CONJURE WOMAN’S DEAL • by Christian K. Martinez

Nayah kept her demon in a briefcase, behind two inkwells and a biography on Salinger. It was bound to a napoleonic profile, writ in icy ink on the background of a greying garden filled with bells. Some corporate conjures kept their demons chained at home, or in the office, or on a disk — almost free. Nayah’s rarely left its prison.

She’d use it to script an aegis-charm against betrayal, upside down and on a beetle’s carapace. She’d use it for fencing cubicles with the sound of an insect’s wings to ward off dropping eaves. But her demon never left its home.

None of her partners saw it summoned, or lasted long enough to peek a view. Even her boss, Mr. Donifrey, had only seen it once.

Now a talented conjurer like Miss Nayah, with mystery and high approval rates, will eventually come beneath the magnifying glass for all her work. The day this happened, the day old Donifrey never intended to occur, was not the best of days for George O’Cane. The CEO.

The company was coming under audit and, despite Nayah’s sterling record, she’d kept her demon locked away. Hidden. In straits malingering towards dire O’Cane could not tolerate employees keeping secrets. He insisted he be shown, ignored all attempts at suasion on this point. There would be an interview, a presentation. And so that stage was set.

The CEO was a big man, taking up his conference room like a grey-eyed bull with sword-lipped face. Nayah, next to him, was slight. She wasn’t beautiful, sharing an angelfish’s features and possessed of ambition that lashed from her mouth like a shark’s smile.

Her eyes were an alligator’s eyes, with scales and yellow rivers passing through.

She deflected his belligerence, asking questions to confirm the strength of his intent. When she was certain, it was easy to show him what she hid. Easy to act, at least; she did not take well to being forced.

The briefcase clicked open musically, taking with its lock her confidence and smile. With two cracking gestures and a broken word, the inkwells emptied. Spilt. She turned almost all the way away with shoulders slumped, and bit her lip. She waited.

She did not wait for long.

The demon crawled up from under garden earth, ten dozen bells whispering its strings. The body of a little girl tacked up, moving with a puppet’s haste.

It stared at George with alligator eyes. It grinned at him with a shark’s sharp teeth, pushing its rotten-smelling feet across the wards layered dozens thick upon the ground. His bull’s body shook when it touched him, and he felt greasy with it, as if the atrocity were contagious.

The harm-stopper charms laying dormant in his tie smoldered to life: Egyptian runes overlapped with Celtic knots and a highly personal script. They held — claws dug through the sleeves of his coat, but were unable to cut.

George stared at Nayah, the echo of bells slowing his mind with mires. Her face was either sad or angered or both; she didn’t turn towards him, or recall the creature to its cage.

The little-girl demon tugged on his tie, once, twice, like it was asking him to play. Puppet-strung fingers made small motions at the knot, lifting it from his neck and dropping it to the floor. His face was pinched, sword lips becoming daggers.

“Love knows no bounds, Mr. O’Cane,” Nayah said, in a voice haunted and cruel, “Except, maybe, the strings a woman ties from apron and womb.”

Christian K. Martinez is often spotted wandering the dirty deserts of his imagination, usually in search of tea and occasionally on the run from wild animals. During the day, when he’s resting, he sometimes has the time to write. These odd scribblings of his can be found at Alienskin Magazine, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Jabberwocky and forthcoming from Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

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