Jeremy Harris walked up the front steps to his house, still seething and wound as tightly as the proverbial spring. What little dignity he had left saw to it that that he kept himself composed until he stepped into the privacy of his own home, but it was a close thing.
He took one almost serene look around the living room, took a deep breath, and then – very calmly- hurled a fireball across the room. It flew in a burning arch, hitting the window across from him and setting some drapery on fire. He didn't care in the slightest. All pretense of restraint had gone with the flames.
"It's not fair!" he bellowed, doing his best to make damn sure everyone in the neighborhood could hear him. He stomped down the hallway, hurling more magic along as he went.
"After all the years I've given them-" He threw another ball of fire and an end table was reduced to charcoal.
"All the wasted time-" Another ball of flame, another piece of antique furniture gone.
It occurred to the quiet, logical part of Harris' mind (the bit not focused on burning up his house) that the only thing that would come of throwing fire around would be a trip to the local furniture outlet. He held off burning up the guestroom sofa and went back to the living room, making sure to stomp the entire way. Childish, yes, but it made him feel better, and at the moment that was all that mattered.
They can't get away with this, he thought, glaring at the pile of ash that had been the coffee table. They think they can just get rid of me? Well they've got another think coming. I'll show them-
"Mr. Harris," said a calm voice from off to the side. "Please stop throwing fire about. You've wrecked the curtains- and I'm fairly certain you've killed the fish."
The speaker was a tall, red haired young woman with a look of extreme patience on her narrow face. She was holding a half empty bucket of water in a way that suggested she'd splash it on him if he made a wrong move.
Harris glanced at the fish tank. It was boiling over from the magic he hadn’t realized he’d been leaking. The fish inside were obviously dead. His eyes flicked to the drapes. They were soaked through and smoking, explaining where the rest of Aggie’s water had gone. Guiltily, Harris pulled himself together, drawing in the excess energy until it was all back safely under his skin. He had liked the fish.
"Don't you go talking to me like that, Aggie," he said, trying to get the nice warm anger back. He threw a small tongue of flame, just for the sake of being contrary. It didn't stand a chance. Aggie splashed her water onto it before it hit the floor. It disintegrated with a hiss while the carpet got soaked.
"Talk to you like what, Mr. Harris?"
"Politely. I don't hold with it. It's condescending."
She smiled. "Mr. Harris, if you don't stop setting the house on fire, I'll never stop being polite at you."
"You're doing it again."
He stamped his foot causing the foundations to shake and the windows all over the house to rattle. He heard something in the kitchen fall to the ground and break. It sounded like glass.
She rolled her eyes.
"Mr. Harris, if you insist on acting like a child, I will continue to treat you as such. I suggest you either communicate like a grown man, or go to your room. Without supper."
Harris froze. Before his family had sent Aggie along, he'd taken to eating straight out of the can and drinking from the tap. Dinner was something you didn't joke about.
"I've been kicked out of the Association," he said eventually.
"Oh? Your little magic club?'
Harris' eyes flared up. Orange light spilled out from them.
“It wasn't some 'little club'. It was a great conglomeration of the scholars and masters of the arcane arts. They only accept the best," he said, with a touch of pride.
Then reality sunk in again and he drooped. "And they kicked me out."
"Why?" said Aggie. "Oh wait, never mind. You turned Gibson into a frog or something again, didn't you?"
Harris began examining his shoes. "Newt. He deserved it."
"Then you deserved getting kicked out."
"I did not." Sparks flew from his fingertips and she doused him with the rest of the water.
"Then file a complaint," she said. "An appeal. Just don't blow up the house for it."
His left eye began to twitch
"Oh no," said Aggie. "Here we go."
"I'll show them!" he practically howled. "They think they can do anything they like?"
Aggie sighed and headed for the kitchen. "I'm not getting paid enough for this job," she muttered.
"You'll see!" Harris said. "I'll make them pay!"
"I'm sure you will,” she called. “Dinner’s at six.”
