I woke up in a room that wasn’t mine, with Jasper curled up at my feet. It was early morning, I could hear the roosters crowing, but this room wasn’t flooded with sunlight. It was dimmer, and the furniture was overall darker, red oak, from what I could tell. It was a more masculine bedroom. It took me a few moments to organize my thoughts enough to realize that I was in my grandfather’s bedroom. I double checked and saw that I was now dressed in my bathrobe. I almost blushed at the faint memory of Phil helping me put on the robe, but I simply lacked the willpower to care.
Phil was sleeping in the chair next to the bed, his head leaning on the mattress. My brain was finally catching up, and it didn’t like where it was. It was a nasty head-space to be in. Greg had used me, proposed to use me again for his demonic purposes, and then vanished. Phil came and held me while I cried, and then he must have brought me down here. I had to admit that it was very thoughtful of him. I didn’t think that I could have handled sleeping, much less waking, in my own bed after last night.
I watched the red headed demon sleep. I strongly resisted the urge to run my fingers through his hair, like a puppy dog. He was a demon. One of them. I was afraid to trust him, but wanted nothing more than to trust him fully. I needed a friend. I noticed that he was still wearing the same thing that he had been wearing last night. He must have come straight home and up to my room to tell me something important. But then… I thought that there had to be some explanation, something that I had missed. Greg would not have done that. We dated for the past six months, and I was certain that I would have known if he was really a demon out to get me. Wouldn’t I?
I sat up and moved to get out of the bed, and Jasper moved as well, scampering out of the room. The movement of the mattress woke Phil up.
“Morning,” I said, without feeling, and without ever really looking at him. I couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eyes after last night. I could only guess what he must have thought of me. I went to leave, but he lightly put his hand on my wrist.
“Wait, Riesa,” he said, “I need to tell you something.”
I looked in the opposite direction and said, “Tell me later.” I wasn’t ready to hear what he had to say. Not yet.
His hand dropped, and he let me leave the bedroom, but before I did, he said, “I called Clarice. She’s in the kitchen.” He sounded dejected. I hated myself because I knew it was my fault.
I nodded and walked on down the hall. I took a turn and walked up the stairs first, grabbing a clean outfit. I walked a wide path around my bed and went straight to my shower. I looked down at my arm, and took off the bandage that Greg had dressed it with, throwing it in the trash. Even if I had still needed the bandage, I wanted nothing to do with it. I got clean, and then got dressed; nothing fancy, just a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I looked examined my arm one last time and decided to let it be for the time being. I didn’t even think that getting dolled up could make me feel better this morning. I left my room and my stomach growled at the smells of breakfast cooking in the kitchen. It was obvious that Clarice was here.
By the time I got downstairs, Phil was in the kitchen with Clarice, drinking a cup of coffee. He had gotten cleaned up as well, because he had changed his cloths. This time it was jeans and what was probably the worst looking green and purple short sleeved plaid shirt that I had ever seen. Seeing that shirt almost made me feel like myself again. Almost. I failed to make a comment and continued straight to the coffee cups.
“You go sit down, honey. I’ll bring you something to eat,” she shooed me away back to the table. She caught a glimpse of my arm and examined it a bit. She made a “tisk” sound, and pointed again to the chair. I sat down obediently beside Phil and waited patiently as she poured coffee into a cup and handed it to me, along with some creamer and sugar, in actual creamer and sugar servers. I didn’t even know my grandfather had anything like that. I wondered for a moment if Clarice had brought it with her, or if she just knew my grandfather’s house better than I had guessed.
Phil stood up. “I’m going out for a bit,” he stated. I nodded at him, and Clarice ignored him.
I fixed my coffee, heavy on the creamer, light on the sugar, and sipped it. Clarice brought a couple of plates of fried eggs and bacon with toast, and put them down in front of us. She stood back and frowned. “The two of you look like you are getting ready to head out to your own funerals. I’ve seen beheaded chickens act more lively than you.” She commented distastefully. I took a bite so that I wouldn’t have to answer.
“This is delicious, Clarice,” I said. “Thank you.” I think the toast was my favorite part. I was feeling sick to my stomach and dry was just what I needed. A major upset will do that to a person. Plus, I was beyond the greater echelons of embarrassment. It was safe to assume that this woman who was much like a grandmother to me knew what had happened last night, and I was not looking forward to discussing it.
