Tim buys a book. Tim accidentally summons a demon. Hilarity, carnage, ensue.
Stripped of unnecessary foofraw—the chanting, the hooded robes, the goat entrails—summoning a demon is a two-step process.
Step one: learn a demon’s true name.
Step two: say that name out loud.
Know the name, speak the name. That’s it. Now you have a demonic butler.1
There is, of course, a catch. Actually, there are a two, broadly speaking, one less relevant than the other.
Once upon a time, when tonsures were in fashion and most people dropped out of school the moment they dropped out of the womb, obtaining a true name posed something of a challenge. Would-be summoners spread entrails, breathed the fumes of exotic herbs and listened to the songs of night toads to descry a single syllable. They ventured into tombs and forgotten temples. They poured over obscure texts tattooed onto the backs of mute slaves.
But those were, as they say, the good old days. Now, thanks to the internet, true names are available by the hundreds, from the lowliest denizens to the very masters of Hell. Google made the whole thing trivial. It’s too bad, really, but nothing can stand in the way of progress.
Which leaves us with step two, the detail in which the devil dwells: speaking the name.
Bethannal, Lord of the Fifth Pit's true name has been known for millennia. It was actually one of the first true names known by men, because Bethannal brands it onto the foreheads of her underlings. Even so, Bethannal has never been summoned by a mortal and probably never will be, because her true name is Cik'dasra' Diq' Drisgzü gatizzyrchs’ Ahrhch’ Òehp 'Caxxcuxst, which is a grad mal seizure, phonetically speaking.
Yet demons are summoned. They’re summoned with a fair regularity, in fact.
Option one: careful preparation.
A gifted person could spend years of their lives in study, honing their pronunciation and focusing their will, but the entire enterprise hinges on a belief that demons actually exist, which is a rare thing in our cynical age. Dedicated study is also a tedious process that will seriously curtail the time that person could otherwise spend online shopping for shower curtains. This is not a popular route to diablery.
Option two: accident.
There are a lot humans and they’re always making stupid noises. For example, a man nailing some sheet metal to the roof of his hut hits his thumb with a hammer and the sound of his feet hopping up and down on the metal combined with his florid cursing in Urdu summons a couple of hellflies. Or a woman in Toronto demonstrates a malfunctioning garbage disposal for her landlord, trips on a bag of board games that were supposed to go to Goodwill, screams, knocks over a wine rack while falling face-first into a mostly-complete set of Sorry! pieces and suddenly there’s a pissed-off greater selkie in the kitchen.
When he summoned his first demon, Timothy Martin was twenty-eight years old and working as a short order cook in Akron, Ohio, which should serve as a convenient shorthand to establish Timothy’s position at the losing tail of the American bell curve in all things actuarial or demographical. To further elaborate, he was awkward, loud when he wasn’t sullen, oily about the T-zone, nearsighted, and actually dumb enough to know he was smart. A three-and-a-half-maybe-four-out-of-ten gene propagation wise.
Timothy was also a geek. Which is fine. Good even, as he happened to be born into one of those rare periods of history where the geeks temporarily inherit the mainstream and therefore the Earth. Unfortunately for Timothy, his particular patch of geekdom was not computers or math, which could have led to lucrative employment, nor was it comic books—useful at least for reminding confused spouses who the purple-faced fellow in the cape is during a midnight showing of The Avengers.
For lack of an exact appellation Timothy was a hippie or a pagan or an elf. A historical reenactor. A tapestry fancier. A mystic seeker. A horoscope composer. A man who desperately wanted to see faeries, a poet who believed that the true language of love is Elvish. A wearer of tights and of fey little boots.
It started with the usual gateway drugs, like Dungeons and Dragons and maybe some LARPing on the the weekends, but then he got a taste of the harder stuff. The Silmarillion. Lay line maps, tinctures in little glass bottles, spells written on scrolls and sealed by the power of the equinox.
