Calling up the Devil had one advantage over his Heaven-hosting counterpart: at least the Beast advertised his number. Henry wasn’t sure where the nudity and candles came in, but guessed it was sheer expedience. You didn’t get much in the way of heat from a circle of 40watt light-bulbs.
“…the power of our Majesty, The Dark Prince, the Grand Oppositor, we beg you to send us one of your Fallen. We here gathered so beseech you.”
“We beseech you.”
Henry resisted the urge to crouch and scratch his shin. He must have brushed some nettles when his sock had slipped down. He’d yanked it back up, but now the wool was making it itch like ants were in there playing helter-skelter.
It was one of those late summer evenings which were neither hot nor cold but swung an uncomfortable pendulum between the two. Sweat ran down his back to the crack of his arse and set more ants breeding there whilst a breeze made his genitals shrink to two walnuts clinging to a cold, dead maggot.
“…and come forth one of your devourers.” Henry blurted that last bit, his mind having wandered so he’d missed the Mage’s complete line. It was the first time they’d actually tried to summon a demon and, quite sensibly to Henry’s mind, they’d not gone for requesting a named individual but a general beseeching for any that might have been available. It was the same way they invited bids for cleaning contracts in the Council Sanitation Department. Sealed envelopes. Like the Oscars.
The summoning prayer was authentic even if the candles weren’t wax but cheaper paraffin versions and the Mage’s robes had a label bearing washing instructions sticking out its collar. The chicken had been real — hand-reared by one of the faithful — and the clearing was where a witch had been discovered communing with the devil back in the 17th century. Presumably without the dumped breeze-blocks, rusted beers cans and the broken fridge. But it was close enough to the dual carriageway to be accessible whilst set far enough back to give some privacy to the proceedings.
Henry thanked — well, Whoever — that he’d kept his shoes and socks on, otherwise he’d be fidgeting like those who could feel the damp seeping up their legs. The Mage in the ‘don’t-spin-dry’ robes was the only one adequately dressed, and the pale, goose-pimpled bodies jerking and shivering about the clearing indicated that the demon had better put in an appearance soon. Someone had already sneezed and the sighs certainly weren’t those of ecstasy.
Henry’s arms trembled, the skin pocked like an orange, and he missed the next line entirely. Focus, he told himself. The Dark Lord requires it. He’d decided a year ago he needed some kind of authority figure to help himself get focused, and generally get on. His immediate superior in the Sanitation Department was a woodwork-teacher-type called Greg, who wore sandals and scratched at his eczema when he got nervous. Hardly role-model material.
Henry’s eyes wandered to the women again.
Even without the cold making things numb and lifeless, it would have been difficult to raise anything other than a demon tonight. The Devil had his numbers, but God clearly had the best figures. When he’d driven past the Methodists’ the previous Sunday, Henry’s eyes popped at the primly restrained curves coming out the church doors. If his own group’s ritual in the woods tonight were chanced upon, it would be mistaken for a fat-camp team-building exercise.
The bushes did a little shimmering dance as another gust raced around them with chilled hands.
“And we shall honour you!” Henry said, a bit louder, nodding to encourage others to join him. He wasn’t the only one here who needed things to move along. Consequently, the final lines were echoed with greater gusto and that was probably what did it. The bowl of burning oil flared like a NASA silo and in its wake hung a vertical black thread. It rippled then bulged as worlds were unzipped and something unholy was pushed through.
Its horns were short, fat, overripe half-bananas. Its face puffy and red so it looked like blood pressure and not demonic intent were responsible. Its body-folds reminded Henry of unset, pink blancmange spooned onto a plate, and its stubby legs were set so far apart it might have been a spectacularly kitsch wardrobe.
“You have thummoned me…” the thing sprayed with thick, wet lips. The Mage turned towards the faithful, trying for triumph, but with his eyes full of apology.
No one said anything. And not just because they hadn’t planned what to do when they actually had a demon amongst them. Henry looked at the demon and thought, Bloody typical. He felt like a member of a teenage gang who’d pooled their pocket money in order to lose their virginity and had just seen what their paltry funds stretched to.
“Bow down and worthip me!”
Henry thought about the damp grass, the nettles, and decided that, following a hot drink and an even hotter bath, he’d give evening classes a second chance. He’d shared enough disappointing experiences naked by candlelight in his life already, and if he really wanted something with a goatee-beard, an odd taste in footwear and an irritating voice, he had Greg.
Who was going to house the creature then became the topic of debate and Henry was relieved he lived in an apartment where pets weren’t allowed. He had an aunt who had a small farm, but as the thing was partial to chickens he didn’t think she’d thank him for decimating her hen-house.
“Where ith my thacrafithial virgin?” the thing asked, and Henry heard himself suggest the city zoo. They were in need of an attraction after Vanilla Ice, the albino penguin, had died.
The idea was unanimously approved and someone good at doing voices placed an anonymous call. Flower arranging, Henry thought as he walked briskly back to his car. Anything but sodding woodwork.
Jez Patterson is a British teacher and writer, currently based in Madrid. Links to other things with his name at the end can be found at jezpatterson.wordpress.com.