She sat down across from me with a cup of coffee and nodded. “Anything you need, honey,” she said and drank her coffee. I saw her look at me out of the corner of my eye. She cleared her throat. “Azaraphel told me everything,” she said. My heart dropped into my stomach. I really didn’t want to talk about it. “I have my doubts about that demon, but he’s done right by you, for the most part. You need to talk to him.”
“Yeah, I’ll get around to it,” I replied.
She gave one of those sighs that told me I was being exasperating. “Look, honey, It wasn’t your fault, it wasn’t Azaraphel’s fault, it wasn’t my fault. None of us could have known the truth about that womanizing demon, so don’t you wallow in self pity. It won’t hurt him a bit, and it only makes all of us miserable.”
It was good advice. I acknowledged her with a nod, and we finished our breakfast in silence. I ate my toast and a little of the eggs and bacon, and gave up on the rest.
I opted to clean the kitchen, and Clarice could not dissuade me from doing it. I needed to do something productive. She did maintain her spot at the table, and watched me while she sipped her coffee. Phil came back in through the back door with my cat in his arms while I was watching the dishes. He brushed against me as he tried to pass, sending a shiver down my spine. I recognized it as his energy. It was positively humming.
“Sorry,” he said softly enough for me to hear. He grabbed a bowl and a can of tuna out of the cabinet. He was spoiling my cat, but at least Jasper got fed.
He put the tabby by the back door with the bowl and sat down next to Clarice. They both kept watching me as if they thought I should be on bed rest or suicide watch. I wasn’t sure what made me more furious; being used and betrayed or being treated like a fragile person to walk on eggshells around afterward. By the time I had the kitchen clean I think that my ire had met full fruition. I wiped one last dish dry, put it in the cabinet, and closed the door with a decisive thud. And then, I turned to my friends.
“Okay, let’s get this over with,” I said. I looked at Phil, “So, you told Clarice everything already?”
He nodded. “Yes. Even the stuff that I haven’t told you yet,” he replied.
“Then tell me,” I said, sitting down at the end of the table, between him and Clarice. “How did things go all to hell without me seeing it coming?”
He cleared his throat and put the Goetica Grimshaw on the table. “I realized who Mister B was, last night on the walk home. I was clearing my head and sorting out everything that Gamori had said, when it hit me. She had said ‘Gregory Behr sends his love’ and then later said that he was safe and at your house.” He looked pointedly at me. “I’ve known Gamori for centuries, if you didn’t notice, and I can tell when she is lying. She was playing my emotions as much as she was playing yours last night, and it wasn’t until after you had left that I realized that she was telling the truth both times.” He slid the Goetica Grimshaw towards me and showed me a name. “Bael-Gregorovich. Gregorovich was a Russian demonologist who perfected his art, so to speak. He made a pact so complete as to fully merge himself with the king Bael, and become a demon in his own right. He holds the power of a King, even though he is not, himself, one of the fallen host. Power over invisibility, knowledge of the mystic arts, and power over sexuality, which is Gamori’s specialty, if you haven’t noticed.”
I looked at the full entry and read it. It had a bit more to it, but Phil had practically summarized it perfectly. I noticed that teaches knowledge of the mystic arts perfectly and instantaneously was heavily underlined. “Did you do this?” I asked Phil. He shook his head.
“Your grandfather did,” Clarice spoke up. I looked at her. “He told me once, about a type of demon. One that offers power, lots of it, but at a heavy price. Do you remember, honey, that first night when I brought you home? I tried to warn you about certain kinds of demons.” I nodded. “Well, that time I was speaking about an incubus.”
“Why would my grandfather…” I began to ask, but then it clicked. “He summoned Bael-Gregorovich so that he could learn the mystic arts from him.”
Clarice nodded. “I am afraid that may be the case.”
“What kind of pact did he make?” I asked, even though I wasn’t sure I wanted the answer.
She shook her head. “I don’t know, honey,” she said with a dejected sigh. “I wish I did, but he never told me. I think he was too ashamed.”
I looked at Phil, but he shook his head as well. “Well,” I said, getting up from the table, “This has been swell, but I think that it is time me and Gramps had a chat. How many more nights until the full moon?” I asked.
“Three,” Clarice replied.
“Plenty of time to renew your amulet and take a few precautions,” Phil added. I nodded at him.
I looked out the door, towards the shed and then had a nasty thought. “He never left.” I said. Everything was starting to click together. “He told me that he was going back to Atlanta for work, but he never left Salem. I’ll bet just about anything that he was the one who staged the deer, and set fire to the library, and killed Phil and set it up so that I’d bring him back.”