Which, again, fine. Geeks of this stripe often thrive. Darwin’s theories would suggest a serious labor shortage at RenFests if this weren’t the case. None of this is meant as a critique of Timothy’s hobbies. It’s merely important that you realize Timothy didn’t really believe in magic, but at the same time, he completely believed in magic.
And he was right.
The first link in the chain that would ultimately bind Timothy to his destiny was forged when Timothy’s manager at the Denny’s Restaurant sat him down to tell him that his food wastage was too high. Specifically, his bacon wastage. This calculation had been done at corporate by a computer that knew the weight of the bacon going into the kitchen and the number of plates coming out during his shifts and the two numbers did not match up.
The manager’s name was Judy and she was a big, tired, kind-hearted woman incapable of delivering a rancorous chewing out, but corporate had mandated a one, so she would do the best she could, check it off the list, and go about vacuuming the carpet because all that separated her from her employees was a slightly more verbose nametag and four dollars an hour.
“Am I fired?” Timothy asked. He had his duffel bag with him, and his coat, so if she was going to fire him at least he wouldn’t have to walk back to his locker.
“No,” Judy sighed, “you’re not fired.”
“Oh,” Timothy said, both relief and disappointment in his voice.
“Are you sneaking a few strips while you’re on the line? Are you just screwing up a lot?” Judy asked, “Do you need to watch the training video again?”
“I’m sorry,” Timothy said.
This wasn’t specifically an admission of guilt or an cry for remedial bacon-frying instruction, but it was something, so after a long silence, Judy decided to declare victory and stood up from the booth.
“Let’s get that number back towards zero next month,” Judy said, meaning the bacon input-to-output ratio.
“Sure,” Timothy said, simultaneously sullen and obsequious.
Judy patted him on the shoulder. Timothy had been working at the Denny’s for almost five years and she always felt sorry for the long-timers.
As he walked across the empty dining room, Timothy happened to see a plastic bag lying on the bench seat of a booth. There was something in that bag. Something flattishly cuboidal.
He bent over the table and picked the bag up. The object inside was heavy enough to make him grunt a little from the effort.
Perhaps, as he put his hand into that plastic bag, he heard, distant but rising, the clarion of destiny beckoning and, for a moment Timothy hesitated. There was something terrible in that bag. He felt a sharp prick against his adrenal glands that told him to drop whatever it was and run.
But he didn’t. Neither had Rasputin, when his time finally came.
Instead of listening to his instincts, Timothy reached into the bag and pulled out…
…a pornographic DVD case.
Three large ladies wearing cowboy hats and nothing else looked up at him from behind a bright orange clearance sticker. The video was titled Barnyard Sluts Go Totally Nuts. Interest piqued, Timothy opened the case, but it contained one dead spider and nothing more. The spindle where the DVD itself should have been lay barren.
But the bag was not empty. Timothy reached back in and pulled out a book.
Under casual inspection the book seemed unremarkable. It was bound in brown leather, but not ostentatiously. It was not thick, nor was it thin. It had no smell at all, not the exciting, bland tang of a new book, nor the comforting, earthy musk of an old book. There was no title. No author. The book couldn’t have been plainer, but still there was something odd in the lines of its spine, the texture of its cover. The whole thing was offensive somehow, distressing like an Escher painting.
Timothy lifted the cover. There was no title page, no copyright information. Instead, the book started right in with a compact, margin-to-margin block of hand-written text in some strange language.
“Arabic?” Timothy mused aloud.
Aside from a certain liquidity to the characters, the writing inside that book looked nothing at all like Arabic.
Timothy turned more pages. Illustrations were interspersed among the alien script. He stopped at a medieval woodcut of a skeleton playing a flute while a city—with all of its screaming inhabitants—burned in the background.2
Timothy glanced over his shoulder, looking for the book’s owner, but the dining room was empty. With a slow little grin, like a child getting away with something, he slipped the book into his duffel bag and then, after a momentary consideration, took the empty DVD case as well.
