The window panes began to rattle and sweat against their lead frames. Somewhere down the hall a lightbulb popped. A lump, long and sinewy, formed under the bed sheet. It lay there for a moment, inert, as if waiting for the blood to fill its pruned veins. The sheet puckered slightly as the thing drew breath.
James saw none of this, as he was busy readjusting the lamp he had just knocked over. He’d heard the thud of a small mammal landing on the floor. He bent behind the sofa, hoping to find a dead rat. The thing under the blanket coughed. James straightened abruptly, hitting his head on the lamp and knocking the lighting fixture freshly asunder. The sheet coughed again.
James pulled back the sheet. A pointed, narrow face peaked out and a wicked grin spread over the thin features, revealing slightly pointed teeth.
James scratched his head and winced as he brushed the fresh bruise left by the lamp. “Did I?”
“You must have done. Twenty seconds ago I was running around the Ural Mountains and now I’m lying in a stranger’s bed. The circumstances have improved,” the creature countered.
“Wait, you were in the Urals?”
“It was a job, and a cold one.”
It stretched, dragging a ragged nail along the sheet. As it straightened, a series of popping sounds peppered the air as its spine lengthened. It swung its gnarled feet over the edge of the bed, narrowly avoiding shredding the mattress. Despite the cracking and twitching, it moved with alarming dexterity and began to pace around the carpet.
James flinched but stayed rooted to the spot. The creature licked its lips.
“James, isn’t it?”
James started to nod, and then thought better of it. “We’re not here to talk about me.”
The creature grinned again. “The exchange between you and your overtired literary agent suggests otherwise, as does the poorly concealed chalk circle around your bed.”
“How did you—?”
The creature rolled its yellow eyes, took half a step forward, and rapped a grey-green knuckle in mid-air. A loud clang echoed in the empty space between itself and the trembling human. The air shimmered and a snow globe-like orb appeared around the demon. “So, as I was saying… you rang?”
“No, you said that before, but again, I thought—”
The creature dug around in its robes and pulled out a scrap of paper. It drew a breath, before beginning to read aloud, “Reminder: Deadline is: 12/04/2020. Hi James, really hoping to see that last chapter by tomorrow. Also, ending needs to be more accessible to younger readers. Final print deadline is 12/04/2020.”
The creature looked up, but James remained mute. It turned back to the page. “Your response, ‘Hi Lisa, I’d really rather kill him. The novel isn’t supposed to be a romantic comedy.’”
“Where did you get that?” James spluttered.
The creature looked up from the sheet of paper. “Sorry, is this not the exchange between you and Lisa, your literary agent?”
“Oh, of course, because you’re Not James, as previously established. So, Not James, judging by the clock behind you, you have three hours—oops, sorry—two hours and fifty-six minutes, to meet your deadline. How’s that going for you?”
Not James began to shake again. He flipped open the book he was gripping. “I just have questions about the middle and end.”
The creature nodded. “I think Lisa had questions about the beginning, too, but we won’t worry about that…”
James cleared his throat and began to read, “The doctor entered the room, looking much too calm for a man who worked on a cancer ward. ‘Good news, it turns out your long-lost twin is an exact match for your bone marrow transfusion. You’ll be out of here in a week.’”
The creature looked unmoved. “She told you not to kill him. Right?”
“That’s the end of chapter five. The ending is, well—”
The creature continued, unmoved. “Due to complications in the surgery, Mike lapsed into a coma.” The creature looked up. “I don’t see the problem.”
James’s eyes widened. “You’ve turned it into a gory medical drama, that’s horrendous!”
“I didn’t kill him. He’s in a coma. He’s fine.”
“You call that fine?”
“Well, not dead. Isn’t that what Lisa wanted?”
James began to pace. “It doesn’t work anyway, recovery would take longer than a week and his family couldn’t afford to keep him on life support during the coma.”
The creature shrugged. “It’s fiction, suspend your disbelief.”
“I would but the publisher is American.”
“Oh, I see…” the creature conceded.
“Yeah, he goes from having to struggle daily with a terminal illness to suddenly discovering he has a long-lost twin who happens to be a perfect match? There’s a term for that…”
“Deus ex machina,” the creature offered.
“The god in the machine.”
James blinked slowly and then it hit him. “So, I didn’t write…”
The creature countered with a shrug. “Well, whether or not you wrote it, it sounds an awful lot like you, so what’s the difference?”
James broke out in a cold sweat. “But I didn’t summon you… All I said was—”
“—It would take a miracle to fix this.” The creature checked its long fingernails. “You said a miracle. You said you’d do anything.”
“To meet the deadline, yeah, but I was thinking out loud. There was nobody in the room.” James couldn’t believe his ears.
The creature looked at the poster above the bed. An armor-clad titan with diamond cut cheekbones glimmered slightly in the low light. James looked at the poster, and then down at the mottled demon in tattered monk’s robes that had nearly shredded his bed sheets.
“No. I… Loki?”
The creature merely nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
“But you’re… green.”
“I am aware.”
“I thought you could take any shape you wanted?”
The creature smirked and looked back at the poster of the armored Asgardian. “Any shape that is useful. You’re just projecting, methinks.”
He winked and his greasy eyelid slid slowly across the yellow eyeball.
“So why do you look like a…” James was at a loss.
