I left the health department at the end of another scoreless day. Worried, I didn’t at first notice the young demon on Church Street.
“Hey.” He was scruffy and slouched against a sculpture of two kids playing leapfrog. “Hold on. I know you.”
His horns barely poked out from his dreads. A low demon. The entire town was below my talents. I was only here at my overseer’s insistence that I transfer from Atlantic City. She said it would give me some breathing room to rethink my commitment to the divine host.
I continued walking. After a long day in heels, I wanted to get home to give my feet a break and let my wings stretch out.
“No wait!” the man called out, grabbing my edge of my blouse. “Remember me? I’m the son of your mom’s demon friend.” Not wanting to be rude, even to a dark one, I remained silent but picked up the pace in the hope he would drift away.
“Your mom invited mine to her book club, trying to branch out and be more inclusive and all,” he said, trotting alongside me. “Hey, so I know you’re all about helping people and stuff, and see, I’m kind of down on my luck. My boss is a real tightwad and I need the bus fare to get to Plattsburgh. Could you help me with, like, an Andrew Jackson?”
I turned and stared. He was dressed Burlington-style, with ratty cargo pants, a “Climb High” t-shirt under an unbuttoned flannel shirt. Lots of hemp jewelry draped around his neck.
“My mother is the Angel of Truth. There’s no way she’d have anything to do with a demon,” I told him. “Or a book club, for that matter.”
He laughed. “Okay, got me,” he said. “But I do need to get to Plattsburgh.”
Unlike seraphim, demons easily mix falsehoods with verity. While he was obviously lying about my mother, I wasn’t sure whether he spoke truthfully about wanting to travel to Plattsburgh. It was the kind of town where people still washed their dishes with phosphate-filled detergent, burned leaves when the danger of forest fires was high and knocked out their neighbors’ teeth on the weekends. With the population already so rotten, it was scorched territory for dark ones looking to get their talons into humans.
But it was also where my predecessor in Burlington, Urizel, was transferred. The feathers along my shoulder blades rippled with irritation.
“I miss the big guy,” he said.
“Urizel?” I asked. “I never thought demons were fond of seraphim.”
“Honestly, it’s more of a competitive issue.” He sighed quietly but stopped his breath suddenly, noticing I was watching him intently. “There’s nothing better than a day up against the dude. What you see here — ” he swept his hand down Church Street, indicating Girl Scouts planting flowers around a tree and a group of college students handing out brochures supporting healthcare reform “— didn’t exist before him. So I’m going to Plattsburgh. Gotta go where the power is.”
“So the demons are already writing me off?” I asked. Not that I blamed them. My accomplishments so far included convincing a graduate student not to plagiarize and dissuading an old woman from stealing her neighbor’s doorstep-delivered newspaper. In Atlantic City, my clients were murderers and drug dealers.
“Oh, don’t take it the wrong way,” the demon said with a sheepish smile. “You know us demons. Always up for a challenge.”
“I’m not against challenges myself,” I said. The demon smiled at me ingratiatingly, believing he was scoring one for the dark team by convincing me to hand over a piddling $20, but he was giving me a glimmer of an idea.
Seraphim focus on humans. At the end of each day, we log into SCALE to report our successes in getting people to make divinely inspired decisions. For each positive outcome, we receive one point.
How many points would one earn for influencing a demon to our side? I wasn’t sure, but it must be enough to wrangle a transfer to a city with even more problems than Atlantic City. Like Cleveland or Detroit.
My feathers, cloaked from his eyes, smoothed against my back. I would stymie this demon from traveling to Plattsburgh and work him over to our side. He would be my ticket out of this town.
“I’ve heard wonderful things about Urizel. Of course, I’ve got $20 for you,” I said, the sound of helpfulness ringing in my voice.
But then my tongue suddenly felt cold and my saliva congealed like refrigerated oil. I was about to lie, something I had never tried before. Even though I realized my falsehood would achieve a greater good by bringing this demon to the light, the words fell thick and muffled from my mouth.
“But I- I don’t have it on me,” I stammered. My skin turned to gooseflesh and the urge to tell the truth nearly overwhelmed me, but the impulse skittered away when I remembered my failing score.
The demon didn’t appear to notice my stumble and cocked his head at me hopefully.
“Meet me tomorrow at 9 a.m,” I told him, and scribbled an address on a piece of paper.
The demon took the slip with a sly look. His black eyes carried flecks of silver in them, something I had never seen before in a dark one.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
I started to laugh. Joshua, as in God is Salvation. “You’re kidding me.”
“Helps me fit in,” he said, smiling. “I already know your name — every demon in Vermont knows who you are.” A thrill traveled down my arms and through my wings. He gave me a wave as he sauntered toward the steeple rising above the end of Church Street.