Out in the Denny’s parking lot, Timothy paused for a moment to look up at the sky. Low storm clouds threatened on the horizon but Timothy didn’t make any association between the weather and the book. Instead, he got into his 1998 Geo Metro hatchback, a crumple-fendered, three-cylinder admission of failure, and tossed the duffel into the back seat.3
Now, as Timothy’s car reluctantly started and puttered out of the parking lot, we’ll step out of the narrative for a moment and discuss what was lying innocently in that bag next to the pornographic DVD case.
First, it was only a book in the way that an anglerfish’s lure is a cheerful little light shining in the darkness. What Timothy had found in that booth was actually the chosen projection of a knotted inversion, an irreducible particle, a fundamental describer of reality, and a manifestation of the Dark Lord’s will made material.
Among many other things, its pages contained the true names of a thousand denizens, creatures of the pit both mighty and meek. That alone didn’t mean much, as we’ve already discussed, but, unlike an ordinary book, it did not record information; it defined information. The true names were true because they were written on the book’s pages. Worse still, the book possessed a sort of awareness and if it chose, it could whisper the correct pronunciations of those true names into the unsuspecting ear of whoever beheld its pages.
That so-called book was one of the most dangerous objects to be found anywhere, from the high planes to the low. It was the fertile seed of ill-will, a relic of terrible creation. On the eve of Armageddon, the Antichrist would read from its pages to bring forth the Horsemen and the end of the world.
Timothy Martin was not the ideal steward for such an object.
When Timothy walked into his small apartment, he found his roommates sitting on the couch, playing video games.
“Hey dude,” one of them said. His name was Sling, or so he called himself, mostly out of embarrassment that he wasn’t smart enough to bear the proud, nebbish name Herbert Richard Tower-Singleton.
“Yeah, hey,” the other said. This was Chris, who, unlike Timothy and Sling, occasionally had had a girlfriend. Most of his success in this regard could be attributed to two things: he had long, stringy rockstar hair and he could play Rivers of Babylon on the guitar well enough to maintain the illusion his hair projected.
“Guys, damnit,” Timothy said, by way of greeting. “I asked you to clean up.”
The apartment looked like a consignment shop carpeted sporadically in pizza boxes. What few decorations they possessed tended towards posters of girls in short-shorts twined around gigantic beer bottles. Girls who would likely marry into money or divorce out of second-hand gonorrhea, but never spare a glance for the roommates.
“We’ll get to it, man,” Sling said. Except to microwave a Hot Pocket and take a single, lengthy piss, Sling had not left the couch for going on six hours.
“Come on. At least pick up these pizza boxes,” Timothy whined.
“Sure, sure,” Chris said without looking away from the television.
“Whatever,” Timothy muttered and made his way towards his room at the very back of the apartment. He set the duffel bag, containing the book and the pornographic DVD case, on his desk and began to undress for a shower.
Exactly two minutes and forty-nine seconds later, Timothy sprinted through the living room stark naked and screaming like a veal-calf on the last day of its incarceration. Riding on top of his head was a small, pitch-black bucket imp clutching its bucket with one hand and Timothy’s hair with the other.
Again, we pause for a moment. What is a bucket imp and how did one come to be riding Timothy like a grandstanding rodeo cowboy?
To answer that, you need to understand that Hell is a liquid-filled place. There are literal lakes of bile, of shit, of brimstone, magma, sulfur, tears and boreworm semen. All of that goop occasionally needs to be moved from one place to another and all that moving falls to brigades of bucket imps.
The imps are only six inches tall on average and humanoid in shape, though they possess a tail and a pair of oversized horns, relative to their tiny bodies. Each one comes equipped with a little bucket that they use to carry around the aforementioned fluids.
Obviously, poor Timothy hadn’t expected to summon a demon.4 He had merely taken off his clothes for a shower, stopped by the book on his way into the bathroom and flipped through a few pages until he came upon a woodcut of a creature with the head of a turtle, the torso of a woman, crab legs and a pair of bat wings stomping on screaming human forms. It was, in fact, the aforementioned Cik'dasra' Diq' Drisgzügatizzyrchs’ Ahrhch’ Òehp 'Caxxcuxst doing what she does best.
