A Girl Fights a Demon
That’s the official story, anyway: girl fights demon, demon is favorite to win, girl gets her hands on magic dagger demon was hiding, dagger pierces demon’s chest, girl stands victorious in demon’s ashes. End of story. Or, at least, this is what she tells the second demon. The one who crosses her path while seeking out the first, who should’ve returned home by then with the requisite number of souls of unwitting children willing to make a bad trade for good candy on Halloween.
In the fight with the second demon, who attacks as she’s egging the car of a high schooler who creeped on her sister, the girl is caught off guard and knocked to the ground. In the wrestling match after, she regains possession of the dagger. She doesn’t know what to do with it, but the second demon doesn’t know that, and this makes the cowering demon more inclined to listen to the girl when she says, “Get out of here before I do something I’ll regret.” Now it would seem she has bested two demons. Enough to start a legend; enough, also, to have consequences, like making it unsafe for her to wear that magic dagger on her hip or visit the haunted corn maze tonight, even though she and Maxie had kinda sorta said it was a date.
She has no idea how she’ll explain all this tomorrow. “Hey, so I met this demon last night and, instead of killing me or stealing my soul or whatever, it traded me this dagger in exchange for one night where it could go play foosball in my basement, but now all these other demons think I killed one of their own and want revenge—so weird, right?” Everything about this demon baffles her. The request. The evident delight at seeing a mini basketball hoop. The transformation, while she was away, into a humanoid, though she loves the juxtaposition of gold nose rings and shaggy ombre hair with the demon’s lopsided horns and feisty tail, which wrestles with the cat. “Jasper,” she chides, when the cat’s claws come out, but the demon doesn’t mind.
“Look. I figured out how to conjure a spirit to play foosball with me.”
Across from them, the handles spin, moved by invisible hands.
“No offense, but, judging by the score, this spirit isn’t any good.”
A soft shrug. “Well, I wanted to win a few games before I have to go.”
She can understand that. She regrets having to say, “Someone was looking for you.”
All at once, the tail stops playing, causing the cat to hiss its displeasure. “Who?”
“I think her name was Astrith? Wanted the dagger but wouldn’t touch it.”
“Yeah, well, Astrith’s smart about things like that. Not so smart about other things.”
This feels familiar to her: the regret in that aside, the disappointed slump of the shoulders, like her father’s on the morning after the divorce, when he picked up the last of the stuff from the house and crouched down on the porch to tell her, “I wish things could have been different.” As if that were possible. As if her parents could freeze their personalities at the moment of the marriage and never grow, never change, never become the man who quits his job at forty to open a bakery, the woman who builds herself a cabin bit by bit, summer after summer, just so she has a place to be alone, be herself again. Who would she be, after so many millennia? Wouldn’t the years exact their toll, in the end? Even demons are subject to time.
“I’ll have to go back soon. Prevent Astrith and the others from hunting you.”
“I appreciate that.” A moment later, she adds, “I hope you get what you’re after.”
Yellow eyes fix on the foosball table, the little figures spinning in place. “Me too.”
She absentmindedly spins one of the players. “What do I say if more demons show up?”
“They won’t.” The answer is too quick, too confident. “But, if they do, just tell the truth.”
That’s the story now: girl meets demon, demon asks girl for help, demon gets a few hours of peace before trouble finds them, girl plays one last game of foosball with demon before saying goodbye, memorizing the image of demon as they are, as they have long wanted to be.
About the author:
Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in more than 50 publications, including Lightspeed, Nightmare, Pleiades, khōréō, The Florida Review Online, Reckoning, and the anthologies Best Microfiction 2021 & 2022.