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The Luck Of The Devil

The Luck Of The Devil

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The Luck Of The Devil

Length:
396 pages
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Sep 14, 2018
ISBN:
9780463987834
Format:
Book

Description

THE STORY OF MORDIS TERRIFIED HER AS A CHILD...
Susan Jones, a transgender woman struggling to get by in the economic woes of 1990s Britain, is under the care of psychiatrist Doctor Mordussen. He in turn is obsessed by her disturbing nightmares. But are her demons real?
An unexpected road trip to Ireland awakens traumas of the past. A seventeenth-century sorcerer, evil nurses, a castle reborn from the ashes and a bloodthirsty sheep do not making getting to the bottom of the mystery any easier. The old wise woman of the village knows more than she's telling. Susan must confront her demons in more ways than one. Can her love of heavy metal, her battered Volkswagen camper van and two best friends save the day? The Luck Of The Devil is a thriller of both comedy and tragedy, set in a contemporary world of superstition, psychiatry and the metaphysical.

Publisher:
Released:
Sep 14, 2018
ISBN:
9780463987834
Format:
Book

About the author

Steph Bennion is a writer, musician and part-time Westminster civil servant, born and bred in the Black Country but now living in Hastings after finally escaping the black hole of London. Her stories are written as a reaction to the dearth of alternative heroes amidst bookshelves swamped by tales of the supernatural, not that there’s nothing wrong with a bit of fantasy now and again. HOLLOW MOON, the first novel in her space-opera tales of mystery and adventure, was published in 2012. THE AVALON JOB is the fourth, with more to come. Under the name Stephanie M Bennion, she has written speculative fiction for older readers. Her last novel was THE LUCK OF THE DEVIL, a tale of supernatural transgender angst in 1990s Ireland, published in 2018. The time-travelling romp THE BATTLES OF HASTINGS, a novella inspired by her adopted town and the 950th anniversary of the event that shaped the British Isles today, was published in 2016.


Book Preview

The Luck Of The Devil - Steph Bennion

THE LUCK OF THE DEVIL

[About the Author] [Contents] [The Luck Of The Devil]

WYRDSTAR BOOKS

www.wyrdstar.co.uk

Copyright (c) Stephanie M Bennion 2018

All rights reserved.

SMASHWORDS EDITION

Smashwords license notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not bought for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Smashwords publishing history

First published September 2018

The right of Stephanie M Bennion (Steph Bennion) to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998.

Cover artwork copyright (c) WyrdStar 2018

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead (in this world or the next), events or localities is entirely coincidental.

* * *

THE LUCK OF THE DEVIL

[Copyright] [Contents] [Prologue]

A Novel by

Stephanie M Bennion

WYRDSTAR BOOKS

www.wyrdstar.co.uk

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Karen for friendship, cider and the usual help with proof-reading; The Happy Maureens, for getting me back on stage (the ‘M’ is for you!); and Sarah, who somehow kept me sane in that big, bad city. We now live by the seaside.

Von Däniken’s Express is a fictional band. While some of the quoted lyrics are also pure invention, others are from songs originally performed by Danse Macabre, a London-based folk-goth rock band that the author and Sarah Taylor performed in and wrote songs for several years ago. A few are even available to listen to on the band’s one-and-only independently-released CD EP, The Golden Age Of Ballooning...

* * * * *

Prologue

I see the madness

Behind your cruel eyes

As we build the fire

Beneath stormy skies.

Holy Terror

Von Däniken’s Express

* * *

Prologue

On A Storyteller’s Night

[Title Page] [Contents] [Chapter One]

THE STORY OF MORDIS TERRIFIED HER AS A CHILD. It was a tale of fear and anger, of devilry and revenge. It mattered not that the lives of which it told were of a strange and distant era, nor that the villain was the power of belief. It was a tale that haunted her, for it warned that those who dared to be different would suffer for their sins.

It began with a storm. Rain lashed down in torrents. Demoniac lightning pierced the clinging darkness as the raging elements unleashed their fury upon the world below. The wind howled across the hillside with the wrath of a thousand avenging devils, which to the frightened participants of this tale seemed more a case of a gross exaggeration than a mere metaphor. Opening a story with melodramatic weather was not yet a cliché.

An ominous dark mass took shape within the night. A huge fortress of stone, its grey battlements scarred as much by the forces of nature as by the wounds of battle, stood defiant against the raging elements. Wooden shutters at the narrow windows concealed all signs of life, save for one solitary light issuing from a room in a turret high above.

