Black Heart – Chapter I Part VIII
by Steppen Sawicki
Andrade stopped and looked back at him. “What?” She looked down at the card on the concrete and back to him, reading his aura. “What happened?
Sweat stood out on his forehead. “I was about to tear it. I don’t remember taking it out.”
He looked up and saw the Jewel past her. He shook his head and snatched up the card, shoving it in his bag. “We don’t have time for this.” He ran past her, making sure to pull a regular demon from the pack.
“Ivers!” Andrade called.
He looked back. She had stopped ten steps back, judging her distance from the danger. He was on his own now.
“Be careful,” she said.
He felt a twinge of irritation that she had stopped him just to say that, but he only nodded and turned back to the store, tearing the card he held. The incredible pain flooded him and he nearly toppled over, but managed to only waver drunkenly before continuing down the sidewalk.
He entered the store from the front doors, like he was just strolling on in to pick up some frozen pizza. The demons were among the aisles. He could see their drifting red waves, belying their hunger and ferocity. It was like they were shopping too, browsing cans and boxes. The speakers were still belting out “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You,” but other than that everything was silence.
First was produce, where here and there fruits and vegetables had withered and shriveled, picked at by the demons and judged not quite as tasty as human. Bryan could see the faint green glow of the plants’ lifeforce – a shadow of what animals held. And then he nearly tripped over the first dead body, taunt and gray and sprawled out beside a display of cakes and scones.
Around the corner, in the breads, was one of them. He had it encircled and captured before it even saw him, and he felt both confusion and amusement from it as he put it away into the deck. He smiled along with it, though later he wouldn’t know why. It was one of those demon things that only made sense while you were possessed. There were more bodies around now, sucked dry and uninteresting to him. There was nothing left there for the demon in him to find appetizing.
There was another towards the other end of the store. He walked towards it past the aisles and was almost to it when he heard a clatter from the pharmacy, punctuated by a strangled cry. He went to the counter and peered over it at the little bottles that sat on the shelves and that had been spilled onto the ground. He couldn’t see human lifeforce through solid objects like a Spotter could with auras, but he knew he had heard somebody.
“Someone there?” Bryan called low. “I’m from the ODD.”
No one replied. He glanced back at the demon, but it hadn’t moved far. Probably sleepy from its meal, lazily sniffing around for dessert. It wasn’t causing any current problem, so he hopped over the counter.
“I’m coming to you,” he quietly reassured any possible person. “Don’t panic, you’re safe where you are.”
He rounded a shelf and there she was, huddled in the back corner, under a table. She was maybe all of fifteen, and her dark eyes were wide and frightened. They locked on him.
“Are you alright?” he asked, hungrily noting her intense lifeforce, glowing bright in the dim grime of his vision.
She was frozen. He repeated the question, and after a moment she shook her head no sharply.
He glanced around him. The demon in the aisle was still browsing. He saw another demon drifting somewhere in the back of the store, but it was far away.
He held out a hand to the girl. “Hang onto me. I’ll show you outside. We have people out there.”
She shook her head again, even more forcibly.
Did he have time for this? His head was pounding. He could be done with the demons and then deal with her.
“Okay.” He knelt down and looked into her eyes, hoping she was listening. “But stay here and…”
She saw something in his eyes. Her own widened even more than he would have thought they could and almost in slow motion her mouth opened and she screamed.
He cursed and stood, turned, and saw the demon rushing at them through the shelves and aisles and into the pharmacy, drawn by the noise. He encircled it, but it took concentration to slow its advance and hold it. It bucked like a bronco to try and break free, and he pulled hard from the demon in him to gain the power needed to settle it.
The girl screamed again, but it wasn’t a scream of terror this time; it was a scream of pain. Bryan risked a glance over his shoulder.
The other demon from the back had come after all, and it had her. Its red glow pulsed over and around and inside her as she contorted on the floor.
He cursed again, louder and stronger, and turned back to his task. She was good as dead now. He used his anger to quell the contained demon and sealed it in a row of diamonds. Then he turned to the girl.
She was still screaming and writhing on the floor. The demon was now fully inside her, and Bryan realized with a start that it was trapped.
He cursed a third time, and fell to his knees beside her, fishing an empty card from his deck.
“Girl, hold this.” He wrapped her hands around the card and held them there. “You have to listen to me.”
She moaned and cried, but stopped screaming at least. Still she didn’t look at him. He held her hands with one of his, noting how tiny her own were, and used his other hand to turn her face to his.
“Listen,” he said, “you can push that thing out of you, into this card in your hands. Drive it out.”
She whimpered and shook and tried to turn away. He gripped her chin.
“You can do it. Just think about the card and push it out into it.”
She closed her eyes and he watched the demon move from her insides to the card. Emptied of demon, the girl began convulsing and coughing. Bryan set her down on her side. He flicked on his radio.
“Andrade,” he said into it, “I’ve got one of us in here.”