Author’s note: This is the short prologue to my collection of short stories, provisionally titled Demon Days: Nine Urban Tales
A dark hall. At the far end the slats of a broken louver filter the cobalt blue of city midnight across the wainscoting. Nobody is about, nothing stirs. All the remaining descriptors, the vivid features of the musty hall and dun floorboards, recline on imagination to fill them in.
Further down, gentle footfalls faintly register in small creaks as a side door grows, faces, and dominates the field of vision. Open. Blackness. Old air. Nearly tripping over derelict objects. Groping to a back cattycorner to another door yet still. Brass or metal or something. A pure oblivion of sheer darkness blankets all, and the air hangs thick, throatless, and mute, stifling all sense of space and leaving only hollow, weighty breathing loitering in deaf ear canals. Open again. Sight is nil, but now with claustrophobic hints of a low headspace. Quiet, musty, and coffin-close.
Outstretching fingers palpate filament and fuzz directly ahead – a string. Clench. Tug. Flash.
…bulb splayed yellow lobster eyes SCREAM fangs grizzle flesh flashing scream damn damn damn…
…reeling back on the heels…trip over junk. Flailing. Pant. Pause. Breathe. Sigh. Loosen. Unclench.
Leaning forward self-composed. Arms lowered. A demon mask hangs obscenely like a blazon in the receded facing wall. And how obscene it is. Its visage is a stillframe explosion of fierce and scattered passions headlong and all around. A heedless frontal blitz ending in a thunderclap of joy and malice. Black and matted hanks of horsehair dangle over a clotted brow. Crescent horns like wild ibex defiantly protrude, jut over the pate, and wheel back. Its brows downturn archly to a center nasal bridge bangled with bronze rings, yielding to a wide fletch, dorsum, and alar grooves stabbing down into an aquiline point above the chiseled cleft. A cackling and menacing maw, sprung ajar in hyena frenzy, flashes the pearl of jagged fang and barbed crenulations serrating the lower mandible. Mad and jaundiced eyes splay exotropically to unknown sights over the shoulders of any head-on victim. The tongue strikes an adder’s pose. The zygomatic arches could slash wrists. And red. Of course red. Red the color of blood – of spilt efficacy holy or otherwise. The demon mask is terrifying. It seizes in an instant, disquiets as it lingers. An apex gargoyle he would serve for any cathedral. Glad he’s on our side, we’d all say.
Presently, the lithe arm of a woman timorously gravitates forward and runs a fingernail gently down the bridge of the nose in the wary awe we’d rather not feel for such things. And yet, some curios only reveal – only enthrall – when they get proper alone time with their beholders.
Beneath the mask on the floor rests a wooden box, the cartouche hard-elbow cloven with Hebrew lettering. The meaning is unclear. Jimmy the lock. Lift away the brassy hasp. Pry open.
Is this a joke?
Standing above and looking down into it, the largish box sits empty, save for a chintzy, coverall devil costume neatly folded at the bottom. It flaunts the felted footies of kid pajamas and a pull-over cowl masking the eyes in harlequined ruby. Plushy horns poke up cutely, reposing with a telescoping trident. The cheap get-up is a skeptic’s chimerical punchline of its dark prototype above, soundlessly roaring in its mothballed panther leap. Real. Farcical. Toy. Terror. Nevertheless, the trick-or-treat fancy is drawn out of the box, sized up to vain swivels and turns, and made off with all the same.