Aroused by the sight of breasts, even if attached to a murderous crab-monster, Timothy touched the woodcut and then, fatefully, let his finger slide over onto a block of text in the next column.
“********” Timothy said softly, surprised by how good it felt to say those strange syllables, how perfectly they formed up in his mind, how dexterous his tongue felt.
Before the last sigh of air had passed Timothy’s lips, the bucket imp appeared in front of him with a small pop.
The imp and the naked man-boy stared at each other for a moment before the imp lunged and now you’re all caught up.
Timothy’s terrified sprint through the apartment ended abruptly when a pizza box slipped out from under his heel, sending him careening into the kitchenette, where he landed flat on his back.5
The bucket imp detached itself well before Timothy’s crash and remained in the air above him, bobbing gently.
Sling and Chris stared at the imp floating above Timothy with the all the intensity of two drowsy hedgehogs.
“The fuck?” Chris muttered.
“Get the book!” Timothy hollered. His extensive education in the supposed dark arts had taught him nothing of any use whatsoever in this particular situation, save one universal truth of demonology: far more important than the ritual to bring forth a demon is the ritual to put it away again.
“What is that?” Sling said.
“Get the boooooooook,” Timothy wailed. He was trying to stand up, but every time he made a move the bucket imp snarled and lunged horns-first, causing Timothy to fall back and flail his limbs like an infant on a changing table. His antics made the imp giggle, which was a horrible, nerves-combed-with-needles sort of sound.
Chris peeled himself off the couch and took a few steps towards the imp, holding out a hand like he was approaching a strange dog. The imp hurled its little bucket, hitting the curious hairbag directly on the snout.
“Owww, shit,” Chris said.
The imp zoomed down to catch the bucket on the rebound and then launched a second attack, this time striking Chris on the forehead before neatly retrieving its projectile again.
“Get the book!” Timothy screamed.
“What book?” Sling said. Now he was off the couch and making short lunges in various directions, only lacking for something to lunge at or away from.
Chris grabbed the first object he could lay hands on and took a swing at the bucket imp. That object turned out to be a wok lid sitting on the counter and it hit the imp with a musical bong. The creature bounced against the wall and fell momentarily to the floor. The roomates gathered around, peering down at the prone form, but before the scene could even build any dramatic tension, the imp righted itself and lunged at Chris.
Bucket clanged against wok lid, filling the apartment with a terrible din. The other two housemates took up battle as well. Sling armed himself with a cushion from the couch while Timothy slap-boxed fearsomely, which looked something like a starveling chicken trying to escape a washing machine.
“Trap it in the bathroom,” Timothy said.
Through bulk and adrenal-induced berserkerism, the boys managed to push the imp down the hallway. It bobbed and darted in front of them, never touching the ground, lashing its tail like an angry cat.
Roaring, Chris batted the imp over the threshold with the wok lid and then Timothy slammed the door, sealing it inside.
With a bucket imp now locked in the bathroom, the roommates took a moment to regain their breath.
“Hey, Tim?” Sling said, panting.
"What the fuck is that thing?"
“A demon,” Timothy panted, leaning against the wall.
“No, it isn’t,” Chris said. “There is no such—”
The imp threw its bucket against the other side of the door with a solid thunk. Chris, primed to say more, closed his mouth.
“Hey, Tim?” Sling said.
“Why are you naked?”
Timothy gazed down upon his nudity for a long moment. Then another bang from the other side of the door startled him out of his cock-reverie.
“We gotta get that book," he said.
The neophyte summoner shambled off at a half run, his pale, flabby-yet-scrawny buttocks jiggling. When he returned, he was hopping into the pants he had worn at work all day while trying to flip through the book at the same time. This operation failed when he slipped on another pizza box, leaving him sprawled on the floor, somehow hogtied by his black work slacks.
“I told you to pick up those boxes,” Timothy nearly sobbed. Somehow, he regained his footing and, at long, long last, managed to shove his genitals back into his pants.6
“What in the fuck is going on?” Chris demanded.
“The thing in there is a demon. I summoned it. It’s one of these.”
