By Ben Van Dongen
Chad sat at a scarred counter, behind bulletproof glass. The pawn shop was empty and he was on the verge of beating his Joust high score, on his phone. His boss, Mr. T, was in the back office doing the day’s banking, and probably, he thought, some blow.
“Hard-on!” Mr. T’s yell was accompanied by a bang, crash, and swearing.
“I pity the fool who calls me Hard-on.” Chad ignored the continuing swearing that grew louder.
“Cut that shit out.”
Chad put one hand up, the other was furiously tapping his phone screen. “Don’t call me Hard-on and I won’t point out that you go by the name of an 80s icon.”
The owner of the pawn shop was perpetually sweaty. Thick black, sweaty, body hair poked through his t-shirt. Even his voice was greasy.
“Put that damn thing down. You responsible for that coin on my desk?” Mr. T swatted at Chad’s phone, but missed. Spit flew from his mouth and he pointed to his office.
Sad digital music played from the phone as the last ostrich-rider died.
“Come on T, I was going for the high score.”
“This is serious, little shit. The coin, on my desk.” Mr. T wiped his brow with a dirty handkerchief.
Chad pocketed his phone and swiveled to face his boss. “Yeah. Some super old, jacked-up, dude brought it in this morning.”
Mr. T coughed, looked from side to side, and furrowed his drenched brow. He was sweating more than usual. It helped spread his sour smell. “You fucking idiot. How-many-times-do-I-gotta-tell-you-not-to-take-merchandise-without-my-say!” He blew out, flapping his lips like horses do. “Get your ass back here.” He walked back to his office, leaving a trail of perspiration, like a slug’s.
Chad hopped off his stool and tip-toed behind his boss. He was used to the temper and verbal assaults, but they never ended with a trip to the office.
The pair squeezed through a pile of old cassette players that Mr. T swore were going to make a comeback, around a small collection of ancient, mysterious, artifacts that didn’t fit with anything else in the run-down pawn shop, and over the pile of tapes to go with the players. Chad bumped into a tower of ancient magazines, while trying to avoid the small brook his boss was leaving, and had to hold them up with one hand and restack them with the other.
“Where the fuck’d you go, Hard-on?”
“I’m coming. Shit, I mean I’m on my way.” He jumped the lake that was collecting at the low point, in front of the office door, and nearly tripped on an old, ketchup covered, burger wrapper. “What’s the big deal. It’s a cool lookin coin. He practically gave it to me. Shit, I mean, he didn’t want much for it.”
“The big deal, you fuckin dope, is that it isn’t a coin.” Mr. T did a line off his stained, dirty, wood desk – that was, ironically, an old teacher’s desk. He managed to get as much dust and cigarette ash as he did cocaine.
“You’re losing it T. This,” he picked it up, “is a coin. It is a round, flat, metal – thing, with a face, uh creepy face,” he turned it over and brought it close to his eyes, “on one side and, okay, a pentagram on the other. So it’s a pretty fucking creepy coin, but that’s what I call a coin.”
Mr. T came up for air. He wiped his nose, shook his head like a dog, and yelped. “It’s a marker, fucking jerk. That old asshole played you for the idiot you are. He-was-some-cursed-son-of-a-bitch-who-found-a-moron-to-take-a-demon’s-marker.” He leaned back in his chair and belched, then wiped the mess that leaked out of his mouth with the handkerchief.
“Yeah, alright, so it’s a messed up coin, and I shouldn’t have taken it without passing it by you. Lesson learned. Psycho.” Chad flipped the coin at his boss. He had never seen the old, fat, slimy man move so fast.
Mr. T used his lubrication to slid out of his chair and rolled away from the flying marker. “I-ain’t-taking-your-fuckin-curse-shithead.”
“What the hell T? You’re acting like a maniac.”
“Pick up that marker and get the fuck out of my shop. I ain’t workin with no cursed jackass.” He grabbed the chair to get to his feet, but slipped in his own sweat and fell. “Get out of here Hard-on. Go, shew.”
Chad turned and bent his knees, to jump the sweat-lake.
