The Demon's Price
Katie's eyes widened at his words. "What?"
Dan shrugged. He'd done the test right. "You haven't got a curse. You've got a demon after you. Any idea why?"
Her hands clenched and she almost bit her tongue. "My neighbor. Nathan Gilhooley. He wants my house and the property it's on. I won't sell it to him." She looked up. "He's the only one that has a grudge against me."
Dan drew in a hissing breath. "He wants it that bad to set a demon after you?"
Katie swallowed. "I don't want to believe it, but..."
"It's easy enough to tell." Dan got up and went to his computer. "Give me a few hours and I'll see what I can find." He waved a hand toward the door. "Go do some shopping or something."
"Is it safe?" she asked, darting a look at the door.
"Probably. If you don't come back, then it isn't." He glanced at her. "Joke. The demon's not going to attack you in broad daylight away from your house. You'll be fine."
Katie came back and Dan gave her a look that told her she wasn't going to like what he had to say. "You have a problem."
Definitely wasn't going to like it.
He pointed to a chair and she sat. Dan looked at her and started to talk. "Mr. Gilhooley has a credit. One of his ancestors did something and he doesn't have to pay a price for this particular demon's help. This is not good. Very not good. Katie, I can't tell you how not good this is...!"
She began to curl in on her self and he ran a hand over his eyes. "Mr. Gilhooley has a really powerful demon set after you. Thankfully, this particular demon doesn't usually kill people." He held up a hand. "I know that doesn't sound like much, but you can at least breathe a little easier."
He looked down at the paper he'd printed off to make sure he had the facts right. "The demon's public name is Blue Risk. Who knows what the true name is. He's mischievous. You came here because you noticed things being moved around, but not by the house wards? He moved them to start to scare you. He can't touch the house wards, but ordinary ones are not going to protect you."
"What can I do?" Katie asked.
Dan sighed. "You've got a couple of options. Go talk to Mr. Gilhooley and see if you can come to a compromise."
She shook her head. "I tried that. He wants me gone. He won't settle for anything else. I don't even know why he wants the house so badly."
"He's got a reason. Second, you can leave." She shook her head. "Katie, I don't mean leave permanently. The demon might be tied to attack you at the house. If you left-"
"No," she said clearly. "It's my house and I'm not leaving."
Dan closed his eyes. "You know there are only three ways to get rid of a demon. The summoner has to dismiss them, a really powerful human that's turned demonslayer, or..."
"Summon a demon yourself," she whispered.
"Right. And I don't know any demonslayers who could take on Blue Risk."
Katie raised her eyes from the desk and swallowed hard. "Do you know any demons that could?"
The summoning didn't need any particular candles or atmosphere. Katie unlocked her door and walked into the house calmly. She had what she needed. She just had to decide if it was worth it.
She turned the lights on and stared.
There were words spray painted on her walls that she shouldn't know. Anything not within two feet of a house ward was tipped over or destroyed.
Katie's hand flew to her mouth. She stepped around the wreckage and walked into the kitchen. She had a gallon of milk that had to be put away.
The kitchen light was switched on and the milk dropped from her fingers. The kitchen had been decorated with food. Cereal, noodles, and anything that was in a box had been dumped everywhere. It looked like someone had taken handfuls and thrown them into the air. The meat that was in the freezer had been left out and she wrinkled her nose. Water, orange juice, liquid was everywhere.
She went to close the refrigerator door and stared. She swallowed hard and clamped a hand over her mouth.
There was a dead squirrel in her refrigerator. Its head was intact, but the rest of it...
She turned and ran upstairs, hoping that her bedroom had been left alone. When she suspected something was going on, she bought a more powerful ward just for where she slept.
It had held. Nothing in here was touched.
Katie sank down on the edge of the bed and stared at the door. Outside of this room, her house was torn apart. She held her head in her hands and closed her eyes. "I can't live like this," she said softly. "Black Night, come to me."
There wasn't a rush of power into the room. No great wind spun and rustled her clothes. Nothing gave her a clue that the demon had arrived.
A soft footstep and then another. Someone crouched down before her and reached out to touch gentle fingertips under her chin until she looked into another's eyes. "Yes?" asked a warm voice.
Katie stared into softly inquiring eyes. Why would a demon have such eyes? "I need help," she said.
He nodded. "What kind?"
"There's a demon. My neighbor summoned Blue Risk to scare me away from my home." She would have swallowed, but her mouth had gone dry. "He could kill me."
