Stories from The World, Chapter 1: The Television Demon

{--- Previously | Later ---}

"You dick," I said to the box. "A hundred dollars a page and you don't even flip yourself around like those other books."

It was a lot easier to get mad at the box than it was to get mad at the company I'd bought it from, because the box was within arm's reach. I could slam it down, I could yell at it. It had a face to hate. It was a flat, featureless, corrugated cardboard face, but it was not just some abstract name in a classified ad that was never, ever, never going to get my business again.

The pamphlet itself was harder to get mad at directly. Not impossible, but more difficult to be sure, mostly because it just looked so amateur. Getting mad at it was like trying to play serious art critic with kindergarten macaroni-glitter collages. Sure, you could do it, but then who's the one who really has an "underdeveloped sense of form"?

I figured I had better at least give it a read, and maybe try to cross-reference what I could with THE HISTORY. The first page was a cheesy introduction that reminded me a lot of a vintage chemistry experiment book from the 50's I used to have, the kind that would send helicopter parents and liability lawyers away screaming nowadays.

In fact, the deeper I got into it, the more precisely the tone and language reminded me of The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, but the materials for each "Unit" were quite a bit different, to be sure. Chalk. Salt. Parchment or vellum. Wax. Protractor. String. In the later "experiments", star charts, astrolabes, surveyors' tools, herbs, red ink (red ink again?) - and blood.

The very first chapter, called "Common Precautions And Rules of Safety", was the most interesting. Well, it was the most interesting because it had the least amount of words in it that required another trip through the idiot-savant flipbook routine. The beginner should be primarily concerned with no-contact invocations. These are invocations which, by design of the Preparation, allow for no contact between the summoner, and the summoned.

No physical material or even information may pass between the summoner and summoned, therefore, there is no risk to either party from such an invocation. Due to the nature of such an invocation, the summoned party is not bound to remain, nor are they able to determine the nature of the summoner. Consequently, the duration of such a summoning usually lasts on the order of fractions of a second, since the nature of the Preparation allows free passage back.

The only way for the summoner to tell that a no-contact invocation has succeeded is the disturbance of the Preparation post-invocation.
It went on to explain that there was basically no point, other than practice, to perform a no-contact invocation, since there was nothing to be gained or lost other than whatever time and materials the summoner had sunk into the Preparation itself.

Another particularly interesting bit of information was in regards to the physical containment of a demon. All it took was

... any line of powdered calcium carbonate, which is the chemical name for common chalk or summoners' chalk, which has been laid with the specific intention of containment; it must also be continuous, as in a circle or a Euclidian polygon. Note: Do not attempt to adapt these experiments for use in non-Euclidian summoning; Instead, please refer to AN INTRODUCTION TO SUMMONING MAGIC OF THE OUTER PLANES. The line must be wider than the footprint of the true form of the demon to be contained. You needn't consider other appendages, only that which is, or is analogous to, the foot. It must not be concealed, as under a rug, or under a false floor.

The width of the line is of utmost importance! The simplest way to think about it is that the chalk forms a barrier with infinite height, relative to the surface on which it is laid, having a depth limited by the surface on which it is laid, and having a footprint encompassing the chalk itself. The demon is only able to pass over the inner edge of the chalk in its true form, and if its footprint is in any dimension greater than the width of any part of the chalk line, it will be able to breach the chalk line by having its heel, so to speak, still within the confines of the inner edge, and the tip of its toe, so to speak, outside the circle, allowing it to shift forms outwards. Fire-based demons could become a cloud of smoke or lick of flame, water-based demons a jet of water, and so forth.

The demon is unable to directly move the chalk, though be warned - if the summoner loses a contest of wills, he or she may be forced under geis to, for example, remove the chalk. The interior of a chalk barrier also contradicts the use of certain other very useful elements of a Preparation, such as limiting the forms or expressions of power of the summoned party. It also does not contain most projected powers on its own.

I actually had to draw a picture to make sense of the last bit, but once it did make sense, it made plenty of it. You just had to know the demon's shoe size, and make the line more than big enough to fit their whole foot in it.

I wasn't exactly ready to summon The Irritating Little Bastard, as I had been thinking of it, since I didn't have any inkling of half the crap I needed to do so, like a True Name or star charts or appropriate herbal incense or any of the other fifty or so things INTRODUCTION wanted me to have; but I knew it had done the closest thing there was to promising to come back all on his own. It had said "a day", so I figured I had at the very least three hours left, maybe four or five - assuming it came back no less than 24 hours after crawling back into the TV.

I had a half-assed plan based on almost certainly partial and introductory-level information, but it was better than being pissed off at a useless television and a box full of photocopies for the rest of the week.
     TEL 800 555 9216 INTER 8-6-0915
What they hadn't mentioned was that they dealt in bulk and wholesale only, so 500 pounds of chalk dust, 250 of rock salt, and 100 count "Fifty Herb Utility Mix Assortment Package" later, I was running out of space in closets, cupboards, and the spare bathroom to pile up all of the 50 pound sacks. The herb assortments got piled up under the kitchen table in their cheap paperboard boxes, since I didn't really know what to do with them. The salesman offered me free shipping if I bought them, and they were cheaper than shipping. Whatever.

I was pretty sure I knew the demon's shoe size, given that he'd branded them into my walnut floors, but I wasn't taking any chances. I pulled the TV as far away from the wall as I could and still plug it in, dragged the recliner off to the side, and drew a chalk circle around the TV stand.

I was suddenly glad I'd been too lazy to mount the TV to the wall. This would have been impossible if I'd had just a little more motivation, and the TV stand hadn't been the perfect size to hide the VCR and all the kung fu tapes.

The circle was a foot wide, laid down a double heaping handful at a time. Now, not only did I have occasion to be pissed about hoofmarks, I also had to contend with chalk dust infiltrating every crack, crevice, and join in the floor, as well as every piece of fabric and horizontal surface in the entire house.

I pulled the shoelaces out of three pairs of shoes and tied them together, then tied one end to the power cord on the TV, and one end to the footrest on the recliner. The last step was to write "GO AWAY!" with a big fat black marker on a bedsheet, and drape it over the TV message-inwards, and centered on the screen.

Given that I had no idea what I was doing, I thought I'd done a pretty good job. There were a lot of moving parts, so to speak, in my little trap, but considering what I had on hand and the assumptions I was operating under, I didn't feel like I'd done so bad of a job.

Upon reflection, the preening I was doing was a bit silly. Hindsight is perfect, of course, and though it seemed like a great accomplishment at the time to have gone from clueless to confrontational in less than 24 hours, I still should have known better.

I checked the shoelaces one more time while I wondered for the hundredth time since finding the newspaper that morning if I had totally lost my mind.

I plugged in the TV and walked into the kitchen to take a closer look at the pile of packaged herbs. About five minutes later, the TV turned itself on and started hissing white noise.

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