Michael grit his teeth and burrowed deeper into the bedcovers. It was no use. The noises in the walls remained as loud as ever.
Skreet, skreet, they went. Scratching, squeaking, cheeping- it didn't matter what, exactly, it was. It had been going on for the past two weeks and it was driving him insane.
He hurled a pillow against a wall. All it did was knock down a picture frame and fall uselessly onto the floor.
The noises continued.
He plowed beneath the blankets and wrapped a pillow around his head, trying to cover his ears.
Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow I'm calling an exterminator.
Skreet, skreet, skreet.
* * * * * *
"Well?" said Mike. "What d'you think? Is it mice?"
The exterminator (whose name he hadn't caught) was kneeling down and looking into the small hole that had been cut into the wall. Mike was standing a few respectable feet away while still trying to crane his neck and peek over the man's shoulder.
The exterminator sat up and shook his head. "Nope."
Mike’s stomach sank.
Mike stared. "What."
It wasn't so much a question as a statement of pure disbelief.
The exterminator got to his feet. "Yep, Demons." He pulled a piece of cloth from one of his many overall pockets and wiped his hands. "You'd be surprised how often it happens around here. Hell of a pest, though, those demons. Damned hard to get rid of. Absolute fiends-"
The exterminator grinned. "Sorry, couldn't resist. But yeah, you got hellfiends, all right. Don't get too worried, there's nothing too big. None of them el'quent Faustian types, just some little 'uns. Still damned- sorry- fairly difficult to get rid of."
"How can you tell?"
He pointed to the hole in the wall. "Take a look."
Mike obliged, kneeling onto the hardwood floor.
"I don't see anything."
"'Course not, they're demons. Take a whiff, though."
Mike did, then nearly choked on the smell of sulfur.
"Gah!” He crawled backwards across the floor, hand covering his nose. “What is that?"
"God, it's terrible."
As soon as he'd spoken, a high, keening screaming started up. The exterminator rolled his eyes and pulled some earplugs out of his pocket.
"You really oughtn't say the G-word 'round here 'till you get them taken care of."
He handed a pair to Mike, who took them gratefully.
“How do I get rid of them?” he said.
The exterminator looked around the room, then headed for the front door, gesturing that Mike should follow.
As soon as they were both on the porch, the door slammed shut behind them.
“Don’t worry about that,” said the exterminator. “They’ll let you back in. Eventually.”
“Why the he- why’d they do that?”
“Who knows? Probably just to annoy you. The name’s Ted, by the way.”
Ted stuck out a hand and Mike shook it.
“How do I get rid of them?” he said again.
“Well, there’s a number of ways you can try and get rid of 'em. Priests, prayer- you got any religion?”
“Er . . .”
“Really, any will do in a pinch. Hell, even scientology is enough to get rid of 'em these days. It’s the belief, see. Faith, literally, bothers the hell out of them.”
“Sorry,” said Mike. “Not really.”
“Dang. This just got a little more difficult." Ted scratched the bristles on his chin. "Well,” he said, bringing out a small notebook from one pocket and a pen from another. “Silver.” He wrote it down. “Silver burns them if they touch it. Iron takes care of the fae-bound 'uns, but I doubt that's what you've got. Salt’s good for keeping the little 'uns bound-“
“Salt? Like, salt-salt?”
“Don’t interrupt. Yes, salt. Just pour it around wherever you don’t want them to get to. Won't work on a big 'un, though. Holy water works, too. In fact . . . “
Ted tore off the page and gave it to Mike, then went to his pickup truck. Mike watched from the porch as he rooted around for a bit. He came back with what looked to be a regular spray bottle.
“Here,” he said.
“What is it?” Mike took the bottle.
“Holy water. Not the best stuff- that costs a bundle. This was just blessed off in some little church on Snell.”
Mike stared at it stupidly. “What do I do with it?”
“Point and shoot.”
“So there’s nothing else you can do?”
“Sorry,” Ted said, shrugging. “I’m not a priest.”
"Oh, sorry. Asking too much there."
Ted snorted. "Don't get snippy with me. Just start filtering your water, sprinkling some salt at all the entrances, and cutting back on any major sinning- that only encourages them. If they don't leave on their own, you can look into more. . . specialized help. Or you can get a cat."
He shrugged again. "Cat. It'll eat the little bastards right up."
"Oh." Mike thought about the price of salt and holy water, and mentally calculated it in comparison to the cost of litter. Neither option looked good. "Well, thanks, then. I guess."
"No problem. Call us back if you ever have any real pest problems."
With that, Ted hitched up his pants, gave a little wave, and left Mike staring at the bottle of water.
Well, he thought, looking back at his front door. This is going to bite.
From his spot on the porch, he could just barely make out a faint skreet skreet skreet.