"That is all?"
His voice was so soft. She nodded. "Yes."
"The only thing you wish of me is to get rid of Blue Risk? Not to kill your neighbor while I'm here?"
Katie's eyes widened. "No! I just want-" She paused. Dan had worked out with her what she wanted. "I want my neighbor to not be able to hurt me or take my house or land. I don't want you to kill Blue Risk or Mr. Gilhooley. I just want them to leave me alone."
Black Night smiled. "I understand." He took his fingers away and she missed the contact. "You have a kind heart." He stood and glanced around. "Blue Risk has been here, but he couldn't do anything to this room." He looked down at her and said, "You know I have a price."
She nodded. "What is it?"
He considered her for a moment, looking at her face. "You could have left," he mused. "It's a house. You could have sold it to him. But instead you summoned a demon to counter his." He smiled and she could have shivered. Such warm fingers and a cold smile. "You don't want their deaths." He chuckled. "You'll pay any price I choose, won't you?" He saw her eyes widen and resisted the urge to smirk. "There's something here you don't want to leave."
"It's home," was all she could say.
He nodded. "Stubborn as well." He glanced out the window. "I won't tell you my price." She opened her mouth to protest and he raised a hand. "It's nothing you can't pay. I'll ask for things you can give me and take nothing that you don't give. I'll ask and you can tell me no. If you do, I won't take it."
Katie blinked in confusion. There should be a set price. It was safer that way. What did he mean by he would ask for things she could give?
"Choose quickly," Black Night said gently. "Blue Risk is coming to see you." Her head came up and he nodded. "Look out the window."
Katie stood up and went to the window. She could see someone coming up her sidewalk. There was a blue glow around him that crackled. She looked back at Black Night. "I have a choice?"
He nodded. "You can tell me no and I'll adhere to it."
She hesitated only a moment. "I agree."
Black Night smiled wickedly. "Thank you." He turned and walked from the room. Katie followed.
He went downstairs, ignoring the mess. Black Night walked out the front door and stood a few feet from the door. Blue Risk came to stand before him and smiled. "So," he said happily. "The little rabbit called someone."
Blue Risk shook his head. "I can't."
Black Night tilted his head slightly. "You know who I am."
"Who doesn't?" the other demon said with a laugh. "But I'm bound." He smiled. "And there's always the chance that you might be careless." He looked past Black Night to Katie, still standing in the house. "She's not bad-looking."
Katie blinked and missed the beginning of the battle. Black Night had Blue Risk pinned to the ground, one hand at his throat. Her eyes grew round. He hadn't had those black claws when he had touched her before.
"Leave and give your master this message," Black Night said calmly, as if he didn't have Blue Risk's life in his hands. "She has been forgiving enough to give you back your lives. I am contracted with her. If she asks, I will kill you both. He has no right to her, her house, or her land."
He rose gracefully and stared at Blue Risk until the other demon got to his feet. He bowed to him and left the yard.
Black Night visibly relaxed and turned to her. "Your problem may be solved," he said. "I'll keep watch." He walked inside and glanced around. "It's late. Go bathe."
She frowned. "What?"
He moved around her and opened doors until he found the bathroom. She followed him through her house. Black Night looked around and sighed. "This needs cleaning as well." She tried to peek around him, but he blocked her. "It's not a nice sight," he insisted. "Go back to your bedroom. I'll tell you when you can have a bath."
Katie didn't know if it was his voice or her own shock. She nodded and went to sit on her bed until he called her half an hour later. She undressed and sank into the warm water that had already been run for her.
There was a demon summoned to make me leave my house. Blue Risk destroyed my house. I summoned a demon. Blue Risk isn't going to hurt me.
I summoned a demon.
Mechanically, she washed herself. She pulled the plug out of the water and dried off with a warm towel. Katie put on her nightgown and bathrobe before walking out of the room. She didn't see Black Night on the way to her bedroom. She took off the robe, laid down, and went to sleep.
An hour later, Black Night walked into her room and paused by her bed. He leaned over her and examined her face from inches away. "Lovely," he breathed. "You. My price... is you."
Katie stirred in her bed. Half asleep, she nuzzled her check into the warm blanket below her. Warm, she thought.
The previous day's events hit her and she froze. She had summoned a demon.
Katie squinched her eyes shut even tighter. What had she been thinking?!
