A WEB OF VICE • by Brandon Fife

Everyone is tied down to something, Nicole thought as she regarded the demon from across the greasy, downtown cafe.

It was a small demon as demons go, hardly noticeable really as its needle sharp teeth sank into the crimson tendril that protruded from the boy’s chest. The cord wrapped tightly around the boy’s arm like an alien vine before disappearing into the smartphone that he peered at intently. The tiny demon sighed with pleasure and a look of bliss painted itself across its wrinkled face as it drank deeply from the pulsing rope, gorging itself on the streaming energy.

Nicole noticed the look, the corners of her mouth turning down slightly in disgust as she analyzed the situation. The infancy of addiction. She could almost see the beast grow a little larger as she watched. Porn. Must be new at it or the cord would be bigger and the demon heavier. That color is always porn. She completely avoided Oak street now because of the new adult store. The thousands of bright red cords streaming through the walls scorched her eyes, even when closed, and the liquor store on the same street was nearly as bad. It was difficult being the only one who could see what people most desired, both the good and the bad. She used to enjoy it, used to use her ability to help people, but now…?

She sighed and shook her head in melancholic resignation. She could talk to him, embarrass him into backing away from his newfound thrill, but he would go back to it. They nearly always did, especially when the demons had grown large and heavy enough to start exerting control. But tonight she had a job to do. She couldn’t save everyone, nor did she want to anymore.

She stood up, shrugged on her worn, black overcoat and stepped out of the cafe and into a tapestry of multi-colored desire, the vibrant mesh assaulting her senses even after all these years.

Further down the street Nicole noticed a junkie she wasn’t familiar with lounging against a graffiti-coated brick wall. She paused, anger flashing briefly through her breast as she remembered the junkie that stabbed her brother Jamie. In her mind’s eye she could still see the heavy demon perched on the junkie’s shoulders, its claws sunk deeply into the pale flesh of the man’s chest as it whispered unintelligibly in his ear. She had tried to help him and all she received for her effort was Jamie, moaning at her feet as a crimson pool spread out beneath him, leaking from the gash in his side while the junkie screamed at him to hand over his money. She hadn’t tried to help anyone since, at least not for free.

* * *

The cab dropped her off on the corner of a peaceful, brightly-lit neighborhood criss-crossed by a lattice-work of cords of varying shades and colors.

She hurried with purpose toward her destination, wanting to get it over with. She hated this, but the bills had to be paid. Her father was gone and her mother hadn’t worked since Jamie died.

A petite, middle-aged, blond woman answered her knock. Her eyes red-rimmed and puffy and her eye-liner smeared.

“I’m Renee,” she said quietly, “Nice to meet you, my friend told me about you and…”

“Nicole” she said abruptly cutting her off. “Do you have the money?”

“Well yes, but I really think that…”

“I always get paid first. It’s a policy of mine. I’m sure you understand.”

“Yes, of course,” she said weakly. “Just let me get my purse.” She rummaged around briefly in the other room before returning, a wad of cash bunched up in her thin, trembling hand. “Here you go.”

Nicole counted the money quickly, trying to ignore the sizeable demon lurking nearby and the pale pink cord linking the woman to a cabinet visible in the kitchen. Prescription meds, she noted absently as she completed her task. “All here. Where is she?” Nicole asked glancing about the room.

“In her bedroom. She told me what he did to her. Only eight years old. I… I didn’t know what to do so I… called you.”

“Who is he?” Nicole asked impatiently.

“That’s why I need your help. She won’t say. She just cries and…”

“Can I see her?”

“Yes, I suppose. She’s in there, first door on the left.”

As Nicole entered the room she saw it immediately. A thick black cord shot through with greasy, pus-colored streaks enclosed the ankle of a small girl, who sat weeping on a bed in the corner. It snaked around several stuffed animals before disappearing through a door in the far wall.

“Who’s in there?” Nicole asked, pointing to where the cord led.

“Just my husband, he shuts himself in there every night with his computer and…” The woman’s voice

trailed off and her eyes widened in shock at the implication. “No, it can’t be…”

“I’ve never been wrong, ma’am. It’s him. I’ll be going now.”

Nicole saw anger blaze in the woman’s eyes and she watched as several cords of deep red, striped with neon orange, sprang like molten worms from her lower back and punched through the same door, searching, the cord linking her to the prescription meds shrinking as a new desire took precedence.

As Nicole walked down the dark street toward the corner where her cab waited, she heard screaming and then two distinct gunshots.

And that’s why I always get paid first. Too bad about the kid, though.

She glanced about, a web of vice spread out before her. Everyone is tied down to something, she reflected, not seeing the violet rope connecting her to the new wad of cash in her purse and the demon — a small demon as demons go, hardly noticeable really — perched on her hip as it fed.

Brandon Fife is a Spanish teacher and aspiring author who lives in the middle of nowhere Wyoming with his wife, five children, and a chocolate lab named Moose.

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