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“Please,” the demon choked out, catching her hysterical face in the bathroom mirror. She grimaced and touched up her lip gloss. “Please, you have to help me. I think he’s going to kill me.”

Forty years of neglect had transformed the women's room in Ala Ruiz Park into pagan temple ruins. Ivy had swallowed the squat, concrete building, and runes crawled on the walls. And Jackie was pretty sure a child had drowned in the large, doorless stall closest to the wall

“It’ll be okay,” the operator said gently. “I’m here to help.”

What a lovely voice. His strangled scream would shatter that honey tone, tearing itself from his throat. Jackie smiled.

“The police will be there soon,” the operator said. “They will be able to take care of you. I’ll stay on the line for as long as you need-”

Static.

“What the Hell?” Jackie tapped the screen. “This is an iPhone-”

“Hey, you. Demon scum.”

“Oh.” Jackie scowled. “Hector. How sweet of you to call. How has Hell been treating you?”

“I know your game. You’re sloppy and lazy and predictable. Call who you like, but I’ll always answer. I’m cutting your strings.”

Jackie pulled out her nail polish. “I think you mean ‘clipping my wings’.”

“Whatever. Same thing.”

“You’re too late.” Jackie blew on her nails. “I already placed the call to the police. Your baby brother’s going to get stung no matter how many calls you block.”

Hector paused. “Whether you ruin him or not, I’m waiting for you. You don’t understand our positions.”

“I understand them perfectly!” Jackie jabbed a thumb at her chest so hard it stung. “I am alive. You are not just dead, but burning in Hell, where you damn well belong!”

“You’re wrong. I’m not burning in Hell as punishment. I’m your punishment.”

“You’re lying,” seethed Jackie. “You’d give up a whole eternity to torture me?”

“Die, you filthy germ,” Hector said before hanging up.

A crack split her reflection in spiderweb fractals. Jackie ran a hand through her caramel-colored pixie cut. She swept a touch more concealer under her eyes. Her reflection’s cracked face shot her an approving smile.

“He’s lying,” she told the woman in the looking glass. “He can’t touch me.”

She stepped out of the women’s room, where the sheep-faced old woman waited. Jackie handed her back her cell phone with as grateful a smile as she could muster.

“How did it go?” The old woman’s craggy crow fingers closed around the cell. “Were you able to reach your uncle?”

Jackie nodded. “Thank you so much for your help. I don’t know what I would have done.”

“You’re very welcome. I’m happy to help.”

The Luque family won’t thank you. Jackie almost snorted when she imagined Hector Luque’s face. Would he give this old fool Hell, too? A kind old woman who wanted nothing more than to help?

No, she decided as she turned and walked away. He was soft. When she left this Earth, she would be rid of the Luques forever.

The Luque house was unkempt and overgrown. The roots of a looming avocado tree broke the path into a treacherous mess of crumbling cement. The kitchen window was open and the lights were dark.

Jackie took a tentative leap over the fence, creeping up to the rough stucco wall.

Dogs closed in on all sides in an explosion of barks, spittle flying from their gaping jaws. Jackie dashed for the fence, only to face a snarling mastiff.

Spurred by nips at her heels, she whirled around and leaped up the avocado tree. A yipping boxer pup headed the pack, taking her shoe in its teeth. She kicked at it, dislodging the shoe and pulling her leg out of reach. The mastiff snapped at where it had been, only seconds late.

Three of her fake nails broke off in the frantic climb. Jackie clung to the tree limb, trembling as the dogs scrabbled at the trunk.

“I’ll eat you,” she promised them in a quivering growl. “Chop you up and fry the meat with sweet-and-sour sauce.”

The screen door squealed open as a burly, dark-haired man with a bucket staggered out the door. For one shocking moment, Jackie thought Diego had dropped out of school and grown a beard. Then Diego himself called from inside the house.

“Pop, I’m heading out!”

Diego’s father muttered something about "ungrateful whelps". He threw the contents of the bucket to the dogs, launching dripping projectiles into the air.

The dogs forgot about the demon in the yard, pouncing on the meat chunks. The little boxer nosed at a piece only for the bigger dogs to drive him away. It whimpered.

Something cold, wet, and smelly splattered across Jackie’s blouse. Jackie whimpered.

Old man Luque lumbered back inside the house, hollering, “Where are you going, Chief?”

The demon hunter stepped into the sunlight, slipping a black mask over his pasty face.

“Out,” said Diego. “Want me to pick up something on the way back?”

“Whatever you want. I’m very tired.”

“Be right back, Pop.”

She had followed Diego to the docks for the past month. He always followed the same path, step for step for step, right into her web.

In another world, he would have been her pet. Diego was a pit bull of a boy, with brown eyes as dark and bitter as rancid coffee. His arms stretched the sleeves of his black tee. His shoulders were broad enough to fit a child on each shoulder.

The strong ones were the most fun to break.

She took a deep breath of sweet, sweet air. The cicadas screamed, the dead leaves crunched, and the lake bled sunset

If Diego had known what to look for, he might have noticed a shoe, or the top of a helmet. But Jackie had warned the operator of how dangerous and unstable her ex was. Jackie almost wished he was her ex, so it would be all the sweeter.

When Diego reached the end of the bridge, he spoke to the rippling water.

“I’ve caught up to you,” he said. “I’ll tell you all about college. What you missed. What sucks. But I won’t be able to come as often.”

“That would be sad,” said Jackie, stepping onto the bridge, “wouldn’t it?”

Diego lifted his head. He turned around, running a hand over his greasy black curls.

“You’re missing a shoe,” said Diego.

She put a hand on her hip. “You’re missing a brother.”

“He was killed by demons.” Diego frowned. “By Jacqueline Jordan. By you.”

Jackie leaned in closer. He recoiled, but there was nowhere for him to go.

“I enjoyed every second of it,” she whispered into his ear, grinning when he flinched. “I worked on his pretty little friend for months. I told her that aliens were eating his brain. And that the only way to save him,” she put a finger gun to her temple, fighting down giggles, “was to blow them back into outer space.”

Diego’s pasty face had an unflattering grayish tinge. “Why Elena? She didn’t know- she was going to be a doctor-”

“Now she needs a doctor herself,” sniggered Jackie. “Not that she’ll let them close. The brain aliens are everywhere, you know.”

Diego grit his teeth. His arms bulged like they wanted to rip themselves from his body to throttle her.

Jackie smiled. “I hate to break it to you, but you’re just as crazy as she is. Tell me demons are real. Prove it. Show me a demon right now, demon hunter.”

Diego moved fast, faster than the police could draw their weapons.

He hugged her.

Jackie waited for him to squeeze her until her ribs popped, but he didn’t. Her ear pressed against his chest, and she could hear his heart pumping, waiting for her to rip it out.

And then a part of herself didn’t want to.

“No!”

She raked her long nails down his face, tearing his mask. She kicked him between the legs and kneed his face as he went down.

“You want to be some kind of martyr? Is that what you want?” She laughed, swinging her leg back and kicking him in the face. “Fine, don’t fight back. That makes it even more fun!”

The policemen she had summoned were the ones that pulled her away from her prey.

“You bastards!” she shouted at them, writhing in their grip. “You’re just a web! Get him, you fools, get the fly! I planted you, I made you, now get him.”

She tipped her head back and laughed, long and loud.

“Are you okay?” The officer helped Diego to his feet, his red face puffing. “What was that?”

Diego nodded absently, watching the police drag Jackie Jordan over the wooden bridge.

“That,” he told Hector, “is how you slay a demon.”

August 07, 2020 20:54

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