Buffeted by the fury of the storm, a young woman gazed from the tower window. No one in their right mind would be outside on such a night, yet her vigil carried a weight of expectation. A hand brushed the mane of chestnut hair from her eyes. Her other slipped beneath her night-dress, fingertips tenderly stroking the pale skin shrouding her womb. It would be months before her secret revealed itself for all the world to see.

A dark and stormy night, she might have mused. It was far too lame a description.

Suddenly, she spied movement far below. A faint glow appeared, barely discernible through the torrential rain. As she watched, another light appeared, then another. A dozen or so figures in heavy robes, their lanterns held high, were marching resolutely towards the stronghold. The men carried staffs, scythes and other implements, brandishing them like weapons. Each was determined that one way or another, tonight would see an end to the troubles that had plagued the village. From her vantage point high above, the woman watched the small army approach the castle and smiled wryly.

Try using magic to get out of this one, she murmured. You friggin’ Faustus.

* * *

Much of the story is conjecture. Yet like the now-fallen stones of the castle, enough jagged pieces remained for memories to echo still. It was not difficult for those who told the tale to paint a vivid picture.

Deep beneath the castle lay a secret windowless dungeon. This was not a place for prisoners, nor an inquisitor’s chamber of torture, but a den of blasphemous deeds. Set deep in the stone floor was a huge iron pentagram, its clumsily-wrought lines flickering in the candlelight that danced with the shadows on the cold stone walls. A heavy workbench held a brass hourglass, a collection of ancient manuscripts and vials of unidentifiable powders. Near the stout oaken door, on the wall next to a shelf of clay jars containing all sorts of weird and wonderful artefacts, a faded chart showed detailed anatomical sketches of the human frame. A mysterious odour hung in the air, a sweet pungent fragrance born from the forbidden herbs smouldering within the incense burner upon the bench.

The castle and dungeon were those of Lord Edmund Mordis. For a voyage into the darker realms of magic, his secret sanctum was well-equipped. Yet he himself was a weak, arrogant man who believed himself the foremost sorcerer in the land. Those foolish enough to meddle with the powers of the supernatural were mercifully thin on the ground. It was a time when seventeenth-century Ireland writhed with superstitious fears and the witch-hunter’s handbook Malleus Maleficarum was a best-seller second only to the Bible. To the villagers, not least his nemesis Nanny Steer, he was one black-magic practitioner too many. Mordis was in trouble and he knew it. Dabbling in magic to further his own ambitions was bad enough. Using the power to influence others was asking for trouble.

Mordis sat cross-legged in the centre of the pentagram. He wore his ritual garb of ornate flowing robes, a reassuring weight upon his shoulders. His eyes were closed, his mind concentrating solely upon the incantations passing his lips. His time in this world was running out. Mordis had reached the point where he believed his only hope of salvation was to conjure assistance from another. The trick was to do so without paying the ultimate price.

The first spell was cast. Mordis opened his eyes and rose to his feet. Walking wearily to the door, he drew back the heavy iron bolt. Beyond, a steep flight of steps rose to a small antechamber. He looked up to a narrow unglazed window and the raging tempest beyond.

The moon, the stars, he muttered darkly.

Leaving his sanctum, he climbed the steps to the window. Rain gusted through the open shutters, coating the cobbled floor with a slippery sheen. Set in the wooden frame were four nails, attached to which were two lengths of twine; one left-to-right, the other top-to-bottom. Facing the window, Mordis searched the floor until he found the cross he had carved after weeks of careful calculations and astronomical observations. Placing his feet on the mark, he gazed through the window. Pendulous and foreboding, the storm had destroyed his hopes of a clear sky. The bad weather was unforeseen. He recalled bitterly that the villagers joked he had trouble even predicting what day of the week it would be tomorrow.

His qualms faded as he saw the pale yellow glow of the moon, glimmering through a tear in the storm’s shroud to the west. The positions of the other heavenly bodies were established, for Mordis had been meticulous in his observations over the last few nights. It was the moon, the sentinel of the night, that was all-important; the catalyst with which to channel the darkness of the underworld and shape it to his own ends. He watched as the moon crept along its celestial plane, his heart thudding in anticipation. As it neared the crossed twines, Mordis held his breath, anxious for the critical juncture.

The cross finally fell upon the centre of the moon, slicing the pale globe in four.

