Taming Demons for Beginners
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I snapped the Demonica guide shut and replaced it under the table, then scooped up my remaining cookies and walked across the hardwood floor. I stopped two long steps from the summoning circle, the dome-shape interior filled with inky, impenetrable shadows.
I held up a cookie.
“This,” I announced, “is a double-chocolate brownie cookie. It’s delicious, and I’ll give it to you if you answer a question for me.”
Silence from within the darkness.
“I answered your question,” I added accusingly.
Quiet lay upon the room—then a soft, husky laugh.
“A question, hh’ainun?” the demon crooned. “What would you ask?”
Doubts trickled through me. This was a bad idea, but I plowed on. “Do demons lie?”
“Ch,” it replied, a sound of cold amusement. “Zh’ūltis question. Ask another.”
I frowned. “What does zhuh-ool … what does that word mean?”
“Stupid. Stupid question.”
My frown deepened into a scowl. I rephrased. “If it’s true that demons don’t lie, why is that?”
A long pause, but it wasn’t the same silence as before. My skin prickled, instinct warning that a predator’s attention was locked on me.
“Tell me truths and lies, hh’ainun.”
“What?” I asked blankly.
The demon said nothing, waiting.
Brow furrowed, I searched for harmless things to say. “I moved here six days ago. I miss my college classes. My favorite class was biology. I enjoy baking for my family.”
“Moved here,” the demon repeated in its swirling accent. “True. Miss your … college,” it enunciated carefully, as though unfamiliar with the word, “true. Biology … lie.”
My eyes widened.
“Your family.” It rolled the last word as though tasting it. “Lie.” “No,” I said. “That one is true.”
“Lie,” the demon repeated with certainty.
“You’re wrong. I love baking for my family.”
“Did you just call me stupid?” I clenched my jaw, then relaxed. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“No, you didn’t.” Glaring, I took a deep breath. “Fine. Whatever. If that’s your idea of answering a question, I won’t bother asking any more.”
I stepped closer to the circle, knelt, and carefully set the paper towel of cookies on the floor. Keeping my body as far away as possible, I nudged a corner of the paper across the silver inlay, then snatched my hand back. This was the closest I’d ever come to the circle.
A soft scuff against the hardwood emanated from the darkness. The paper towel twitched, then slid into the black dome.
Icy blades of fear cut through me. Suddenly, the demon was no longer a voice—it was a physical being. Something alive and solid and real that could pull the cookies into its prison cell. My gaze rose from the floor where the treats had disappeared to the curved black wall.
A spark of red in the darkness.
Flames burst to life and shot upward in a hungry blaze. I flung myself back. As I landed on my butt, the brief flare lit a shape within the black—the dark outline of shoulders, the edge of a jaw, the plane of a cheekbone.
Burning crimson eyes caught the light and glowed.
The fire died as quickly as it had appeared, and the dome was once again filled with impenetrable darkness, the demon hidden within. Gray fluff fluttered out of the circle—ash. Flakes of ash. The demon had burned the paper towel.
I scooted across the floor, then pushed onto trembling legs. Without a word or a backward glance, I ran through the door and pushed it shut behind me, swearing never to return.
An hour later, as I lay in bed, trying to sleep, all I could see was the demon’s dim outline—and those eyes that had glowed like hot coals, like magma erupting from a volcano’s heart.
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