After a few more minutes of panicking, Katie heaved a sigh and stopped her train of thought. Mr. Gilhooley summoned a demon. My house was in pieces. What else was I supposed to do? I asked for advice and it was my own decision, so deal, she told herself firmly.
She covered her eyes with her hands and whimpered. I summoned Black Night. A demon. I'm never going to leave the house again.
Her stomach rumbled and reminded her that she hadn't eaten dinner last night. Katie took a deep breath and another before pushing back the covers. She glanced around, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. She still pulled her bathrobe on over her nightgown. Her spirits plummeted as she remembered the condition her house was in. She sighed and found her slippers. They'd give her some protection against what was on the floor.
Katie walked down to the ground floor of her house and stared. The words on the walls were gone. The floor was clean of glass and debris. She went to the door and looked out at her front yard. All of the damaged things were outside on a worn sheet.
She continued into the kitchen and found the same. The counters were almost sparkling and there wasn't any trace of cereal. Katie hesitantly sniffed the air. The scent of spoiled meat wasn't there. Her house smelled as fresh as a daisy.
Katie opened her cabinets and cupboards and didn't find anything to eat. Of course not. She wondered idly if she could send a grocery bill to her neighbor.
An hour later, Katie walked back into the house with two grocery bags. Not being able to shake the skittish feeling, she only picked up a few things and came back home.
She put the milk in the refrigerator along with the cheese, ham, turkey, and mayonnaise. She took down a frying pan and popped open the carton of eggs. Scrambled eggs and toast sounded really good to her stomach.
There was a clearing of someone's throat behind her and she turned. Standing behind the kitchen island was Black Night. This wasn't the frightening demon from the fight with Blue Risk, but the one with warm eyes.
He glanced behind him and around the kitchen. "I cleaned for you."
Katie blinked. He had done this. "You didn't have to," she protested mildly. "I would have gotten to it when I got up this morning."
He shrugged. "I wasn't able to sleep." He gave the stove a lazy look. "I'd like to ask something of you."
She stiffened. She had almost managed to forget for a few minutes. What was he going to say?
Black Night moved his eyes to hers. "Would you make me breakfast?" he asked innocently.
He nodded. "I'm hungry. Whatever you're making for yourself would do."
"Just eggs and toast. I have some cereal if you want." She didn't quite know what to make of his request. He had said he would only ask for what she could give, but... breakfast?
"Something hot, please." He didn't move from where he stood, but she turned to untie the loaf of bread and start toast.
"How do you want your eggs?" she asked, heating up the frying pan.
She cooked in silence and served him the same way she did herself. He picked up his fork and tasted the eggs. "They're good," he said, smiling at her. Katie nodded to him in thanks and her eyes widened. "Something wrong?" he asked.
"I forgot to get you a drink."
He chuckled and got up. "You forgot your own, too. What would you like?"
"I can get it," she said faintly as he walked to the cupboard.
He took down two glasses. "I'm already up. Milk or water?"
"Water, please. I'll have to go shopping later."
They finished their meal and she gathered up the dishes. She had to go to open the shop soon. What would he do? Would he go with her? Stay home? Do whatever it was demons did when they weren't summoned?
She turned and looked at him. He gazed back at her and looked amused. "Have something on your mind?"
"Am I in danger?" she asked.
He shrugged. "From Blue Risk? Not while I'm here."
"What about when I leave?"
"That depends on what his master wants."
Her shoulders sagged. "I can't go to work."
"I didn't say that. Blue Risk most likely won't attack you anywhere but here." Black Night smiled. "I can stay with you if you'd like."
Her eyes widened. A demon in her shop. That would shock a few people.
"I can stay here," he offered quietly.
No. She needed him for her own safety. Katie nodded firmly. "If you don't have anything you need to do, could you come with me?"
His grin told her all she needed to know.
She glanced at him as she parked the car in back of her shop. "Well, we're here," she said unnecessarily. She got out and walked to the back door to unlock it.
Black Night ghosted in front of her. "Let me go in first," he murmured. He took the keys from her hand and opened the door. He walked through the small hallway, pausing at the two doors to look inside. One led to a small bathroom and the other to her storeroom. He stood in the end of the hallway and looked around her shop. "It's fine."
Katie caught up to him, flipping on the lights as she went. "What were you expecting?" she asked, a touch of humor in her voice.
He shrugged. "Anything from another demon to a trap. Your shop could have been like your house." He left her side and went to look around. She swallowed and went about her usual routine.