Harris wasn’t listening. He ran off into his study and got ready to do a little old-fashioned demon summoning.
* * * * *
Demon summoning, as a whole, was a very precise work. Not only did you have to get one of the sulfurous little bastards to show up, but you had to make sure it was the right one, make sure you could keep it under control, and (most importantly to Harris' mind) make sure they could be gotten rid of. No sense letting one hang around, taking up space and spouting out cryptic threats. Many a new summoner had painstakingly seen to every detail of the actual summoning, only to find they couldn't get rid of their damned houseguest.
Harris flipped through the pages of his handbook until he found an archdemon that looked promising. He brought out the supplies he'd need and set up around the circle he had carved into the stone floor. He was no stranger to summoning- it was his specialty, in fact, and in the years he'd been summoning creatures from the abyss- demon, faerie, spirit or otherwise- Harris had learned a few tricks.
For instance, when dealing with demons, blood and death were required. After poring through a few dozen books on the subject when he first started out, he realized that nobody said how much blood, or the cause of death, or even what -specifically- had to die.
He brought out the dead mouse Mrs. O'Leary's cat had caught that morning and set it into the center of the circle.
Next up, he lit the candles (which were the brightly colored festive ones sold at the dollar store for birthdays. The elegant black ones usually called for in this situation were expensive, and Harris wasn't made of money) with a flame started with the burning of sacred texts.
Since he didn't dare burn the Bible on the off chance he got struck by lightning or his old mother heard about it and came down to give him a talking to (the latter far worse in his opinion), and he didn't want to risk the Torah or Koran, he made due with burning the sacred texts of what he called the worlds oldest religion.
He used a receipt from the last time Aggie had gone grocery shopping, because, he thought with a grin, people worship money more than they like to let on. If money was god, receipts counted as texts. It was, he figured, perfectly logical.
Once everything was properly set up, he started with the actual summoning itself, which involved a lot of faux Latin chanting. He had tried to explain it to Aggie, once. The best he could put it was that it was just like calling someone from across the room, only with some magic thrown into it.
At the time, she had given him a funny look and said, "I don't think that's how other people do it."
And he had scoffed. "Then other people ain't doin' it right." And dropped the subject.
Today, though, something was off. He was calling, all right, but it felt like nobody was home. He let a little more magic into the chant. He frowned. No, there was someone there, they were just ignoring him.
That was just too much. First the trouble at the club, now even these guys were ignoring him?
No. There was no way he was going to stand being snubbed by demons.
Harris threw everything he had into the chant. Somewhere in the back of his mind, the little bit of him that was paying attention to other things noticed that the house was beginning to rattle, and that Aggie was calling for him to cut it out. The rest of him didn't care. He kept it up until the circle filled with a little ball of smoke.
He stopped the summoning, his throat burning and his ears ringing, and watched as the smoke swirled and solidified into a very small, very irate looking imp.
It was about the size of a squirrel, but it looked more like a strange combination of bat, lizard and the monster from black lagoon. It had bat wings, an almost cartoon-like lizard face, and odd little fins on the sides of its head Harris took to be its ears.
It was also wearing thick glasses, a collared shirt that went down to its knobby little knees, and a tie. In its hand was a clipboard.
"You're not Axl*%@#xtt&y," said Harris, pronouncing the intended demon's name perfectly.
The imp shrugged and kept its eyes on the clipboard. In a disinterested voice, it said, "My apologies, sir-or-madam, but I'm afraid our esteemed establishment is no longer accepting summons from this residence."
"What? Why not?"
"Mr. . ." It consulted the clipboard. "Harris. It says here your account has been suspended for abuse of the system."
Harris stared. "That's absurd!"
The imp sighed and said, "Sir, according to this you've withdrawn several of our more prominent employees, made promises that we've yet to see kept. Our records also indicate that you have sold your soul not only to our illustrious corporation -twice, I might add- but to at least three of our competitors as well." It adjusted its glasses. "In layman's terms, you're all take and no give. You've been marked as an unwise investment and we just don't think you're a profitable asset to have."
