“The Demon’s in the Details” – The June 2018 short story

The Demon’s in the Details

Max’s breathing started getting faster as beads of sweat began to form on his brow.  He re-positioned his gloved grip on the axe. He thought back to the first time he had killed something that was larger than a bug.

Max had been six at the time when his parents had taken him out to a local farm to pick up some fresh food.  After some prodding from Max’s father, the farmer had been kind enough to let Max kill his first chicken. Max had managed to do the deed, but afterwards he had puked all over himself and couldn’t eat chicken for the next few months.  

Now, as Max stood over the poor, drugged fuck who he had picked up by the Amtrak station, Max was fighting down that all-too-familiar queasy feeling in the back of his throat.  

“It’s him, or me.  It’s him, or me.” The same refrain repeated over and over in Max’s mind, as he fought to push down the nausea.  He wiped his brow with his forearm and set the axe down. Max checked his rolex. 11:55pm. It was getting down to the wire.  How long ago had he picked this guy up and spiked his booze?

Max walked over to the bar and drank straight from the 25-year old Hennessey.  He didn’t even taste it. He took another swig. Then a third. He picked up the axe.  

“How did it get so bad?”  Max wondered. He took a deep breath.  “Goddamn compound fucking interest.” At least he was almost free of his debt. Max scanned the room, looking towards the deepest shadows.  No sign of the demon yet.

Usually, when payments were due, the demon showed up early enough to watch Max torment himself over the bloody details of their bargain.  The little horned beast would perch and watch and click his shiny black claws and taunt Max. Max wondered what was different this time around, but was thankful for the beast’s absence.

It was 11:58.  Now or never. Max walked back over to his couch covered in plastic sheeting.  He gripped the axe, and prepared to swing, lifting it over his head.

The man’s eyes opened.

“Huh?”  The man’s eyes met Max’s.

Max closed his eyes and swung the axe.

The man screamed.  Max opened his eyes to see that he had buried the axe into the man’s shoulder.  Max had meant to cut off the vagrant’s head, but now the man was screaming and Max’s axe was stuck in his shoulder.

Max ran forward and stepped on the man’s chest and yanked back as hard as he could.  The man kept screaming and thrashed at Max’s leg. He flailed back and forth between his own bleeding neck and the axe and Max’s leg, his blood hands leaving dark blotches on Max’s slacks.

Max finally pulled the axe free and swung down again.  The blade caught the man in the face, nearly removing his jaw.  Blood gurgled out of what was left of the man’s mouth as his partially-severed tongue lolled about.

It was Max screaming now as he swung again and again, the man slowly and painfully being decapitated.  It wasn’t until the stranger’s head bounced off the couch and onto the plastic tarp on the floor that Max stopped to take a breath.

He saw a bloom of crimson growing on the cushions underneath the shredded plastic.  The ruined couch was far from his mind, however, and he convulsed and dropped the axe.  Max began to cry. As he tried to wipe the tears from his eyes, he ended up smearing blood across his face.  The tang of metal filled his nose and he threw up on the headless corpse laying on his couch.

“That’s really disgusting, Max.  Where’s the respect for the dead?”  Max spun around to see the demon at the bar, sipping on some of the cognac.  “I mean, including the vomit, that was possibly the worst beheading in my life.  And I’ve lived a loooooooong time.”

The demon smiled.  It’s glowing eyes and teeth stood out in contrast to its jet black skin, so dark that it seemed to suck in all the surrounding light.  If it wasn’t for the streams of glistening mucus the minor demon excreted from every inch, it would be almost invisible in the shadows.  

Max held his breath and wiped his mouth with the collar of his shirt, which was only lightly splattered with blood.  “I held up my end of the bargain, demon.”

“Are you sure about that, Max?”  The demon grinned again. “I give you a fortune to change your podunk, poverty-ridden life, and all I asked for in return was a limb.  Just one limb, Max.” The demon took another sip of liquor, leaving a trail of slime between its mouth and the bottle.

“And I was too scared to pay in full. I know the story, you asshole.  But now we’re done.”

“And you were too scared to pay in full, even when I let you choose which limb you could give up.  But you chose to pay in installments, Max.”

“Which I have paid, every single time.”  Max stood and picked up the axe.

“Max, you really weren’t the one to pay me.  Technically, You paid other people to pay me.  Which, as a demon, I commend you for.” The demon laughed.

“The deliciousness of it all!  Max, did you know that woman whose fingers you gave me always wanted to be a professional pianist?  And the money you paid her she ended up losing to her pimp? Oh, and remember that one man you paid to have his legs removed?  He gave up his legs because he was trying to pay for his son’s cancer treatment. And the kid died two months later!” The demon nearly fell over laughing.

“Shut up!”

“No, Max.”  The demon approached Max.  “You never cared to learn about the aftermath.  As long as you had your piece of the pie, no one else mattered, did they? At least I get to know my victims intimately.”  

Max swung the axe.  The demon sidestepped Max’s swing and vanished into dark smoke.  

“Now, now, Max.  I’m just telling you the truth.”  Max spun. The demon had re-appeared in a far corner of the room.  “You’re taking this really personally.”

“Look, you piece of shit.  I gave you what you wanted.  I gave you fingers, toes, hands, two arms, three legs, and now, a head.  You said that after all of this I would be paid up. You said we’d be square.”  

“True, you always have delivered the goods.”  The demon skulked around the apartment, circling closer to Max.  “But I’m afraid you were a little late on this one.” Max went pale.  

“No!  I killed him in time!”  

“No, you were in the process of killing him when I arrived promptly at midnight.  If I recall correctly, you were screaming and hacking away at his face.”

“No.  But, I- I killed him”

“So what?  You violated our very specific terms of the agreement, Max.”

“No, no I didn’t!”  Max threw the axe towards the demon.  “I did was I was supposed to do.” Max turned to run towards the door.  He took another step, then felt the slimey claws of the demon around his head.  He tried to break free, but the demon’s grip was impossibly strong.

“Max, I told you at the beginning to read the entirety of the contract.  If you’re late on a payment, you forfeit your soul.”

Max squirmed, hammering the demon’s arms with his fists, but the talons began to pierce Max’s flesh, and started grating against his skull.  Max screamed.

“Thank you, Max.  By paying others for their body parts and murdering this man, you’ve blackened your soul so much over these past few years.  The taste of it will be magnificent.”

The demon’s claws pierced Max’s skull.  Max screamed. The demon laughed and began to feast.

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