He aborted the jump, but the momentum caused him to slip on a pile of discarded burger-pickles and fall into a beanbag-chair, with no beans in it. “Ow, what the hell T.”
“Don’t use that word Hard-on. Take that fuckin marker with you.”
Chad got to his feet and flipped Mr. T the bird. “Fuck off T. You’re not my boss anymore.”
Mr. T pulled out a musket from behind the desk. “Pick up the marker an take it the fuck with you, fuckin jerk.”
“Where the hell did you get a musket? There is no way that thing works.”
The iron ball flew past Chad as the musket spat fire. He ducked, but it was long gone.
“I said, don’t use that word.” Mr. T was pouring powder into the musket, but it was his bag of cocaine, not gunpowder.
“Yeah, whatever.” Chad picked the marker up, off of his bosses permanently wet chair. “But I’m taking the bust of Charles Bronson as my severance.” He did not mention that he had taken the bust the day it came into the shop.
Mr. T grumbled and swore, but Chad jumped the puddle and was out the back door before he heard any of it.
The night was cool and the street was deserted. The area had a bad reputation, but all the bad people who lived there went to better neighbourhoods to do their bad stuff. Chad flipped the hood up on his hoodie and plugged his headphones into his phone.
He walked along the sidewalk, towards his apartment building, but decided to walk by the river. He wouldn’t have admitted it to Mr. T, but he was bummed he lost his job. His rent was coming up, and he usually spent all his money at stripclubs, the casino, and the pawn shop where he used to work. More than that, he would miss T’s pawn shop in general. It was a lightning rod for the city’s strange. People and things were drawn to it, the more twisted, the stronger the pull. Chad liked to watch it from the safety of the bulletproof glass. He stood at the periphery like tall reeds at the water’s edge, took what he wanted, and laughed at the rest.
He crossed under a bridge and walked down a grass slope to a path that ran next to the river. The path actually sat a metre or so above the river, but it was as close as anyone would want to get to the dirty, deep, and fast running body of water. Even in the cool autumn night, the river’s edge was usually populated with some people, either running, riding, or up to no good. Chad didn’t see anyone though.
The water lapped at the concrete wall. It was quiet, but Chad heard it. There was nothing else in the area to cover the sound. He came to a small park with a fake flying saucer in the middle of it. An ominous tunnel loomed behind it. In the daytime it would have probably seemed innocuous, but in the dark, with no one else around, it was eerie. Chad stopped at the park and sat on a swing. It was low so if he were to swing, his feet would drag, so he rocked, making patterns in the sand. The stuff worked into his boots, but he lolled, as if in a daze.
He stopped and moved his feet aside. His head tipped, like a dog trying to figure out who the good boy is. Unconsciously, his dragging boots made a pentagram in the sand pit, under the swings, at the playground, by the river, near the tunnel. The coin fell out of his pocket and landed in the centre of the mark. The ground split, and fell away, exposing a red chasm that spit fire at it’s edges. Chad would have been swallowed by it, but the frame of the swings was wider than the pit. He sat, suspended above it, gripping the chains of the swing.
“Ahhhhh! What the fuck?”
The river bubbled and glowed red. The waves jumped over the barrier and steamed in the cool, dark, night. a huge, red, leathery, claw thrust out of the river, followed by another. Wings rose from behind them and reached three meters high. A pointed skeletal head broke the water and the arms dropped. The creature leapt up, spraying the red, slick, water and landed at the edge of the pit. It stood at full height, several metres above the swing set, steam bursting into fire, and screamed.
Heat buffeted Chad and the swing rocked.
The fire went out and the demon looked down at the pit, then up at Chad, dangling “What the fuck.”
The words made Chad’s eyes roll back, he held his head to keep it from splitting apart. He made a noise and a line of drool slipped out of the corner of his mouth.
The pit closed and he fell off the swing, onto the marker. It was hot and made a charred circle on the back of his shirt. “Ow, shit.” Chad rolled, sat up, and tried to pat the soldering spot on his back that he couldn’t reach.
“You should try doing some yoga.” The demon was now only a few feet taller than Chad, about the size of a basketball player.