Mordis exhaled sharply. Hurrying back to his dungeon, he upturned the large hourglass on the bench, one doctored to hold sand for just three minutes. He eyed it uneasily as he closed the door and slid the iron bolt across. Only then did he return to his place at the centre of the iron pentagram. Timing was crucial.

From the castle above came the faint sounds of the villagers hammering at the doors. Mordis swatted it away as if the disturbance were an irritating fly.

Fools, he muttered. The wheel of fate spins to my tune now.

* * *

The villagers gathered before the castle’s gatehouse doors, buffeted by the wind and rain. Amidst the noise of the storm, they hammered upon the timbers with what tools they carried, the staccato thud of iron upon wood rising in an angry crescendo of hate. It came as no surprise to find the huge oaken barricades securely bolted.

An old man, heavily cloaked and leaning on a staff, stepped forward. The villagers parted to clear a path to the doors. He was the village priest; armed only with the good book, it was he who had rallied the men into action. Reaching the gatehouse, he raised a hand to silence his uneasy congregation, then rapped his staff upon the aged oak.

Open this door! he commanded. In the name of the Lord!

Stepping back, the old man leaned upon his staff and waited, seemingly oblivious to the fury of the storm. The rasp of grating iron cut through the air as heavy bolts were drawn back from within. There was a pause, then the doors slowly swung back. They revealed a figure holding a lantern, its light illuminating the pale features of a young girl.

You took your time, lass, the priest grumbled. May we come in?

The girl beckoned them inside. One by one, the villagers quickly slipped through into the gatehouse. As they gathered uneasily beneath the stone arch, a rumble of thunder broke above the hillside, the sound taking on an eerie malevolence as it echoed around the drenched and windswept courtyard ahead. The young girl laid a hand upon the priest’s own.

Fear not, she reassured him. Your dear Róisín is safe in a room above. It was she who saw your approach. She instructed me to let you in.

The priest regarded her solemnly. Where is Lord Mordis?

Down below. He has been there for days, working on some evil! she replied, looking afraid. She pointed to a small door, half-concealed in the shadows of the gatehouse. There is a passage from the room beyond to the west wall. That is the way to his lair.

The priest nodded. Striding defiantly to the door, he swung it open with a crash.

Come! he commanded. It is with God’s blessing that we shall crush this demon! With a flourish he raised his Bible above his head. The apostles of Satan have no place in our village. Righteousness shall prevail!

The villagers nervously raised their weapons and cheered. They were eager for action, yet cowed by their gloomy surroundings and the storm outside. Apprehensive yet resolute, the priest stepped through the doorway into the dimly-lit chamber beyond.

* * *

A third of the sand remained, time enough for Mordis to complete his incantations. Within the pentagram, his eyes were on the large, leather-bound book before him, the yellow leaves of parchment open at a page whose words he had memorised long ago. Outside, the storm continued in its fury, the wind howling like a banshee as it whipped across the desolate hillside. Every now and then a rogue draught blew through the gap beneath the door, sending a cold chill across to where he sat. Faint though the sound was down in the dungeon, the wind seemed to be growing in its ferocious intensity, blowing stronger with every grain of sand that fell through the glass.

Slowly and with great deliberation, Mordis read aloud the next line of the spell.

His concentration was shattered by the thump of boots upon the steps outside. The avenging villagers had found his lair. Mordis flinched as loud bangs came from the dungeon door. Flickers of doubt grew in his mind. He was afraid; not of the priest and his bloodthirsty flock, but of his own innate fallibility. He had studied all that could be learned of sorcery and black magic. He had thoroughly researched and rehearsed this particular spell to the best of his capabilities. Yet the anger of the villagers was proof enough that being an enthusiastic amateur was not enough. Tonight was the night he had to pull something quite spectacular out of the hat. His record to date was far from impressive.

His hesitation was brief. A glance at the hourglass told him it was too late to change his mind. Returning his gaze to the book, Mordis spoke the penultimate line.

* * *

Outside the dungeon, the priest organised his troops. The villagers who carried axes as their weapon of choice were now putting them to good use, anxious to defeat the stout oaken door blocking their progress. To say the holy man was worried was an understatement. He had seen the crossed strings at the window frame; while unsure of their purpose, they were proof enough that Mordis was up to no good. The priest was an educated man and not as superstitious as most, yet nevertheless feared evil as much as anyone. The rising ferocity of the storm was all-too apparent. Unease grew amongst the rest of the villagers as they crowded apprehensively at the top of the stone steps.