Black Night examined the shelves and chuckled over some of the things he found. She had a small gift section of jewelry, knickknacks, planners, calendars, and a few other things. Her children's section had stuffed animals, puzzles, and toys in addition to books. She had divided her store into quarters, he decided. One quarter was gifts and toys, another was magazines and newspapers, one for used books, and one for new books.
He came back to the counter just as she came back in with a stack of newspapers in her hand. He watched her carry it to the counter, cut the twine, and put it on its rack. She had a few chairs close to the counter for people to sit and read. He took advantage of this and sat down.
Black Night followed her with his eyes as she got a drink from the back room and unlocked the cash register. She didn't glance up at him, but while she was checking the register, she began to talk. "There are a few people who come in, buy a paper, and sit down to read it. I don't mind if they bring food as long as they keep it on the table. There's a small cooler in the back storeroom if you're thirsty." She frowned and looked at him. "Or I can give you money to run down to the store if you want something different."
He shook his head. "I'm fine, Katie. Am I sitting in someone's chair?"
She shook her head. "They move around and don't arrive all at the same time." She waved a hand at the store. "You can find something to read. Whatever you want."
He nodded and got up to find something to do. He could protect her while reading or doing one of those puzzles that looked interesting.
No one paid Black Night much attention. A few of her regulars came in to sit down with a paper and a doughnut. She said hello and exchanged the usual pleasantries with them.
Mrs. Dobson opened the door and smiled at Katie. "Did the new magazines come in yet?" she asked.
"No, but I'm hoping for them to come in later this week."
She shook her head. "Then I'll go look for a book, dear." She turned and her eyes grew wide. She took a step back and said, "Who is that?"
Katie glanced at the demon. "That's Black Night, Mrs. Dobson. He's helping me with a problem." She watched as the woman turned and gave her the most heartfelt look of pity before leaving the store.
The two men sitting by Black Night looked at him and then at Katie. One man folded his paper and left without a word. The other man gave a small shrug and turned the page.
There was the usual morning traffic until an hour later when Mrs. Dobson came back. She pointed to the demon and said, "There he is. Get the parasite away from her."
The man cleared his throat and drew in a deep breath. Katie's eyes went wide and she ran around the counter. "Don't hurt him!" she said, stepping between the priest and the demon.
She heard someone chuckle and turned. Black Night was sitting in his chair, as calm as you please. "Good morning," he said politely to the priest. "Katie has requested my help and I'm in the process of giving it. And, not to be impolite, but it would take more than you to make me leave her, sir."
The priest looked at the demon and their stares didn't waver. The priest relaxed and looked at Katie. "Is he harming you?" She shook her head. He looked at the demon. "Are you here to protect her or to help her do harm?"
"I'm protecting her from another demon."
"Rubbish!" Mrs. Dobson said. She shook a finger at the demon from behind the priest. "You let the poor girl go now! She doesn't need to be mesmerized by the likes of you."
"Mrs. Dobson, if he's here for her protection-" the priest began.
"No," she disagreed. "They might say that, but they're all here for one purpose. To take a soul to hell."
"I would never," Black Night said, sounding indignant.
Mrs. Dobson looked at the priest and saw that she'd not get help from there. She turned to Katie and gave her a pleading look. "Katie... Dismiss him. For your own good. You'll be safe then."
Katie shook her head. "I do and I might die."
Her lips narrowed and she turned, marching toward the door. It clanged shut behind her and Katie winced. She really liked the woman.
"Would you like to sit down?" Black Night said politely, looking at the priest.
He shook his head. "I have to get back to work." He nodded to the demon and to Katie before leaving.
Katie glanced at the clock in back of her and saw that it was lunchtime. She called to Black Night and he came to the counter. "Do you want some lunch?" she asked. He nodded and she handed him the menu. "There's a small shop on the end that will run take-out down to me."
She called the restaurant and placed her order. The clocked ticked by half an hour and she watched the door.
Katie frowned at the time. Her lunch usually arrived in fifteen or twenty minutes. What was taking so long?
Black Night rose from his chair. "Would you like me to go see what's wrong?" he asked gently.
She nodded and gave him the money. "They might have just gotten busy," she explained.
He left the store after she gave him directions. A few minutes walk and he opened the door to the restaurant. He walked to the register and waited for someone to notice him. "Hi," a waitress said. "Can I take your order?"
"I'm here to pick up Katie's lunch," he said. "It was phoned in half an hour ago?"