At the reduced size, the demon’s voice merely caused Chad to wince and clench his teeth. “Don’t eat me man.” He cowered in a ball, folding his arms over his head.
“If I wanted to, that wouldn’t stop me.” The demon kicked a tire swing, lighting it on fire and sending it swinging violently on its chain. “How did I miss getting this pussy’s soul?”
“Hey.” Chad peaked under his armpit.
“You can get up. I can’t hurt you — now.”
Chad slowly relaxed until he was sitting on the sand at the edge of the swing set. He spun in place to face the creature. Looking at it directly caused him to cry hot tears that left red marks down his face. He vomited in his mouth, but swallowed it.
“It gets better.” The demon pulled a red and black lawn chair out of nothing and sat in it. “So, I’m The God Burner. I was going to take your soul, because you have my marker and you’re cursed, but I missed.” It kicked sand that burst into flames then landed as molten glass next to Chad.
A speck hit his arm and he yelped, brushing the solidifying substance away. “Shit. I’m Hard-on, fuck, I mean Chad.”
“Too late, you said Hard-on.” The demon chucked.
Chad was amazed to see that it actually looked slightly less horrifiyng in that moment. “So, uh. Go away?”
The laugh got more raucous and it bent the air around it, either from heat or some unnatural force. “Good one. No. Since I failed to take your soul, I’m stuck with you until I can find a replacement soul. You get a get-out-of-jail-free card. You stay cursed though.”
“You have to take someone’s soul, then you’ll leave?”
The demon nodded.
“Easy, take my boss. Asshole fired me today.” Chad nodded towards the direction of the pawn shop.
“Not that easy, Hard-on. It has to be done willingly now. I doubt anyone would give up their eternal soul for a shit stain like you. ”
Chad sunk. It was bad enough his friends and family, and everyone who knew him, called him Hard-on. A terrifying demon using the name seemed even less cool. He could not think of a single person who would spit on him if he were on fire, let alone go to hell for him.
“So what? God-Burn-dumb.”
The demon stood and grew again, seething.
“Sorry, sorry!” Chad cowered.
“You’re lucky I can’t kill you.”
“Wait, you can’t?” Chad stood up. “Bitch!”
The demon grabbed him and grew to his full height. The pit opened where it had been. The hands around Chad squeezed and burned. The demon held him upside down over the hell chasm, and shook. Some change and his phone jostled free and dropped into the fiery pit.
“Ah, come on.” Chad reached for his phone as it fell, but missed. “Damn it!”
The pit closed and the demon dropped Chad. He landed on his back and his breath was forced out in a huff.
“High-score-shit,” Chad said between choked breaths. He held his chest.
“I can do so much worse.” The demon shrank again. “So, where do you sleep?”
Chad meeped and pointed down the river. The demon helped him up and they walked back under the bridge. Chad’s apartment was in the basement of a house that most people thought was abandoned. No one lived on the main floor, but Chad could’t afford the rent, so he stayed in the basement with the water damage, and a rat he called Herman.
The demon had to shrink again to get down the stairs. He touched as little as possible and reluctantly sat on Chad’s bed when he gestured to it. “You would have been better off in hell.”
“What am I supposed to call you?” Chad rushed around the small space, moving piles of filth from one place to another, not really cleaning anything.
“I am The God Burner.” The demon grew and sparked, as if he were going to burst into flames, but his head hit the ceiling and he stopped.
Chad had backed up and fell into a mound of filthy, mouldy, clothes. A scraggly rat with half a tail and most of its fur missing, scurried from the pile.
The demon shrieked and jumped onto the bed. He lashed a finger at the scampering rat. A spot along the wall, where the rat ran, caught fire.
“Hey!” Chad dashed over and poured a can of flat beer on the spot. “Watch it. That was Herman.”
“You named your pests?”
“He’s my pet, sort of.”
The demon made a disgusted expression, drawing out his long, bony face even further.
“Look, I’m tired. I had a long day, getting fired, almost losing my soul, and meeting a demon. I’m going to bed.” Chad walked to the end of the bed and flopped. He felt the bed shift and the demon lie down. “Goodnight.”