He opened the book and pointed at a little picture of a bucket imp.
“Huh,” Chris said.
“We need to send it back,” Timothy said. He started leafing through pages.
Still locked in the bathroom, the imp threw its bucket against the door in a quick, triple beat. Toktoktok.
“There’s a demon in the bathroom?” Sling said, celebrating Christmas on Boxing Day.
“Here,” Timothy said pointing to a passage. “This is its name. I can say that and then command it to return to hell.”
“Let me see that,” Chris said, snatching the book.
“A demon. That’s kinda cool,” Sling said.
“You have to trust me,” Timothy said.
“No, I don’t,” Chris said, looking at the book. “These aren’t even letters.”
“I summoned it. I can unsummon it,” Timothy said with some conviction. 7
Toktoktok, the imp interjected with its bucket.
“I need you to open the door and push it back long enough for me to say the words,” Timothy said.
“Okay. Fuck it,” Chris said, handing the book back to Timothy.
“Alright,” Timothy said, “one, two, three!”
Chris took a deep breath and then, with a shout, he pushed the door open.
The imp was hovering over the toilet, bailing water out of the bowl and onto the floor. Lost in its familiar task, the little shadow was startled by the door opening. There was a momentary pause. The imp blinked its yellow eyes.
Splash, said the bucket, tipping about about a quarter of a cup of water onto the floor.
“********,” Timothy intoned, book open in one hand, other arm raised theatrically.
Another bucket imp promptly appeared just behind his left ear.
Timothy shrieked and batted at the newcomer with the book. The imp hissed and flitted away, but Timothy, with help from Chris, managed to push this new visitor into the bathroom with the first imp. Unfortunately, somewhere in the melee, Tim actually threw the book at the imp and then Chris slammed the door.
“See? I told you I can summon them,” Timothy said.
“Great job, man. Really great job,” Chris said, his back pressed against the door. On the other side, the imps hammered for a while and then things went quiet.
“You threw the book at them,” Sling chuckled.
“What are they doing in there?” Chris said, pressing his ear to the door. “I can hear them. Are they talking?”8
“We need to call the cops,” Sling said, “for real.”
“Yeah,” Timothy said, sarcastically. “The police are highly trained to handle demons. Like they’d even believe us. No. We’re on our own.9
“Oh, shut up,” Chris told him. “Sling, go call the cops."
Sling's phone was lost somewhere out in the wilds of the couch cushions, but he eventually returned, already on the line with the police.
“Yeah. Something in the bathroom. I don't know what. Uh huh. Maybe uhh…”
Sling looked at Chris for help.
“A bat,” Chris mouthed.
“Yeah, maybe it’s a bat,” Sling said.
Two little buckets clattered against the door.
“Bats,” Sling amended. “There’s a few of them now.”
A long pause.
A longer pause.
“Yeah, the Barton Apartment building. Apartment thirty six.”
“No, it is an emergency. Come on, that’s—”
Sling started screaming into the phone.
“Aaaaahh, shit, they got out, they’re biting me! Oh shit, oh shiiiiittt. Aaaahh! Help! There’s so much blood!”
Sling ended the call and smiled at the roommates with a satisfied stoner squint.
“Well?” Timothy said.
“They didn’t want to come,” Sling said, “but they probably will.”
“Those things are talking in there,” Chris said, pressing an ear to the door.
“I’m gonna go get a shirt, Timothy said.
The police, frequent visitors at the Barton Apartments, though usually for noise violations instead of summonings gone astray, appeared about half an hour later. While they waited, Timothy put on a shirt, but otherwise the roommates kept their ears to the door. The imps on the other side had gone ominously quiet. When the unmistakable cop-knock finally came, Sling let the police in.
“So you’ve got some kind of animal problem?” the first officer—a black guy—said.
“Yeah. They’re in the bathroom,” Sling said.
“Any of you been doing a little smoke?” the second cop—a white guy—said, eying the bong prominently displayed on the coffee table.
“No?” Sling said, really sticking the landing.