"But I gave you my soul!"
"Part of your soul, sir. And frankly after some intense calculation and a review of what you've received out of the arrangement- well, to put it bluntly sir, your soul isn't worth it. Not the part we've received, not even the whole thing. To make up our losses we'd have to have at least three of your souls." The imp shrugged again. "Personally, sir, if I was you I'd be glad that they aren't sending any repomen up here to take back the stuff you've got."
"That- that's ridiculous! I demand to speak to your superior."
The imp looked at him blankly.
"What," it said. It wasn't so much a question as a statement of pure disbelief.
"You heard me," Harris crossed his arms. "I want to speak to your superiors."
The circle began to smoke around the bordered of the ring, and the imp began looking very nervous.
"Sir, I don't think you quite understand the ramifications of-"
"I summon your superiors!"
"Crud." The imp was squashed against the invisible barrier of the circle as a much larger, much more imposing demon appeared.
It was all lizard skin and bat wings, glowing eyes and very large, very sharp looking teeth. It also, Harris noticed, had several arms, all of which ended with the talon of some bird of prey.
"Who dares summon the great duke @thQx%-"
"I do, you big lizard. What's this nonsense about my soul being worthless?"
Thick, black smoke trickled out of the demon's nostrils. "You have relinquished all rights to your soul, fool. You cannot sell what is ours." It felt out the circle's boundaries in vain. As big as it was, it could barely move. The imp squawked as it got even more squashed. The demon grinned, exposing row upon row of jagged teeth.
"Perhaps, I should ensure you meet your end before the predestined time. A schedule slip, nobody will question one more added to the pit."
"Now wait just a minute-"
Aggie chose just that moment to walk into the room with a basket of laundry in her arms.
"Mr. Harris, I'm doing lights. If you've got socks around here-" She looked up and saw the fiend. Her expression hardened.
"You," said Aggie.
"You," said the fiend.
"Hi," said the imp, trying to hide behind its clipboard.
"Aggie," said Harris, "this is @th-"
"I know who that is, Mr. Harris," she said flatly. "Now get him out of my house."
She tossed the laundry to the floor and pointed at the demons. "Do it now, Mr. Harris, or I swear there will be hell to pay!"
Harris hurriedly called off the wards tethering the fiends and let them go. They vanished in a sulfurous cloud, the last bit to go being the arch demon's Cheshire cat-like smile.
"There always is," it said, chuckling as it faded away.
"What did it mean by that, Mr. Harris?"
"Apparently my soul's worth diddly squat, is all cut up into pieces, and they already got most of it."
He kicked a nearby trash bin. It hurt his foot, but he kicked it again anyways. "Why'd you go an have to interrupt like that, Aggie? I had him on the ropes!"
Aggie looked at him for a long, awkward moment before turning for the door. Without a word, she went downstairs. Harris followed her.
"Aggie?" he said. "I didn't mean it. Aggie?"
They passed through the living room, and towards the front door.
"Aggie? I- I didn't mean anything by it. You're not quitting, are you? Aggie?"
She went down the front walk. He watched from the doorway as she unlocked her car.
"You're coming back, right?"
She got into the car and drove down the drive. Harris bolted from the door and followed it.
"Aggie!" he shouted. "Aggie, please!" He stopped once the car turned down the block. "But what about dinner?"
Dejected, alone and hungry, Jeremy Harris trudged home and tried to think of what to do next.
His soul? A non-entity. Which didn’t really bother him. He’d traded off the first bit of it to his cousin when he was six. It only got easier from then on.
His vengeance? Probably not going to happen. At least, not on the scale he’d wanted it to. He’d probably have to make do with teepeeing the clubhouse and smearing soap on the walls.
He walked through the front door: in his haste before, he hadn’t even closed it.
Aggie? Gone. Hopefully not forever. She’d have to come back at least once, right? To get her last paycheck? Though she might just go to his brother’s place for that. They were, after all, the ones employing her.
