Silent Night: Problem Solver
Problems come in all shapes and sizes; little and big, financial and emotional, mundane and otherworldly stuff that wants to devour your soul. In the natural order of supply and demand, the things or individuals that solve these problems also come many forms. There are loans and backalley business deals, pills and therapy, a vacation from the everyday grind and then there is me. I solve problems, usually of the fanged variety that goes bump and stomp in the night. The things nightmares not only are made of but also bow to and serve their beck and call. So all things considered about my occupation, I'd say I provide a public service as a problem-solver, even if my service isn't known to the general public.
My clientèle always find a way to me, but every so often, I fall in on them. I never mean to, but ever since I was young I've been gifted in stumbling into trouble's lap. Me and trouble have a pervasive relationship and I can recognize it in all forms it may take. So of course when Mrs. Winterbloom sauntered her coke-bottle frame into my humble office reeking of high-class, prestige, arrogance, and a whole lot of cash I knew I was once again meeting my old friend trouble in a different form.
Mrs. Winterbloom swept her icy blue gaze through my office once and huffed. Clearly, she'd seen better. It was just a step above a pigsty, and not a very high step if one considered the lingering gruel in the bowls stacked in a corner, the grime-stained floor, or what appeared to be obvious teeth and claw marks on my desk. But if the bullet holes in the door hadn't scared her off or the general neighborhood then a dirty room surely wasn't. On another note I hadn't got around to cleaning this year just yet, and I haven't bought new possessions that weren't weapons, tools, or armors for my occupation in years. However, I didn't take up this job for appearances and never dealt with clients that were overly concerned about them anyway.
“Cleaning lady hasn't arrived. But then again it has only been six months since I called for her.” I smiled professionally trying to make a joke.
“I'm not surprised. This whole street is filled with predators. Even the piles of garbage are probably carnivorous.” There wasn't any humor in the response.
“Well, that must make you very brave Mrs. Winterbloom. Now, what brings you to my humble gutter?”
She raised a brow, noticing that I knew her name so I quickly explained. “You've been in the news. Widow of Charles Winterbloom, the business tycoon that died a few years back.”
“Yes, poor Charles. I miss him dearly. But I'm not seeking your expertise about him.”
“Then...?” I asked, leaning forward in general curiosity.
Mrs. Winterbloom walked in front of the chair opposite of me, eyed the layers of dust, grime, and various sticky-looking solutions, and wisely decided to remain standing.
“It's my son, Johnathan. I understand from a few of my personal contacts you handle abnormal cases and problems.”
“All of which is entirely situational. So what's the problem with young John?”
“I believe he's possessed. No, not believe, he is possessed.”
“How can you be certain?”
“I've talked with the demon.” She said it very matter-of-factly. Surprising for a mother to remain composed with her son's soul on the line.
“Then I can only assume time's of the essence.” I went over and grabbed my black duster from the coat rack, and slid a false panel of walling to the side to reveal a dial beneath. A few deft turns later there was a loud crack and the wall to my right sunk in and folded away revealing a secret room.
My private equipment station, my armory, my vault where all the important tools are held that can't fit into my pocket or shouldn't be carried constantly on my person for important reasons. Like personal health and general safety of the populace. I snatched up a few small items ideal for the line of work and a few general-purpose items like my Shock Knife and Susan, my custom magnum.
When I returned my client greeted me with a slack-jawed face I've long grown accustomed to. No one ever really expects the secret room to be so clean after viewing the messy exterior.
“We'll discuss my fee and the specifics on the ride to your house. I hope you don't mind me riding shotgun; I haven't got a car.”
Beaming down the highway in a royal blue Rolls Royce, with my head nestled comfortably in the leather interior I decided it was best to start questioning her on matters more prudent than how stupidly rich she was.
“Ok, when did you first notice your son's symptoms for possession?”
Mrs. Winterbloom sighed and took a hand off the wheel to rub her temple. It was clear this was stressing her just thinking about it. She probably assumed, like others, I was going to be a miracle cure and hand her a potion or charm to take home and give to her son that'll fix him up ASAP. That wasn't how I handled business. But she should have been informed of that by her contacts who explained to her where to reach me.
“He's always been an odd boy. Into supernatural stuff, you know. When he was just seven he would draw himself dressed in a cape with fangs and say that he was Kid Dracula. Then he hit the teens, hard, and became antisocial before finding these...weird kids wearing make-up and collars and painted fingernails. The males too.”
“Goths and Punks. Yeah. I can imagine where it went from there. Typical story.”
“So typically teenage boys are possessed by a demonic hussy?”
