Reeco’s is the most popular cafe in the town centre. The cafe occupies a rounded corner of glass. Inside, the flooring is polished and clean, the general colour scheme is that of coffee itself – warm tones of varying wood and brown. A gentle chatter filled the place, a dull murmuring punctuated by slurping and ceramic clinking as hot drinks were consumed. I sat near a window that dripped in the torrents of rain that hammered angrily, desiring to be inside but being blocked by its foe, the glass. Before me, a cup of black coffee rested, steam rising and carrying a deep aroma of freshly turned earth and vague burning.
I contemplated. I’d been contemplating since agreeing to this and came up with several reasons to not see this through and tried to argue my way around each. Demons took Inspector Edwards and countless others since they possessed the supermarket and this one could certainly take me. But what if this one could tell me something? It could have taken me on Sunday when it had me alone if it wanted to. Demons are supposed to be creatures of greed, treachery and malice, but much of the same can be said of the government I’m working under now. If that exorcist saw us, he’d be certain to distrust me even more. Maybe not, he really despises me. Actually, the idea of angering that beady eyed man was probably what pushed aside my grievances and rap my knuckles against the wooden tabletop.
In an instant, the demon appeared, sitting across from me as if he was there the whole time. He looked slightly different – his skin did not have the red glow and his eyes were like grey paint over red tail lights, glowing faintly but only enough so it could have easily been the lighting in the room. In place of his horns, tufts of his hair pointed up almost comically. Thick rings of dark around his eyes made him seem to have not slept in weeks but his lips were turned in an ecstatic grin that still made him seem energetic and lively. We stared at each other for a while and I couldn’t tell what his eyes meant. My stomach felt twisted with dread so I spoke.
“I wasn’t sure what you’d like to drink so I just got you the same as me, I hope black coffee’s okay.” I forced a smile and his smile widened.
“Thank you. It’s good you didn’t get me anything with milk,” he dropped the smile and the air stilled with seriousness. “You see, demons are deathly lactose intolerant.”
“Really?” I was astounded until the demon laughed. His laughter was like music and it shook his whole frame.
“No, of course not.” He wiped away a single tear which evaporated. He then extended his hand over the table. “So Inspector, my name is Sitri. It is my deepest pleasure to meet you.”
His hand was warm when I shook it and his skin felt soft and not like skin but more like the petal of a poppy. He lightly squeezed my hand.
“Why have you possessed the supermarket?” I asked.
“Well, we were summoned. Actually, I wasn’t specifically summoned, I just came through with the others,”‘ he said. “I am a Prince of Hell and I command some legions. Or I did.”
“If it wasn’t you that was summoned, who was?”
“Ah, well, where I am a Prince, the demon that was summoned and now resides in this town’s supermarket is a King of Hell. His name is Belial, angel of enmity and lawlessness. He is one of the Greater Kings, the Shadow over Egypt from ancient times.” This time the seriousness was palpable. Sitri leaned forward and released a wave of hot steam into my face, obscuring my vision.
From beyond the veil of white, Sitri spoke. “‘Belial is a creature of wrath and anger, greed and disruption.”‘ The steam cleared to reveal an expanse of obsidian emptiness, dotted with twinkling stars. Or what seemed to be stars, but as they came closer, were revealed to be writhing snakes, coiled and bathed in dancing flames. One looked to me and unwound itself, slithering through the blackness toward me, mouth open, gaping, wider than a house first, then bigger and wider until it was everything and I was inside. “‘Belial is a cruel master of power and want.” A tower rose from the back of the serpent’s tongue, encased in black flame and laced with twisting and grasping barbs. At the summit was a platform that seemed to stretch out for miles in every direction as I got closer. There were forests with no leaves and fields of crawling roaches, winding crimson rivers. A town nestled between two fleshy hills which bustled with activity and its inhabitants seemed to have been plucked from Egyptian history. Beyond the hills, rows of smoking coals flew away beneath me until a great golden structure loomed, glittering in the fire light. “He wants all things and will take those things if he gets even the slightest opportunity.” The mass of gold was a throne and on it sat an enormous something. It was Belial. Sitri called the creature ‘he’ but this implied some sort of humanity about it. Human pronouns could scarcely describe this being, human words could barely describe it. Many eyes stared out from many heads but they looked like nothing on Earth and the sheer scale of what I saw made my brain ache. Somewhere in the real world, blood dripped from my nose, over my lip and down my chin.
I felt then a swift motion and I flew away from the Demon King and the strange world in the mouth of the snake. I felt strong arms around my chest.
“Belial is only here in a fraction of of his full capacity – even a tiny portion of his power would require a substantial sacrifice. Fortunately, this means he is bound to the supermarket, It’d take a nation of blood to bring him into this world fully, for him to move freely as I can. But even in his diminished form, his power is like the radiant sun compared to mine, which would be a flickering candle to him.”
The steam cleared in reality and I was face to face with Sitri again. He held both of my hands as I trembled and he seemed apologetic, if I read his expression right.
On Wednesday, the next day, Mayor Thomas called a conference at a venue next to the library. The room was quite large and also rather empty. The ‘crowd’ consisted of myself, Sibillus and a scarce collection of barely interested residents. They mostly stood near near a buffet table, shovelling handfuls (or clawfuls) of food into their mouths (or mouth equivalents).
Sibillus explained that they really only gather people by offering free food, otherwise nobody would show up at all.
The Mayor stood on the stage as she addressed her unconcerned audience about the importance of their votes in electing a new member of parliament and talked about being aware of polling station locations. She mainly repeated the same point, perhaps hoping that they’d sink in to her ignorant guests.
There was a commotion at the entrance: a great deal of squeaking and creaking and stomping. Gregory had arrived in his pink leather suit (which was extra squeaky from the rain outside). He marched up to the stage and waved his arms in exasperation. The Mayor stepped back as her three heads conferred for a moment, and then she flashed three beaming smiles at the man and his tantrum diminished.
“In the interest of democratic process and fairness, and definitely not for my comedic amusement, Gregory Onon would like to say a few words.” The Mayor was all chagrin.
Gregory scrambled and flailed onto the stage; his suit made him stiff.
“People of Undertown!” Only one person took notice at the buffet table. She wondered closer to the stage – she wore a plaid summer dress over her carapaced legs. “I stand before you now in a time of great discontent. Demons have infested our town! Aliens have been seen in our skies! These illegal immigrants have trespassed our borders and infiltrated our town. Our last member of parliament failed to address these issues, and another survey report will go by unheard and uncared for, leaving us with an incompetent mayor and a secret police that can’t even be bothered to routinely abduct civilians. Enough is enough!