You could say Gavin was something of a demon-summoning expert, but you’d be wrong there because he’d never done it before in his life. He’d done quite a bit of research, though, on some new privacy browser he’d downloaded onto his mom’s wheezy old desktop, so he knew he had the appropriate number of candles, in a decently spooky shape, with the right chalk lines connecting them. He was pretty sure his blood sacrifice was sufficient (he hoped Mrs. Melontine wouldn’t miss her dog too much; he was a little beast anyway, who loved nothing more than biting ankles, and Mrs. Melontine was half-blind so maybe she wouldn’t even notice), and if it wasn’t he’d captured a tree frog last night which he figured he could squish for a last-minute blood boost. He’d spent hours preparing for this, hours he could have been spending studying for his vocab test or training to beat Tim’s butt in air hockey. So you can imagine his disappointment when he beheld, in the middle of his shakily drawn pentagram, a girl not too much older than him, with stringy black hair, hipster glasses, a pair of stunted horns, and a large boil on her nose.
“You’ve summoned me,” she said with a nasally voice. “How might I serve you, Master?”
Gavin felt like a deflated balloon, as all of his hope and excitement drained out through the bottom of his shoes onto the basement floor. She read his face like a book.
“What, am I not what you expected? That’s not particularly inclusive of you,” she huffed, crossing her thin arms over her chest. “Not every demon is some scary monster with horns and muscles and stuff, even though that's what everybody wants. 'Oh where, oh where is Marchosias? Ryuk? Bakasura? Give me a break.”
Gavin’s ears perked up at the familiar names (he thought it was pronounced MarchoSIas. Oops.). “Those guys are real?”
A thin line of steam emerged from both of her ears. “Yes,” she hissed, “they’re real. Real scary too, and mean. Man, you better be glad they’re not here, or you'd be toast right now. They’d probably suck your soul out or turn your bones to jelly or something like that.”
Gavin tried to imagine it, his skin draped loosely over a sack of grape jelly. He shuddered. He hated grape jelly. “But you can't turn me to jelly. You're here at my command, there's a contract thing that says you can't hurt me because I summoned you. And you can't trick me either, because I've read about all your tricks in my books and so I know all of them.”
“Believe me, kid, I could fool you if I really wanted to.” Her eyes flashed purple, reflecting the candlelight, and Gavin thought maybe she was a little bit scary. “But today is your lucky day, because I just fooled somebody else and turned his bones to jelly, so I don’t feel like doing that anymore. And I personally guarantee that you will find that I’m just as talented in the unholy arts as any red goat you can manage to summon. And I swear to you, on my honor as a demon, a witch, and a vegan chef that I will not steal your soul, nor any other body parts that you may need to survive on this earthly plane. What do you think of that?”
Gavin didn’t have much faith in the honor of a demon or a witch, but he’d never been wronged by a vegan chef, so he thought it might be worth a shot.
“Okay, it’s a deal. You must do my bidding.”
“Great, great, I’ll do your bidding.” He noticed she had a stubby tail that was wagging behind her in a way that reminded him a little too much of Mrs. Melontine’s dog. “What exactly do you bid?”
“I want you to smite someone: Jeanine Annabelle Writz. I want you to wrap her in the flames of my all-consuming rage.”
“Ooh, that sounds spooky. Flames of my all-consuming rage. That’s good. Did you come up with that?”
She cracked her knuckles absently as she said, “so what kind of smiting are we talking here? A vanilla one, or something a little more exotic?”
“Is… is ‘the flames of my all-consuming rage’ a vanilla one or--”
“Yeah, that one’s pretty typical.”
“Okay, then that one.”
“Great, great. An average smiting, coming right up,” the she-demon grinned toothily, revealing two sharp fangs (though one had been chipped). “How much all-consuming rage is she being wrapped in, exactly? How angry are you?”
“Pretty angry. Very angry. She humiliated me in front of everybody at school.” His eyes burned at the memory.
“Are the emotions roiling and boiling beneath your skin, hot to the touch?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“I need to see for myself.” She made to step out of the circle, then hesitated. “Do I have permission to leave this circle and place my hand on you? I promise I won’t, like, steal your soul or anything.”
“You have my permission,” Gavin said. She stepped gingerly across the chalky lines and touched his shoulder, her eyes closing. Gavin thought she smelled like a really burnt s’more.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of emotion in here,” she said, eyes flicking back and forth beneath her veiny lids. “Like a lot. Dang, kid, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m used to it.”
“So, this roiling and boiling is, like, an everyday thing for you?”
“Yes. But I’ll feel better once you smite Jeanine.”
The witch shook her head gently. “No, no, trust me, this kind of emotion doesn't just go away after you kill somebody.”
“I don't want your advice. I want you to smite Jeanine. Why doesn't anybody listen to me?”
“Listen, listen. How about I sweeten our deal? Whip you up a little potion to handle all that roiling and boiling stuff and then we can smite the girl. How's that sound?”
Gavin was taken aback. No one on any of the websites he’d visited said demons talked like this. “Are you sure we can’t just smite her first?”
“Nope.” He wondered if the potion thing was a trick… but something inside of him told me that she was telling the truth.
“Okay,” he said. “We can do the emotion-potion-help thing first. But then you have to smite her.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure. Great.” Her tail was thumping again. “Do you have a blender?”
~ ~ ~
“Will your mom be okay with this? You seem a little young to be summoning demons unsupervised.”
“Nah, she’s not home now. She works Tuesdays through Saturdays.”
Gavin watched, his head cradled in his hands, as the demon girl raided his kitchen. A pile of increasingly strange things was quickly growing in his blender, including but not limited to mayonnaise, pumpkin seeds, uncooked pasta, orange juice, and a few brownish-purplish specks that might have been raisins or maybe bugs that she had picked off the floor when he wasn’t looking. He kept trying to catch them moving, but hadn’t seen anything yet. Yet.