He checked the cupboards. After staring blankly at the very complicated, foreign, and colorful looking food-ish things Aggie used, he grabbed a dusty can of ravioli and found himself a spoon. The can had no expiration date. He couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing and dug in anyway.
He spent the next few hours trying not to think. He turned on the TV, but everything on made him feel thoughtful. Even Spongebob, which was usually good for clearing the mind.
How did that pineapple get down there, anyway?
He had passed the Telletubies (which, while ultimately plotless, still raised quite a few questions. Questions such as ‘what in God’s name are those pastel monstrosities?’ and ‘what drug addled nitwit thought this up?’) and was trying to decipher what some woman was saying on a Spanish soap opera (he assumed it had to do with the fact that the woman was pregnant, two male leads looked to be twins, and the man in the room who was either in a coma or very good at sleeping while people around him were arguing) when Aggie finally returned.
The front door flew open and there was a radiant burst of white light. She stepped into the room and Harris stared, slack jawed.
Her clothes were lightly singed and covered in blood. Her hair was a wild red mass writhing around her head like a dark halo. She smelled like hellfire and smoke.
She took one look around the room, spotted Harris and the empty can of ravioli, then sighed.
"Mr. Harris, I was going to make chicken tonight."
"Where did you go?"
"I went," she began digging through her pockets. ”To bring you," She pulled something out. "A present."
He went over to see what it was. After a second if rolling it around in his palm and holding it up to the light, he gave up.
"What is it?"
"Well . . . it's round. Sort of glassy- maybe crystal. It's glowing, and it looks like there's some sort of mist or fog trapped inside. Ah. I give up. Is it a paperweight?"
She sighed again. "It's your soul, Mr. Harris."
"What, really?" He'd never seen it intact before. "Splendid! I'll go call up the demon again and-"
Before he could turn around, Aggie plucked the soul from his hands and pressed it into his chest. It sunk in painlessly without the least bit of resistance.
Harris stood in stunned silence as he felt a hole inside he'd never noticed before suddenly become filled. For a moment, the entire world was light and love and joy. It was beautiful. He could've sworn he heard music playing somewhere as he was engulfed by pure, unadulterated happiness. For the first time in years he felt complete.
Aggie watched him with a smile on her face. He'd never realized what a nice girl she was.
"Feeling better?" She said.
Harris swayed on his feet. He leaned against a wall for support. "You- you got this back for me? How? W-why?"
She shrugged. "I'm your caretaker, remember? Your brother pays me to make sure you're safe, sound, and all in one piece."
"But- but-" Something clicked. "Son of a bitch, you're bleeding!"
"Don't worry, it's not mine. Your little demon friends needed some convincing. They have a strict no returns policy." She grinned, displaying a row of unusually bright looking teeth. Harris hasn't ever noticed how sharp they looked. "I helped them change their minds. So, Mr. Harris, now that you've got your soul back, what are you going to do next?"
He looked up at the mantle where a picture of him at the club was.
"I think I'm gonna summon up some help to exact a little vengeance."
She slapped her palm to her forehead. "Oh, Mr. Harris. . ."
"What?" he said. "What did I do?"
She straightened up. "Not more demons, I hope?"
He looked horrified at the thought. "No! No, no. God no." He tapped his chest. "This baby's mine. No way I'm letting go of it again."
He headed for the study. "I'm thinking about the Sidhe." He grinned wolfishly. "Now they know how to have fun. Great sense of humor, the fair folk. And they don't ask for souls, they ask for favors. I'm thinking I can deal with that."
Hehe, old Gibson won't know what hit him.
He stopped at the door to his study and smiled at her.
"Thank you, Aggie. I mean it. It's like being sick; I didn't know how bad it was 'till I got better."
"You're welcome, Mr. Harris." She rolled her eyes and headed for the garage. "Don't burn anything up," she called. "No fire. I mean it!"
He grinned and went into the study, where he took out a book on faeries.