Even though it was the easiest job I’d ever had, I was tired of going to work. That’s the thing: work is like war. If no one is shooting at you, it’s hard to keep up the belly-crawl.
So I got out of bed and got a bag of salt from the kitchen, drew a circle on the kitchen floor cause it was the only non-carpeted room, except the bathroom which was too small. I set candles for points and poured out a pentagram. There was usually a sacrifice. I had some leftover Popeye’s chicken, so I set the box in the center. In movies, the teenagers who inadvertently summon demons are usually drunk. I hadn’t taken my meds yet. That was the best I could do.
I didn’t know Latin, so I sang some Smiths lyrics. After a little while, I smelled rotten eggs and a voice spoke.
“What’s this supposed to be?” it said.
I couldn’t see anything, so I focused on the ceiling, which was cracked and bulging down. “I’m summoning a demon,” I said.
It laughed. “Are you?”
“Do you not see the pentagram?” I said. “This is my first time. If you’ve got nothing nice or useful to say, then don’t say anything.”
The voice was quiet. I was starting to think I should’ve just gone to work.
“What do you want?” the voice said.
“To sleep in,” I said. “I want you to assume my form and go to work for me while I take the day off.”
“Why should I do that?” it said.
“It’s got to be better than hell,” I said.
“And I got you some chicken.” I nodded toward it.
“There’s a biscuit in there.”
The voice was quiet.
“Okay,” it said, “But I’m a demon. Aren’t you worried I’ll get you fired?”
“It’s a government job,” I said.
* * *
I was nervous about letting it out of the pentagram.
“If you do something witchy, you don’t get the biscuit,” I said.
“What does that mean?” it said.
“Like, kill me, or give me shingles or something.”
“Fine,” it said, its voice impudent like a teenager.
I moved some salt with my foot so there was an opening.
“Are you out?”
“Yes,” It said.
I led it to my closet.
“You have to look like me,” I said. “Right now, you don’t look like anything.”
There, before me, a fat guy appeared.
“Okay,” I said. “Maybe a little less me.”
“You want them to believe it, right?” it said.
“Nobody likes a smartass,” I said.
He picked out some clothes.
“Do you know how to drive?” I asked.
“Sure,” it said.
“Which pedal is which?” I asked.
“I’ll take the bus,” it said.
* * *
I slept through the morning and got up around noon. I watched Netflix until I heard steps on the stairs outside my apartment a little after 5. The demon came in and sat on the couch, its face flushed with excitement.
“How’d it go?” I asked.
It looked like it was going to burst.
“Amazing,” it said. “Christine totally bought it. She is just a doll. And Will.”
“Mmm,” I said because I was trying to watch something.
The demon kept talking but I tuned it out. After a few more minutes, it abruptly stood up.
“We’re supposed to be getting together for drinks,” it said. “Does that bother you?”
“Take off,” I said.
The demon left. I got up and went to the fridge, but the Popeye’s leftovers were gone.
“Damn it,” I said, shaking my head. “That’s how they get you.”
* * *
The demon returned late, after I was in bed. It was singing and generally acting very happy. It checked itself in the bathroom mirror.
“Oops,” it said, wiping some lipstick off a cheek.
“Why do you keep looking at me?” I called from the bed.
“You left the doors open to my bedroom and the bathroom, turned the light on, and now you’re making this big show about wiping off lipstick.” I yawned.
“Christine was all over me,” it said.
“You are the neediest demon.” I laughed. “’Look at me, I’m going out with your officemates.’ ‘Look at me, I made out with your team lead.’”
The demon turned off the bathroom light.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’m going back to sleep, now.”
I could still hear it, skulking around, pouting. I drifted off and started to dream I was having sex with Christine, but when she took her pants off, my mother’s face appeared between her legs. I jerked awake. The demon was sitting in the chair I usually stacked my laundry on. I reached under my pillow where I’d hidden a water pistol full of holy water and squirted it.
“Aow!” It said. “That hurts.”
“Nothing witchy,” I said.
“Fine.” It stomped into the living room and turned on Netflix.
* * *
I went to work the next morning, leaving the demon to sulk and watch TV. Christine was weird and blushy, which means she didn’t give me any work. That gave me time to research and think some things out.
“Here’s the thing,” I said when I opened the door at home. The demon was exactly where I’d left it. “This is better than hell, right?”
“Sure,” it said.
“I mean, I don’t have any intentions of making you do terrible things, like have sex with me or do my taxes…actually, are you any good at math…? Never mind.” I raised a hand before it could answer. “I think this could be a sweet deal for you, is what I’m saying. But that dream last night, and the whole seducing my boss bit, that’s got to go.”
“I’m a demon,” it said.
“I get that. I do.” It was eying the bag of food I’d brought from Popeye’s. I snapped my fingers to draw its attention back to me. “It’s your nature to incite chaos. But I’m saying that this could be a mutually beneficial arrangement. Really. And I’m open to your suggestions, your wants and needs. I really am. Let’s help each other. But we have to communicate our true feelings.”