“So you’re just here by yourself?” The witch upended a bag of chocolate chips over the blender, but shook the last few chips onto her long purple tongue.
“Not all the time. Sometimes Mrs. Melontine watches me. Or at least, she’s here. She normally watches “Days of Our Lives” and yells at me to go to bed when she starts crying.” She nodded at him, listening closely, while still chewing her chocolate. She looked away from him only to locate a single pink flip flop, which she sniffed and tossed in. She was weird. No question. But Gavin realized he liked being listened to. Normally he wasn’t very good at talking to strangers.
"She sounds like a joy."
"No, but she does make really good pasta, and she brings me cookies a lot.” For the first time, he actually felt a twinge of guilt for capturing her dog and using him to summon a demon. That didn’t seem like a particularly neighborly thing to do. Maybe he’d get the witch to conjure a new dog for her, after they smote Jeanine. Smited Jeanine? Either way.
She grabbed a banana and peeled it. “You want some?” Gavin shook his head. She shrugged, removed the banana, tossed the peel into the blender and the banana itself into the sink.
“You know, bananas are just like friends," she said.
“When you peel off their skin, they die.” Gavin stared at her blankly for a moment before she burst into raucous laughter, smacking the table and snorting. The spectacle made Gavin grin, and soon he was laughing too, they were both laughing, together. How long had it been since he’d laughed with someone else? The witch sighed, wiping a purplish tear from her eye. “Nah, I’m just kidding. Don’t peel your friends. They taste weird without the skin.”
“How much longer will this take?”
“I’m almost done. Only one more ingredient.” She reached into her black tunic and pulled out a small vial on a chain, shaped like a shard of diamond, and uncorked it. She tipped it over the blender, tapping the side with one long finger, and let a few yellowish orange drops ooze out ever so slowly. They hissed when they made contact with the bizarre concoction in the blender.
“Are you sure that’s not poison?” Gavin asked suspiciously.
“Nah, I keep the poison vial in my… well, nevermind. This one isn’t poison.” She popped the lid on the blender and started it with a flourish. It made weird crunching sounds as it whirred along, but whatever was in the vial must have helped because everything was eventually blended smoothly (even his mom's flip flop) into a potion that had a dull orange tint. She poured it into a Spiderman cup and handed it to him.
“Whole thing, down the hatch. Drink up,” she said. She dipped one finger into the blender, sampled the liquid, then made a face and vanished the rest of the potion with a snap of her fingers. Gavin looked down at his own cup hesitantly. He watched an air bubble slowly rise and pop, releasing a smell that was like singed hair mixed with sulfur. He shuddered, but the witch was watching him closely, so he plugged his nose and downed it all in one gulp.
It actually didn’t taste that bad. Kind of like popcorn, but with a metallic-y aftertaste. The texture was weird, though. At least it was over fast.
As the potion oozed down his throat, he felt a warmth spreading like honey through his entire body. It reached for his toes and his fingertips, his calves and his shoulders, his stomach and his scalp. It felt like being hugged, but on the inside. And he felt the anger and the sadness that was bottled up in little pockets all around his body burst and release and vanish, just like that, in the wave of calm and contentment. He felt a bit of potion roll down his cheek, but then he realized it was a tear.
“How do you feel?” The witch asked. Her eyes were big and actually kind of pretty, even though they were a little bloodshot. Gavin said nothing. He simply stood up, went over to her, and gave her a big, big hug. She was stiff, but then melted like ice cream and wrapped her arms around him.
“Thank you,” Gavin whispered.
“Just doing my job, kid,” the witch said, but he thought he felt her arms tighten around him, one of her hands rubbing his back gently kind of like his mom used to do.
She disengaged from the hug gingerly, and Gavin rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Okay,” said the witch. “Now, about this Jeanine thing--”
“I don’t want to.”
“I don’t want to smite Jeanine anymore.” He almost didn’t believe he was saying it, but it was true. He wasn’t angry with her anymore, not at all. And that was more liberating than any smiting could ever be. “I release you from your—“
“Ah ah ah!! Careful!” The witch’s eyes were wide, maybe angry or maybe scared or maybe something else. “You can’t just release a demon from their contract, don’t you know anything? I could kill you! I could burn you up or drag you into the depths of hell or turn your legs to jelly!”
“But you won’t.”
“I… No, no I won’t.” She sounded almost surprised when she said it. She scratched her scalp through her stringy hair.
“So… we’re good then. I release you from your contract. You’re free to return to your demonic realm.
“Yeah… yeah, no more duties. Demonic realm. Whoo.” Her voice was breathy, distant. Her eyes looked past him, at some puzzle right behind his head that she couldn’t figure out just yet. “Okay then. Well, goodbye kid.”
“Goodbye Mrs… Mrs. Demon, ma’am. And thanks.”
She chuckled at him, ruffled his hair, gave him another toothy grin. And then she’d vanished, his hair left to float gently back into place.
Gavin got rid of all his candles that night. He scrubbed the chalk from the floor, deleted the weird browser app (it was probably a virus anyway). He brought Mrs. Melontine’s dog collar back to her, gave her tissues when she cried, and promised he’d go with her to the dog shelter next week to find her a new best friend, maybe one that didn’t bite her ankles or pee on the floor. He smiled at Jeanine at school and invited her to play kickball with him; he realized that she was actually kind of nice and her blonde hair was kind of pretty. They even agreed to go with her friends to Jamba Juice later that week. She’d heard they had this awesome new drink that made all your problems float away, like leaves whisked away by the autumn wind. Gavin agreed it must taste pretty amazing.