“An old demon? It was the quickest change I could make midway through the job in the Urals. They were short-staffed out there, and the children of Yuriatin were running afoul of their parents.” It pulled up the hood of its robe and as it did its eyes narrowed and the nose became more hooked, its back hunched slightly, and a staff appeared in its hand. “Baba Yaga was detained out east. As I said, we’re… short-staffed.” It thumped the stick and chuckled.
James said nothing but reached into his pocket for his phone.
Loki stopped laughing. “What are you doing?”
James opened WhatsApp. “Lisa, hi, yes, I know I’m running out of time, I just need to let you know there’s an intruder in my house. No, I can’t call the police, it’s not that kind of intruder, he says I summoned him, yeah, no shit it’s manipulative! I… I dunno, it looks like Max Schreck from Nosferatu. Yeah, and he’s all green and pointy – not “Shrek”, Max Schreck. It’s a different movie… never mind, I think he ruined… you’re gonna think I’m crazy. He says his name is Loki. Fine, fine I’ll just show you.”
He raised the phone so that the screen faced the hooded figure. His agent drew a breath. “Is that… what’s with the sack cloth?”
The creature lowered its hood and waved, “Hello, Lisa. It’s been a while.”
The agent groaned. “Oh, for God’s sake… Loki.”
James almost dropped the phone. “Wait, wait, you two know each other?”
“Well, we’ve met before. Have you said anything to him?” she asked.
The demon rocked back on its heels; “Lisa, my dear, he asked for help and I complied.”
The agent groaned again. “You panicked, didn’t you, James?”
James couldn’t look at the screen so he stared at his toes, wishing that the carpet would open up and swallow him whole.
The creature stepped in – “He couldn’t think of an ending, Lisa, and he…well… The poor, starving artist asked for a miracle.”
“But did he specifically invoke you?”
The be-frocked god gestured at the poster of its avatar. “Walls have ears, Lisa. You humans talk too much.”
“Lisa, I’m sorry, you’re gonna hate the bloody ending: it’s awful, but at least I’ve got one now…”
Lisa cut him off. “Don’t use anything he’s written, James; it won’t be worth it. The book will burst into flames at the launch party or something insane like that. I’ve seen it happen.”
James was close to tears by now, having accidentally summoned a god he didn’t recognize, and realizing that his agent was probably Wiccan, Tuesday night was not going as planned.
“Lisa, I can’t make the deadline tomorrow.”
There was a stagnant pause. “What deadline tomorrow? It’s the 11th of April tonight.”
“I KNOW it’s the 11th tonight! You wanted the final draft by tomorrow and I can’t do it! I tried, and not only did I not do it: I accidentally summoned a demon!”
Loki rolled his eyes. “You knew exactly what you were doing.”
“Not specifically!” cried James.
Loki gestured at the circle and the herbs scattered around the room “No? Then what do you call this?”
“I don’t remember.” The writer faltered again. His memory of the early evening was hazy at best.
“They always say that,” Loki sneered.
James was starting to feel faint. “I asked you to help me.”
The god shook a horned finger. “You asked for a miracle and you asked me to fix it. You didn’t specify how.”
“But the god in the machine is supposed to… swoop in and… play… god.” The rebuttal had sounded better in his head.
Loki crossed his arms. “Who said the god was benevolent? Did you really think that by drawing a chalk circle and chanting and waving herbs that some Jewish socialist in sandals was going to show up and fix your manuscript? He doesn’t do crop circles, that one. He’s busy.”
“Ok, stop, both of you!” Lisa had had enough. “Why are you convinced that the deadline is tomorrow?”
James nearly lost his mind. “Because it’s April 11th tonight and the deadline is 12/04/2020!”
A long pause followed, and then Lisa began to laugh.
Loki did not blink.
Lisa took a breath, “Oh, James, honey. I sent that from the west coast. We write the date out – month/day/year, you read it as day/month/year. You have until December. It’s April. You have seven months.”
Loki turned a slightly darker shade of green.
It was James’s turn to laugh. “So, I don’t need him?”
“You don’t have to say another word to him. No.”
“So, how do I get him out?”
“Did he write anything for you?”
“Ok, well, get rid of it. Make sure it can’t be read out loud.”
“No! Don’t!” Loki snarled. “You can just leave it, I—”
But James was reaching for a lighter. He dropped the phone and ripped the last page out and lit it. There was a hiss, a yowl, and a gust of wind as the windows cracked. The god’s robes billowed around his gnarled knees and the force field around him buckled inwards with a flash of light. There was nothing to show of the ancient spectre other than a smudge on the carpet and the slight scent of sulphur in the air.
James picked up his phone as Lisa had not yet hung up.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he panted. “More or less.”
“You got rid of him?”
“I mean, he literally disappeared in a flash of light, so… I guess so.”
She sighed. “Yeah, he’s a bit dramatic. Anyway, I’m glad you’re okay.”
James’s knees buckled. “I think I need some sleep.”
Lisa chuckled. “I bet you do. Oh, and James?”
“Next time, just call me.”
Mads is a Chicago-based writer and playwright. Her new play, ‘Dickens’ Last Gasp’, is currently in development. Her poetry and short stories have been published in Jewish in Seattle (2019) and Papeauch Press (2019), and her theater script, ‘Longhand’, was shortlisted for the Bristol Old Vic Open Session 2015. She has produced and performed in multiple independent theater productions in Scotland and England. In her spare time, Mads serves as a communications committee member for the Charles Dickens Society.
Mads is always open to new creative projects and conversations, feel free to reach out!