“I want HBO,” it said.
“Okay, cool.” I held up a hand. “We’ll put together a list.”
“Can I have some chicken, now?”
“Sure,” I said.
“And a biscuit.”
“I got you two.”
“My teeth are not that dirty,” I said.
“Sorry,” it said. They instantly turned white.
“Better.” I paused. “Look, seducing my boss can still be on the table. Maybe I spoke out of turn on that one.”
The demon peeled all the crust off a piece of chicken and dropped the piece back into the box. I sighed and repeated the mantra to myself: baby steps.
* * *
We decided that the demon would go to work from now on because it felt that the interplay of office politics would give it a good outlet for its evil tendencies. I would clean the apartment up because it said—and I totally agreed—it was kind of a hellhole. Basically, I would become a stay-at-home husband.
“Now, you’re not trying to be evil, are you?” I asked. “Thinking I’ll go crazy being at home?”
It shook its head, innocently.
“Cause I’ll love it. Believe me.”
“Is it okay if I get promoted?” It asked.
I blinked. “Sure,” I said.
“More money could mean a better apartment,” it said.
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” I said. “I appreciate your initiative.”
It shrugged. “It’s better than hell.”
* * *
Over the next few weeks, my life improved tremendously. The demon got a promotion and a better parking spot. He took Christine out a few times, but she was really into dogs and he was more of a cat demon. They parted amicably. I was proud of him.
In my spare time—of which I had an abundance—I started sculpting, at first with modeling clay and papier-mâché, and then with other found objects. I took a class at a local community center. The demon sat in on a few. Everyone thought we were twins.
There were problems, of course. It was an epic battle to get him to sit down to pee. He wanted Popeye’s every meal, which just wasn’t feasible.
“We’ll get fat,” I explained. “-Er.”
“More to love,” he said.
* * *
He was doing that more and more, throwing around words like “love.” We’d had some long night talks about his childhood in the Ukraine, except it wasn’t called that back then. Just horrific stories. I guess demons are made, not born. I’d thought he was an angel fallen from heaven, but low-level demons were apparently once human.
“What’s your name?” I asked. “Your real name?”
The demon shook his head. “Not yet.”
More than once, dawn rolled around with us just holding each other, while I soothed his fears and dark memories.
“You should call in,” I said.
“No sick time in hell,” he said. I took its hand. “You’re not in hell anymore.” I pulled him close to me and made him look in my eyes. “You’re not in hell anymore.”
“I know,” he said. “I’m not.
* * *
I don’t remember whose idea it was for us to start sharing the bed, but it felt natural, normal, wonderful.
“Do you even sleep?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I just watch you all night.”
Soon after that, I threw the holy water pistol away.
* * *
“I think I’m ready to tell you my real name,” the demon said one evening as we watched some nothing on Netflix. I took his hand. “It’s yours,” he said. “You can call me yours.”
“You did it,” I said, shaking my head and fighting back tears.
“You made me love you, you evil thing.”
He laughed and then kissed me hard. It felt like home.
* * *
Years came and went. We bought a nice house out past the beltway. Sometimes, one or the other of us would say something about adoption, but we both knew it was just talking. We got a labradoodle instead and named it Jesus.
I didn’t believe it when the demon was diagnosed with cancer.
“You’re magical,” I said.
“No, I’m evil.”
“You’re not.” I touched his face. “But how can you get cancer?”
“It’s demon cancer.” He paused.
“Tell me,” I said.
“It happens when a demon doesn’t use its evil.”
“But,” I said. “If you die, won’t you just go back to hell? Couldn’t I summon you again?”
“No,” he said. “This one’s for real.”
I put my face in my hands and wept while he held me. “It’s not your fault,” the demon said. “It’s not your fault.”
I didn’t believe him. I don’t know if I ever will.
* * *
As strange as it sounds, those next months were some of the best days, though the joy was fleeting. The demon took leave from work.
“You can take my place when I’m gone,” he said.
“Don’t talk like that. Evil can’t die,” I said.
He smiled. “I’m not evil anymore. You made me good.”
That set me off again.
* * *
When I got back from the burial site, I was numb, empty. I’d been with him all the way to the end in the hospice. I felt like I hadn’t even been home in weeks. He fought hard and finally fell asleep and never woke up.
There was a letter waiting for me from our lawyer. I opened it, hoping for some final mischief, but it was paperwork from the office. Apparently, the demon had built up a fortune through investments. It was all in my name, of course. There was a note attached in the demon’s chicken scratch that said, simply,
You’ll never have to work again.
All the pain, the love, the anguish I’d been feeling erupted out of me, leaving me an empty crater.
When I went back through the paperwork later, I realized the envelope the demon’s note was in also had some salt packets in it. There was a little sticky note attached to one of them.
Someday, it read.
CL Bledsoe's latest poetry collection is Trashcans in Love. His latest novel is The Funny Thing About.... He lives in northern Virginia with his daughter and blogs, with Michael Gushue, at https://medium.com/@howtoeven.