have to do the best I can with what I’ve got and hope it holds. I go behind the counter and find a Sharpie.
The bell rings on the door, announcing a new customer. An older woman.
“We’re closed,” I bark, and she doesn’t even question, just turns and goes back out. Hopefully she won’t call the cops. Better hurry, just in case.
I focus back on my task and kneel at the edge of the salt circle. I scribble the words on the floor, just on the outside of the prison, following the same line, starting with Zachariah 3:2 and ending with a bit of Psalm 91—both in Hebrew so they’ll hold their meaning firmly. I write big, so the symbols wrap around the circle from right to left, two and a half times. Should be plenty. But I need to be sure. I can’t have this little bastard getting free now that it knows I can see it. Mom was always clear about that: "Don't let them know you see. Don't let anyone know." I’ll have to burn the verses in.
I find the lighter fluid and start in the center of the circle, squirting it over the squirming demon, then out and over the letters, then further out until I’ve covered eighty percent of the store and the smell is making me light-headed. The wall of booze will take care of the rest. I hope the owner’s got insurance.
I go behind the counter and grab the video recorder, yanking the wires free and tucking it under my arm, then I pick up a lighter.
I move to the back door, wave goodbye to my new friend, and spark a flame to life. I hold it to the floor where there’s a little pool of fluid.
It catches with a whoosh, pushing into the room, consuming Cheerios, Milky Ways, and Little Debbie’s like a hungry monster. I watch for a second to make sure it burns the symbols into the floor, trapping the demon for good. The flames lick up the drops of my blood, leaving no evidence behind. I back into the alley and stare down at the cashier, who’s still out cold. I should wake him up and tell him he needs to get his shit together—get right with his Maker—before something really bad happens to him. But I know the words’ll just fall on deaf ears. They always do.
I drop my Star of David by his head and step over his body, finding my path in the shadows, as the sounds of approaching sirens fill the night air.