The moon, the stars, he muttered. His Bible was held firm against his chest.

We are through! came a cry.

The axes had shattered the wood around the lock. Dropping their blades, the men put their shoulders to the door and pushed. There came the sound of splitting wood and the door burst open, the iron bolt hanging from the frame. The priest cautiously approached the open door and peered through the opening. The dim candlelight beyond at first revealed only vague shapes in the clinging darkness. Then, as his eyes began to adjust to the gloom, he made out the robed figure seated upon the floor.

Lord Mordis! growled the priest. Bound for evil, to be sure!

Mordis did not move. Growing bolder, the priest stepped into the dungeon.

What terrible wizardry is it that you dare release upon the world? the holy man hissed accusingly. Your sorcery will not be tolerated!

There was no response. Aware that his every move was being watched by the villagers, the priest edged further into the room, keeping his gaze upon the sorcerer. He had already noticed the unholy pentagram inside which Mordis sat.

Answer me! he roared.

Mordis did not move. A myriad of sounds filled the dungeon: the wailing of wind, the distant rattle of rain, the fearful whispers of the massed villagers; none seemed louder to the priest than the thumping of his own heart. Now he hesitated, unsure of what to do. He had expected his Lordship to respond with anger, but there was no reaction at all. An uneasy shuffle of boots came from the villagers behind, still huddled in the doorway.

Mordis began to speak. The priest’s eyes went wide. The eerie tangle of Latin from the sorcerer’s lips spoke of demoniac pacts and revenge. The holy man raised his Bible.

I am here as the hand of God, the priest declared, resolute. I shall exorcise the evil spirits that have invaded your soul! I shall rid thee of Satan’s influence!

With a dreadful sense of timing, lightning seared the sky beyond the crossed twines of the window. The stone steps to the dungeon blazed with stark white light, illuminating the scene below. The sorcerer stared at the priest with wide, bloodshot eyes. Startled, the holy man staggered backwards across the cobbled floor and stumbled into the workbench. An almighty crash of thunder followed, deafening all those present. Grasping the bench for support, the priest’s hand brushed against the brass hourglass behind him.

There was a second lightning flash. Again, the storm’s timing was impeccable. Filled with dread, the priest froze as the last grains of sand fell inside the glass.

Upon the celestial sphere, distant worlds converged.

A sudden hush descended upon the dungeon; eerie, deathly and complete.

The holy man twitched uneasily. Outside, the wind still howled and the rain continued to pour, yet his mind no longer heard. The silence within the sorcerer’s lair had become a living, breathing thing, a cloying presence that sucked every vibration from the air.

Then came a sound. A rising floodwater of noise seeped into the dungeon, a dull rhythmic throbbing that flowed from the bowels of the Earth. The priest felt the hairs on the back of his neck rising, the Bible clutched in his fist now more for self-reassurance than for brandishing as a deterrent. Lord Mordis had still not moved. Gripped with fear, the holy man looked around the dungeon in a mixture of bewilderment and terror. The rumbling tremors were a demoniac fanfare, a prelude to damnation.

All of a sudden, a column of crimson fire blasted up from the centre of the pentagram. Screams of anguish filled the dungeon, the wailing laments of the lost. The priest dropped to the floor and clasped his hands over his ears in terror.

My God! he cried. The fires of wrath are upon us!

Ethereal flames writhed with blood-red tentacles of ferocious, malicious energy. Mordis sat within, seemingly oblivious to the flickering fire. The sorcerer wore the calm, vacant gaze of the insane, his lips curled in a grotesque yet triumphant sneer of malice that in the eyes of the priest flowed from somewhere far deeper than his poisoned soul. The holy man turned to the villagers in the doorway and stared in confusion at their wandering, puzzled stares. It dawned on him that they could not see the unearthly pillar of flames. He alone had been hypnotised by this unholy whirlwind of horror. Confined within the iron pentagram, the awesome supernatural power burned cold.

The dull throbbing reached the limit of its crescendo. Satanic overtones combined to form an unholy cacophony of diminished fifths. The priest scrambled to his feet, his knuckles white as he clenched his Bible. Without warning, there came another explosion of light. A horrific rumble crashed in its wake, shaking every stone in the castle.

The desperate screams died. Darkness returned, save for the feeble glow of candlelight as before. Other than the muffled roar of the storm outside, all was quiet. The priest blinked and rubbed his eyes in confusion. Lord Mordis had gone.