“Sometimes. How it happens differs, rituals involving, a magic store, an occultist pretending to be a normal person-”
“A kiss from his girlfriend?”
I raised my brow.
“Well, that is different. Anyway, what did the demon say?”
“It wants to be left alone, with my son's body. I tried having a local priest exorcise the damned creature but I ended up having to remodel my east wing cause he started shooting.”
“Typical Church member. If prayers aren't the solutions then its bullets. There isn't any negotiation in their beliefs.”
“You're going to try to negotiate with that thing?!” She yelled.
“Eyes on the road! Eyes on the road! And yes, I'm going to consider several methods to solve this problem, including being civil with the spirit.”
“Oh great. Just great.” She paused and pinched the bridge of her nose with one hand. “Okay, when that doesn't work, then what?”
“I improvise. Usually with guns. You might need to remodel another wing.”
Her mansion was as extravagant as I imagined it. I was honestly surprised that the road leading to the front of the place wasn't made of gold and lined with diamonds.
A set of butlers met us as we arrived, opened our doors for us and mine reached out to take my coat.
“I really wouldn't recommend it, pal. It's temperamental and impatient. I can't leave it alone anywhere without it breaking, burning, or beating something or someone as it waits for me to show up again.”
The very confused and slightly frightened butler turned and headed briskly for the house with me and Mrs. Winterbloom following. It was a good thing he never touched my coat. It isn't your average piece of clothing and very much resents being treated like it is.
The butlers departed our company and Mrs. Winterbloom explained that her son was in the Upper West Wing now. As the two of us made our way down her lovely rugged and decorated halls I decided to ask some background questions to help get a better picture of the situation. I felt I was definitely missing something here to solve this issue.
“Are you and your son close, Mrs. Winterbloom?” I wasn't looking at her when I asked. I didn't want it to feel like I was interrogating her.
“Yes, I'd like to think so. He's always needed me. John didn't take after his father; my son didn't have much as far as ambitions in life. But God bless his heart, he's a sensitive soul underneath all that make-up and gaudy accessories.”
“I'm sure he is.”
“He needs his mother; all boys do.”
“So you've watched over him his whole life?” She stopped and made face that was half confused and half insulted.
“I'm his mother. Of course! He's my darling boy; The only real memento of my husband I have left.”
I was about to say something else when the smell of brimstone and smoke crawled into my nose and began scorching my nose hairs. Mrs. Winterbloom began to choke on the smell and both of us stared down the darkening hallway.
“Oh god! What's happening? John!” She coughed a few times and started to shift her balance to dart ahead but I quickly restrained her.
“Don't go. I think I know what's happening.”
“Oh lord, what is it? What's happening to my son?”
“When the inhabitant in a possessed body stays around in a single area long enough it starts to...recall its former habitat.” I could tell from her face she wasn't tracking so I moved along the hallway with her in tow as I explained.
“The short, messy version of it is that the demon is making itself more at home in your home. Just being here and reminiscing about 'home' warps the environment.”
“So my house is becoming a hellhole?” Her question was more quizzical than any notion of being alarmed.
John's door, once probably made of hardwood was now an iron gate with bars twisted into sharp, disturbing angles with edges. Despite the menacing appearance all it took was a simple push to open the door all the same. My client and I then walked directly into the room of fire.
What are your first thoughts when thinking of a demon's home? Hell, no doubt. So of course the imagery of infernos and barren land and brimstone will come to mind. So logically the room's post-demonic redecoration would have those. But neither of us was expecting the giant teddy bears or the dresses.
“Demon girl?” I called.
“Yes?” Answered an out-of-view voice filled with positivity.
Out from the closest walked a teenage...something dressed in a bright pink dress studded with black jewels in tribalistic designs. The face was definitely that of a human male with more make-up on than a transvestite hooker. However, the small mounds filling the upper portion of the dress were also certainly female breasts as were the waist and hips. But there were no shoes on the large, scale-covered feet ending in hooked claws.
The demon wagged its serpentine tail back and forth as it smiled in a very polite manner waiting for a response. Before I could fully assess the situation Mrs. Winterbloom made the mistake of opening her mouth.
“You're in trouble now bitch, you're going to get out of my son's body and this man here will make you!” She said then shoved me forward. I gave her one of my special 'shut up now' gazes and she quietly backed away.
“Hello, I'm Andrew. I'm here to...help with the situation.”
“I know. Your aura isn't as hostile as the priest's was. That doesn't mean that it's gonna end differently. I'm not leaving John.”
“Oh yes you are you-” Was as far as she got before the demon waved its hand and froze Mrs. Winterbloom in a frame of space-time.