Her face fell. "Oh. I'll go check with the kitchen." She turned and walked back to the kitchen door.
It was a few minutes before she came back out. A man in an apron marched straight toward him. "I'm not cooking for a demon!" he told Black Night. "So you can just leave before I call a priest."
Black Night gave him a calm look. "Then will you cook Katie's lunch?"
"No! Get out!" The cook pointed toward the door and glared at the demon.
He dipped his head a fraction. "I'm sorry to have bothered you." He turned and left the restaurant.
This might cause problems for her. How had the cook known he was a demon? It had to have been that woman who had brought the priest.
The door to the bookstore opened and Katie looked up. "I'm sorry," Black Night said, approaching the counter. "The cook said that he wouldn't cook for a demon. I asked if he would make your lunch, but he refused."
Katie stared in shock. Robert wouldn't make her lunch? But she'd known him as long as she'd had the shop!
"Is there somewhere else?" Black Night suggested. "I can go home and make sandwiches." Katie's stomach rumbled and Black Night frowned. He did not want her going hungry because of a silly attitude the human had.
"Can you drive?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No. But how did I get to your house last night?" He smiled. "I don't need a car."
She glanced at the phone. Should she try ordering from another place and risk knowing that another friendly face was turned from her? Katie nodded slowly. "All right. Do you need directions or something?"
Black Night smiled. "Directions or a picture of where I'm going."
Katie dialed another number and asked to speak to the owner. Tapping her fingers on the counter nervous, she smiled as the owner picked up on the other end. "Hi, Patty. This is Katie. I'm having a problem getting some lunch today."
"Well, just tell me what you want and I'll see if someone can get down your way."
Katie glanced at Black Night. "I have someone who can come pick it up." She drew in a deep breath. "The restaurant down the street didn't want to feed Black Night."
There was a pause. "That sounds like the name of a demon." She snorted. "Or you've got really bad taste in what to name a dog."
"He's a demon."
That girl really does get into some interesting predicaments, Patty thought. "Well, as far as I know, demons don't eat much different than humans do. What do you want? I'll have Sam make it for you."
Katie breathed a sigh of relief. The no-nonsense woman was a lovely thing to hear right now. "Wait a minute while I ask him." She put a hand over the receiver and looked at Black Night. "Do you like roast beef?" He nodded. "White bread, gravy? Do you want a baked potato or fries?"
She gave the order to Patty and told her that Black Night would be there to get it. "That's fine," Patty said. "Give it about twenty minutes, honey."
She said goodbye and hung up the phone. "Twenty minutes," she said. Black Night nodded and she gave him directions to the diner. He went back to his chair, keeping an eye on the clock. When the time was up, he stood, nodded to Katie, and disappeared.
He appeared outside the diner and walked up the steps with the money Katie had given him in his pocket. He presented himself at the counter and asked quietly for Katie's order. The waitress nodded and went into the back.
A middle-aged woman came out and handed him a plastic bag with two containers. "Now, be careful," she cautioned. "It's hot. And tell Katie that she can order here any time she wants."
He nodded to her. "Thank you, Miss...?"
She chuckled. "I haven't been a Miss in a long while. You can call me Patty, the same way Katie does, Black Night. I hope you enjoy your meal."
The shop didn't have many customers that afternoon and Katie was tempted to close early. The only reason she didn't was because she didn't want to give some people the satisfaction.
She locked the doors, picked up her things, and left right after five o'clock. They didn't talk on the ride home and she went right into the kitchen to make a sandwich. "Do you want one?" she asked, not looking at him.
"Was that a normal day?" he asked quietly.
Katie put down the butter knife. "No. I usually have five times the customers." She picked it up again. "They'll get used to it."
"I don't want to bother you."
Katie laughed and turned around. "Blue Risk and my neighbor are bothering me. You have been nothing but helpful and courteous. My customers are being skittish and flighty for no good reason."
All right, she thought. So he was a demon and she was nervous around him herself. They did have a good reason. But she was going to ignore that fact. She went back to making her sandwich. "Do you want dinner?"
He nodded and made his own sandwich. "Should I be less visible?" She gave him a look complete with raised eyebrow. "I could sit where people wouldn't see me when they walked through the door."
Katie shook her head. "No. Sit where you want." She was not going to hide him. He had come to her when she had asked for help and he hadn't asked for much in return. She tried not to think about what he could ask for.
Black Night shrugged. "Okay."