* * *

Several moments passed. The priest stared at the conspicuously empty space at the centre of the pentagram. For a moment he thought the column of crimson fire was still there, reduced in its ferocity, but could not be sure. The sorcerer was nowhere to be seen.

Good riddance to bad rubbish, he muttered.

His eyes lingered upon the void where Mordis had been. He tried to convince himself that the unholy fire had been a ruse, an alchemist’s trick to mask an escape. The alternative was too horrific to contemplate. Remembering his audience, he turned to face the villagers gathered in the doorway. Though shaken, the priest was made of stern stuff.

Mordis is vanquished! he cried in defiance. The hounds of hell have arisen to claim their own! We are free from the tyranny of his ways!

An uneasy murmur rose from the villagers at the door. It troubled the priest that not one appeared to have witnessed the fire as he himself had done. Yet the fact that the sorcerer had vanished was beyond doubt. The idea that Mordis had opened some sort of gateway to the underworld was a tale easily accepted by superstitious minds. The wily holy man stroked his chin thoughtfully as he considered how to guard against the sorcerer’s return.

This place is accursed! he declared. Unclean! It must be sealed from mortal eyes!

It shall be done! cried one of the axemen. I shall bring timber!

And I shall bring nails! declared the blacksmith.

Bricks are better than timber! came another voice.

Let us sanctify the dungeon with fire!

Let the whole castle burn!

This last suggestion won a lot of support. Nevertheless, the priest saw to it that the door to the dungeon was not only nailed shut, but secured with battens of wood and sealed with a heavy sheet of lead. Then, just to be safe, the doorway itself was bricked up, as was the opening at the top of the steps. Only when this had been done did the priest step aside and let the villagers have their way.

Most of the castle’s servants, though innocent, had gone into hiding. It must be said that Lord Mordis’ entourage included an unusually high number of young girls, their natural timidness proving a problem until they finally realised just why the villagers were stacking great mounds of firewood against the castle walls. Many fled into the night to seek refuge back at the village. A few remained, huddled together beneath the dying tempest of the storm, determined to see the story through to the end.

The final chapter came at dawn. Their labours complete, the villagers gave the holy man the honour of placing a blazing torch against the prepared tinder. This he did so, with a great satisfaction that he failed to hide with the words of reluctance in his journal.

The castle burned through the night. The rain continued to pour. It was a great disappointment to many that the storm quenched the flames before the blackened shell fell into ruins for good. Few appreciated that it was only a matter of time before the terrible tale of fear and justice passed into folklore, then faded as all superstitions are fated to do.

It was a story that deserved to be closed. This one refused to die.

* * *

The tale of Lord Mordis should have ended on that dark and stormy night. The sole written account is confusing; it is the priest’s own, scrawled in a trembling hand. The only reminder was the accursed castle itself, devoid of life, standing empty yet defiant.

Three hundred years later, a visitor came from overseas. The real ending of the story was about to begin.

* * * * *

- I -

A place where sirens wail

Where people never smile

Ice creams vans don’t stop

Along murder mile.

Fortune stalks the rich

The brainless and the pretty

Another day dawns

In this big bad city.

Big Bad City

Von Däniken’s Express

* * *

Chapter One

Can You See The Real Me?

[Prologue] [Contents] [Chapter Two]

SUSAN LAY ON HER BED, floundering on the edge of sleep, a half-drained glass of wine clutched precariously in her hand. The curtains at her window were open to the midnight gloom of an unseasonably-rainy June night, the darkness marred by the dim orange glow of streetlights. Her handbag and coat lay where they had fallen next to her mangled umbrella, the sad detritus of yet another bad day.

Her old portable record player, perched atop a pile of books next to her bed, fell silent. The dissonant purr of a passing car gnawed at the distant wail of sirens, breaking the uneasy hush. A damp breeze stole through the window, blowing the battered album sleeve of Von Däniken’s Express’ Dancing at the Gates of Hell from the sill. Macabre artwork revelled in a pastiche of Hieronymus Bosch’s unsettling portrait of hell, though back when the album had been conceived, Susan had known of The Garden of Earthly Delights only by way of Deep Purple’s eponymous third album. The record player moved its stylus to the run-off groove.

Low, eerie tones rose from the speaker. The band had thought it funny to include a backwards Satanic chant when the album was pressed. The clawing sinister whisper filled the hush within the room. Twitching curtains animated the neon streetlamp glow.

