“You called me, blood-bag. You wanted this.” Axel rolled his eyes.
The man—his name was Fred or Frank or something like that—stuttered. White fingers shook, clutching yet another cigarette. “I—I just want her back, is all.”
“And so you have to pay.” Axel held out his hands to the side, drawing Freddy’s attention to the singular setting. A forlorn garage, walls hung with rusted or useless tools, smelling of mildew and stale smoke. On the floor in chalk lay a complicated circle, in which Freddy stood, and a triangle-encased smaller circle that held Axel. Ancient words and symbols were scrawled throughout both objects with irritating precision. It made Axel’s skin tingle. “You can keep me here as long as you want, but you won’t get a better deal.”
Freddy took a drag on the cigarette that could’ve choked a lesser demon. “I don’t know.”
“You get her back, your whole life with her, if you want. And then you come work for us.”
Axel’s hands curled into fists. He imagined Freddy’s throat in them, and smiled. “Then you don’t get her back, Freddy.”
“Whatever. If you’re going to stand here with your thumb up your ass, let me go. The longer you keep me here, the more likely I am to skull-fuck you when I finally escape. Unlike you, I have places to be.”
“Wait.” Franky gave a huge exhale. The smoke stretched between them like a fog, and twitched at Axel’s nose.
And memories. He hadn’t had tobacco in centuries.
“Just wait,” Frank repeated. He dropped the butt into the pile at his feet, and fumbled with the soft pack for a new one. “I need a second.”
“Couldn’t have taken that before you called me, huh?”
Frank’s eyes danced away from him, and then from everything they landed on for the next few seconds. He sucked at the new cigarette, cherry flaring orange in the murky garage.
Axel sighed. “Don’t suppose you’d give me one of those?”
Frank, still looking elsewhere, held out the pack, “Oh—sure. They’re bad for—” finally, he met Axel’s eyes. “Oh. Heh.”
“I swear to Christ, if you say ’not like it’s going to kill you’, I’ll rip your throat out and eat it.”
Frank tossed the pack and lighter into the triangle. “Can you swear to Christ?”
Axel tried not to answer, but the symbols etched at his feet sent a hot, sharp power flooding through him. He said involuntarily, “Yes, but he never hears anyhow.”
Frank sucked on his new cigarette in silence, eyes darting around the room and feet shifting. At one point he looked as if he might begin to pace, but noticed the circle just in time.
Axel sat down and smoked, and wished it tasted right, or at least that he could remember the taste properly. But he could smell it, and feel the thickness of the atmosphere; he very nearly enjoyed it, even. He almost didn’t blame this little fucker for—
He looked up. “You realize they don’t have cigarettes in Heaven.”
Frank’s eyes were bleary behind a fringe of dishwater blonde bangs. He stared, smoke curling around his lips, for a good five seconds. “They—but—”
“Especially these days, now that people know what they do to you, and still try to hook idiots like you. You think the Boss wants that shit upstairs?”
“Oh.” Frank’s cherry flared again, and his hands shook. “But they have cigarettes in Hell?”
“Are you really that stupid, or is there something else in these?”
Frank nodded. “Okay. I’ll sign.”
Axel stood, cigarette still smoking in his left hand, and pulled a contract out of his back pocket. He put it at the edge of the triangle, and stepped back as far as he could. The borderlines made his skin ache, but he smiled anyhow.
Frank dropped his smoking brand and snapped the papers up. Once they were arranged before him, he took a razor to the soft white inside of his arm. Dark red ink welled from the wound.
Axel’s mouth would’ve watered, if it could’ve, as he watched the man sign.
For all the hunger, he was also conscious of a new sensation inside him, akin to sinking. Usually this moment was sublime, satisfying: he got to watch some audacious little mortal consign itself to flames of woe.
But the victory wasn’t his, so tonight was hollow.
Humanity was too good at creating their own demons. It made one feel so unnecessary.