Phil shook his head. “No, I don’t think that he is the one who left the spell. I don’t doubt that he’d kill me, but he would have left me dead. With me next to you, you have more power to withstand him, and that would not fit into whatever his plans were.”
I frowned at him. “Then what about the fire and the Krampus? Why is he trying to kill me?”
“I don’t think that you were his target, honey,” Clarice answered.
Phil agreed with her. “Greg knew that I was doing the research in Toliver’s journals. His goal was the books, and possibly me if he could get me.”
Clarice nodded once at Phil. It was a small concession. “I was suppose to be the one helping Holly with the Bad Man. And if you remember, Holly and Greg are acquaintances.”
I blanched. “You don’t think that Holly was in on it do you?”
She shook her head. “No. That child is too honest, and too good of a mother. She just had the bad luck to meet up with the wrong man.”
“So, Greg was trying to get rid of the both of you,” I summarized, letting it sink in. “The next time I see him, I’m going to castrate him and make him eat his own balls for breakfast.”
“Wow,” Phil whistled. “The amazing thing is that she means every word of that,” he whispered to Clarice, who harrumphed at him.
“I need to find a way to break Grandfather’s spell,” I said. “The one replacing my real memories with these crappy fake ones,” I clarified. “Bael said things about my past, and I want to know if they are true.” I looked at Phil. “Do you remember seeing Greg anywhere in my past?”
He shook his head. “No, but that doesn’t prove anything.”
Clarice nodded. “I’ll look and see what I can do, but without knowing what exactly your grandfather did, it will be like trying to find the right door in a room full of keyholes.”
I shrugged, tapping Phil on the shoulder. “Whatever works,” I replied. “Come on, Red, it’s time to do some ritualistic burning, starting with that shirt.”
I was feeling much better now that the righteous anger had set in.
* * *
Clarice gave me a hug and returned to her house once she was convinced that I was going to be okay. I hated to worry my oldest friend, but I suppose she wouldn’t be as great a friend as she was if she didn’t worry. I watched her drive away from the doorway and wondered what my life would have been like if I had never forgotten her. There would probably have been a lot of mistakes that I wouldn’t have made. But there was no use in crying over spilled milk, as she would no doubt say, and I just counted myself lucky that I could count her as my oldest friend now.
I turned and snapped my fingers at Phil. “Okay, Red, time to get to work.”
He raised an eyebrow at me. “What do you have in mind?”
I headed towards the stairs. “That ritualistic burning, remember? I wasn’t kidding.”
He laughed at me, but followed me anyway. “Whatever makes you happy,” He replied.
“This will make me very happy, indeed,” I replied, opening the window. I bundled up all the sheets from my bed and threw them out into the front yard. I held out my hand to Phil, who looked at me with that raised eyebrow.
“What?” He asked.
I pointed at his shirt and waved my hand in the universal “gimme” gesture. “Hand it over. It’s getting burned too.”
He crossed his hands over his chest. “I don’t think so. This shirt has done nothing to you.”
I crossed my arms as well and gave him the evil eye. “I beg to differ. Every time I look at that hideous green and purple plaid, it makes me think of moldy eggplant, and that makes me want to throw up. Plus it clashes terribly with your hair, and I can’t stand it. Hand over the shirt now, or I will fine a way to make your life a living hell for the next 48 hours.”
He uncrossed his arms and gave a sigh of resignation. I held out my hand expectantly while I waited for him to unbutton his shirt and take it off. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that he was actually wearing a white undershirt. I chuckled a little. “By the way, no more raiding my grandfather’s closet. I absolutely forbid it.”
He threw the shirt at me and I threw it out the window with the rest of the linens. It felt very satisfying.
“Is that all, madam?” he asked, sounding amused.
I shook my head and started pulling the full mattress off of my bed. “No. This won’t fit in the window. Help me get it outside.”
“Riesa…” he started, before I cut him off.
“No! No ‘ifs’, ‘ands’, or ‘buts’, burning this mattress will make me feel so much better than you can even begin to understand,” I grunted, handling the mattress by myself.
He shook his head at me and grabbed the other end of the mattress, helping me get it out the door. “Thanks,” I said.
“Yeah, well if you want to burn your bed, who am I to argue?”
We managed to get the mattress out into the front yard. I gathered the strewn sheets plus one hideous shirt and threw them on top. “Got a lighter?” I asked Phil.
He crossed his arms and looked at the pile. It erupted into a little fire that quickly engulfed the whole mattress. “Whoa!” he exclaimed taking a step back. Apparently he wasn’t expecting it to be that flammable.