The flickering orange light toyed with the album’s scenes of damnation. Tenuous images danced through half-closed eyelids and into Susan’s dreams. Fragments of the mundane spun through her subconscious, colliding with suppressed memories both disturbing and surreal. The room seemed to fill with ghostly, ethereal fire.

Her mind seized the shadows, twisting them into a sinister landscape of caverns, a blackened labyrinth stretching to a doom-ridden infinity. Vague shapes scuttled in the darkness. Figures from the album artwork became rows of melancholy wraiths, trudging along a causeway of skulls towards everlasting horrors. Echoes of wailing heavy metal guitars mingled with the desperate laments of the lost.

Tendrils of fear drew her deeper. Her dream grew dark. A beast rose from the fallen sleeve and took shape: Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies. Reflecting her own weariness, the foul creature yawned, its blood-stained fangs gaping wide. She floated before the demon like a fish in glass bowl, cocooned from the fires of hell, the anguish and confusion. Beelzebub’s hideous crimson features barely registered any pleasure took from the tortured grimaces worn by the underworld’s unwilling guests.

I am bored, the demon seemed to lisp. It was not uncommon for her nightmares to find a voice. What ghastly amusement can you find for me today, my loathsome one?

A squat, ugly imp moved from the flickering shadows. The creature’s green leathery wings scraped forlornly upon the stone floor.

There’s always plen’y of lost souls for ya enjoyment, master... the imp began.

I want more! demanded Beelzebub, brusquely interrupting. This tedious routine of suffering and debauchery has become stale. I want to be entertained!

The lesser demon looked up at its master and grinned. There’s a Satanist cult in Borneo doin’ a nice line in sacrificial virgins at the moment. I fink it’s Borneo, the imp added. Might be Bournemouth.

A smile twitched the corner of Susan’s lips. Her dark sense of humour had a lot to answer for. Subliminal ideas coalesced. The walls became blackened oak panels, towering behind heavy office furniture and brass-handled cabinets that reminded her of the Minister’s office in Whitehall. Beelzebub now sat at a huge desk, oozing bureaucratic grace. The pink leather upon the massive wooden chair was probably not bovine.

No, said Beelzebub, after a pause. Nice idea though, my little Sumokyn-Kils. I was thinking more of a bit of old-school skulduggery. The Book of Job is a cracking read.

Sumokyn-Kils nodded respectfully. Looking sly, the squat demon trotted to a filing cabinet and withdrew a large leather-bound file wrapped in a tangle of red tape.

The Saint Fursey affair, the imp declared, handing Beelzebub the file. It just so ‘appens the time of the fourth fire is near.

Beelzebub smiled a perfectly wicked grin. A scaly paw snapped the tape with a talon, opened the file and withdrew the top sheet. The grin widened. Susan shifted uncomfortably in her sleep. The demons in her mind were being unusually verbose. Even the chatty rabbit that appeared after the dodgy pizza last week had struggled to maintain a conversation.

You have been busy.

I likes to fink of ways to complicate matters, the imp admitted proudly.

Your diabolical meddling is commendable, Beelzebub replied. It is high time we brought matters to a close. Bring me an update and recommendations.

Susan gave an involuntary shudder at the ritual request for a report. Sumokyn-Kils nodded and saluted, a curious contortion of wings and arms that would have perplexed a contortionist. The imp slunk from sight with its tail between its legs.

Beelzebub leaned back in the chair. A reptilian grin returned to deform once-angelic features. Susan’s hands grasped the bed sheets for reassurance.

Another day dawns in this big bad city, the demon growled softly, running a forked tongue over its grimace. Beelzebub suddenly locked its hideous stare upon her mind’s eye. It will be a day of reckoning, my dear Mordis!

Susan screamed.

The wine glass flew from her grasp and smashed against the wall. In an instant she was awake, fumbling wildly for the bedside lamp. Her hand found the light and switched it on. The malevolent shadows and flickering flames vanished in a blink of an eye, revealing the innocuous wavering curtains and a blood-red splatter of wine on the wall.

Trembling, Susan reached to the record player and turned it off. She stared at the album cover on the floor. She had hoped playing the old songs would trigger memories of happier times. Adding a bottle of wine to the mix had in hindsight been a very bad idea.

"Big Bad City, she murmured. It was the last track on side one and presumably the song that had been playing as she fell asleep. As if to confirm her suspicions, a distant sound of sirens drifted upon the night. Can’t get much badder than the city of the damned."

Her alarm clock said half past three. Leaving the lamp

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