“Thank you.” I mumbled. “Now, what exactly are you here for?”
“To be with John.”
“You took his body. I'm not sure it's the best way to be with him.”
“It's what we both wanted.”
“This was voluntary?”
“Very much so. While we were dating-”
“Wait. Pause. Rewind.” I just learned something. Pieces were falling together.
“You were dating? That means you were his girlfriend?”
“Yes. Mrs. Winterbloom never liked me, even when she believed me to be human. Always thought I wasn't good enough for her special boy. But John's different! He's much more different than any man I've met in decades.” The demon hugged its host, twisting as it squeezed its body hard.”
“So what happened exactly to make you inhabit his body and abandon your old one?”
“Well, it was a corpse; I've been hopping corpses for years and the bad thing about them is that for all the power we have preserving a dead body and constructing it to appear new and house our powers takes substantial energy the longer we hold it.”
I began to feel my body tense slightly. The demon noticed the normally unseen change in my aura and already had an idea of where my mind was going.
“I don't consume souls though! I stopped a long time ago. Anyway, I revealed myself to John a few months prior to uniting with him. It was because we connected. Despite being human and demon.”
“How do I know you didn't enchantment him?”
“That's not how we all work!” The demon's eyes flared with a furious light that blinded me for a second.
“No one understands. Or so I thought before John. He told me his view and he had a greater understanding of my kind even though he's never encountered us. Not all of us are the same. Just cause the culture breeds malicious individuals it doesn't dictate our free will.”
The demon turned away from me and gazed into a mirror behind her. A hand reached up and touched John's face, tracing clawed fingertips around the cheeks. I was forming a plan in my head and reached into one of my pockets to get a necessary item as she continued her explanation.
“I bleed. I hurt. I fear. I hate too, yes, like all intelligent beings. But I love John. He loves me too. He wants to be together with me and I need a willing, living form to house me now that I don't have the energy to possess a corpse. He's my home. My love. We're becoming one. Our souls are uniting on the deepest level.”
“You're crushing him,” I said directly causing her to turn and notice me holding a small cube in my palm.
“I'm not hurting him. I'd never.”
“You've never fused with another soul so you wouldn't know. But one being's willpower always crushes and suppresses another during fusion. How long have you been like this? Days? Weeks? There is probably only a spark of his soul left. The tiniest of his ego remains. You'll destroy him if you don't let go.”
“He wants us to be one.” Her eyes flickered and her stance shifted in into an aggressive posture. She was ready to use her demonic power to break me in half like a twig. I'd never give her that chance though.
“I think you two need some space. Hagalaz!” I thrust the cube forward and on one blank metal surface grew a rune shaped roughly like an H with the bridging line slanted. Wailing and crumbling the demon crashed to the floor as the force of Rune's magic slammed into her. The magic tugged at the bond between her dark soul and John's human one until their connection snapped. The room flashed back to normal; all black and filled with posters of dead rock artists and John sank lay still on the carpet.
“Isa!” I spoke and the rune changed on the cube into a straight vertical line. A field appeared and inside it was a small, female, humanoid being with reptilian skin, curling thorned horns, and a great, long tail twitching about. She was barely a teenager in her own right. So I wasn't surprised when she hissed at me. I stuck my tongue back at her.
Mrs. Winterbloom unfroze and was shocked to see everything mostly back to normal but quickly ran to cover her son's prone form.
“Oh god. Is he?”
“He's alive Mrs. Winterbloom, just sleeping. He needs to recover. His soul was being crushed.” I turned and eyed the demon caged in the field. “I'm sure you can see his aura now. Does it look as vibrant as it did before you possessed him?”
Her silence said it all.
“Didn't think so.”
The mother looked up from her son as she stroked her hand through his hair.
“Thank you, Andrew.”
“No need to thank me, I just did my job. I'll send you a bill.”
“What about her?” Mrs, Winterbloom gestured towards the demon girl.
“I'll handle her. She's no longer your problem.”
Back at the office I placed the demon into the sealing orb and stared her down for a good ten minutes before she finally cracked and spoke.
“What do you want with me? Aren't you just going to banish me?”
“Do you want to be?”
“I was under the impression my choice in the matter is moot.”
“Only to an extent.” I said honestly. “I won't let you free but we can work out a deal.”
“I won't make a contract with you, if that's what you're suggesting. You took me away from John.”
“Actually, I was going to ask you what was going on at home so bad you don't want to return?”
“It's none of your issue. Besides, why would you help me with my problem, human?”
I made a huge grin and said “I'm a problem solver. It's what I do.”