I stepped next to him and leaned over while I watched the fire. “It needed to be burned anyway. That mattress was probably a good twenty years old.” It was just as satisfying as I thought it would be. I wished I had some marshmallows.
“That wasn’t why the mattress went up so fast,” he replied. “I borrowed just a little bit of power from you to get it started and instead of it acting like a match, it acted like a blowtorch.” He looked at me. “You are amazing.”
I was puzzled. “Thanks? But what do you mean?”
He pointed at the raging fire. “That is pure untamed energy.” He focused to tone the fire down since it was getting so out of control. He shook his head. “I hate to admit it, but I think that if you could just gain control of your potential, you could be one seriously powerful practitioner, even without me.” He gave me a very strange look. It was like he was looking for something in my face, but wasn’t finding it. “I’ve never seen a human with this much power before.”
I shrugged and turned back to the fire. “Something in my family history, maybe?”
“Maybe,” he replied.
We stood there listening to the soft sound of the fire for a little while. I rubbed my arm. It was itching pretty bad, but I didn’t want to scratch it. “Phil, why are you so weak?” I asked, and then I realized how horrible that sounded. “Oh, gosh, I didn’t mean that you are weak!” I said, backtracking.
He just gave me a half smile. “No, you are right. I’m pretty darn weak.” He shifted from one foot to the other, trying to piece together his next statement. “Remember when Gamori was talking about allegiances? She made the allusion that I no longer honored any of mine, and she was right.” He sat down in the grass and looked up at me. I sat down, also, since looking down at him just seemed silly. “You see, those ranks and things that demons have are like badges of honor, and the higher a demon’s rank, the more power he gains from his masters.”
“So what happened to you? It wasn’t because I sealed you away was it?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No, it was nothing that you had done. I was pretty powerless a good fifty years before you came along.” He plucked at the grass and threw it into the fire. “I got tired of everything. I didn’t want to follow the whim of my superiors anymore, so I broke ties and started working towards becoming a free agent.”
He had mentioned something about this before. I think it was when we first met, but I had never cared to ask. “So, what is a free agent?”
He smiled at me. “Not every demon is a power-crazed sociopath. There are demons out there who strive for redemption, and the ones who gain a piece of it become Free Agents.”
“So you aren’t one yet?”
He shook his head. “No. Haven’t made it yet. Guess I still have a bit more atoning to do.”
“What do you have to atone for?” I asked, probably being a bit more curious than I had any right to be.
He gave a half smile to the fire. “Don’t remember all of it. I died sometime during the War of the Fourth Coalition in 1806, and was revived during the Peninsular War in 1812, so I can’t tell you anything about the time before that. I can tell you that I did enough during the rest of the Napoleonic Wars, and many other wars since, that I am not surprised that becoming a Free Agent has eluded me.”
I stared at him for several long moments. It was that awkward moment when I realized that the person I was talking to had probably once met Napoleon Bonaparte.
He looked at me, and very innocently asked, “What?”
“I just realized that you are old enough to have met my great, great, great, great grandfather. And probably his father. And probably several fathers before him.” I gaped at him. “Dear heavens, you probably remember the Civil War!”
He laughed. “Well, I hope that doesn’t make you think less of me.”
I shook my head. “I just can’t believe that this is only sinking in just now.”
“I guess it is Q and A time. Any more burning questions?” he quipped.
I thought about it, and realized that there was a lot about him that never got answered. “Do demons ever age?”
He shrugged. “Depends on the demon’s preference. We can appear whatever age we like. We can simulate the effects of aging while on earth if we are here for long periods of time.”
“Do you always look the same way, or can you change your appearance?”
He smiled. “I’m a natural red-head, if that is what you are asking.”
“So that is a no?” I regarded him with my head leaned to the side.
He shook his head “Its not in my skill set. That isn’t true for all demon’s though. There are Changelings and Chameleons. They can change their appearance. And then there are demons with the powers of illusion and magic. Like I said, not my skill set.”
I stopped and thought about that. “But magic is in Bael’s skill set.” Phil’s facial expression told me that he saw where my thought process was going. “He could have been anyone that I knew when I was younger.”
He nodded slowly. “Yeah, he could have. No one stands out to me, though, that I would have considered suspicious.”
I frowned and sighed dejectedly. “Oh well. I’m going to remember sooner or later, anyway. One way or another.”
“Yes, you will,” he replied, though he didn’t sound all that happy. I let it slide and enjoyed watching the fire burn down to nothing.