“Bats in the bathroom, huh?” the white cop said.
“That’s right, officer,” Sling said.
“Been seeing any other nasty critters around? Bugs under your skin, maybe? Babies crawling around on the ceiling?” the white cop said.
“Arrest us later,” Chris said. “Just come see what’s in the bathroom first.”
“Oh yeah. That’s some kind of line,” the black officer said.
The policemen made their way down the hall and took up position outside the bathroom, shooing the housemates out of the way. The white officer put his ear to the door, then shrugged. The black officer had a listen too.
“I hear something. A popping sound?” the black officer said. He turned to the roommates. “What else you three want to tell us before I open this door?”
“It’s not bats,” Timothy said. “It’s a pair of demons I summoned.”
One cannot know whether Timothy told the officers the truth out of civic responsibility or an urge to boast.
“Oh. Is that all?” the black officer said and opened the door.
Three thousand, three hundred, thirty two bucket imps burst through the doorway in a rush of shadow and yellow eyes.
It’s a little-known fact that demons can summon other demons and do so frequently; the whole power structure of Hell depends on it. Satan summons his Lords, his Lords summon lieutenants, the lieutenants summon their overseers, the overseers summon their assorted worker-imps and, bob’s-your-uncle, the Center for Infernal Justice gets a new Auto-Cannibalism Annex. Bucket imps, residing as they do at the very base of Hell’s phone tree, have very limited authority, but they are capable of summoning one specific denizen: each other.
Even so, under ordinary circumstances, imps cannot summon anything at all on the mortal plane. Under ordinary circumstances, imps should never be on the mortal plane. These were not ordinary circumstances though. With the book in play, the imps were capable of summoning almost anything. It was pure luck that bucket imps have no imagination.
Shrieking and giggling like schoolgirls at a slumber party, the newly-arrived imps rolled out into the hall. Because there were so many of them, phrases like “malevolent cloud” or “wicked horde” are tempting, but bucket imps don’t merit such grandiosity. At best, they were a flock. Think seagulls. Similar to seagulls making a mass-takeoff down the beach, it was impossible to pick any one individual imp from the collective.
Imps tangled in hair. They stole the white cop’s hat. More crawled under shirts while others amused themselves with non-specific bucket-whackings. The humans careened off each other and the walls, trying to escape in five different directions down a hallway that really only offered two. Somewhere in the melee, Timothy found himself face-down on the bathroom floor. There, he saw more than a dozen imps still bailing water out of the toilet, because some imps just have a stronger work ethic than others.
One of the cops—it was impossible to say which, buried as they were in imps—started firing his gun, which did a fantastic job of killing the roommates damage deposit but not much else.
Swatting frantically, the roommates managed to fall back into the living room. More gunfire emerged from the hallway. The police retreated to Timothy’s bedroom and there they died. The roommates didn’t see exactly what happened, but the gunfire turned to shouts and then screams and then the screams cut off abruptly, as if a signal had been given. The imps returned to the hallway in a lazy, cheerful cloud. Many carried buckets of blood, full to sloshing.
The roommates ran. Out of the apartment, into the hallway. Panting, sobbing, groping along the walls like blind men. They tried to close the door, but imps piled into the gap and then, working together, they heaved it back open. Down the stairs the roomates fled, the flock just behind them. Wheezing, wild with panic, flinging themselves down whole flights in ungainly leaps until they burst out the fire door and into the outside world.
Dusk was giving way to night and a light drizzle was falling. The roommates ran across the parking lot—past Timothy’s Metro—to the edge of a park that abutted the apartment complex. The imps followed them, but then lost interest when they found themselves in a world where liquid fell from the sky.
The rain, the open space, all of it was baffling to a bucket imp. As they came out the door, their little lantern eyes turned upwards in amazement.
“Why aren’t they chasing us?” Chris said.
The door leading back into the apartment had never really closed under the flow of exiting imps, but now it bulged wide as a particularly large knot of the little shadows pushed free. This group had something, a brownish something, held aloft between many tiny claws and across a dozen wee backs. It was the book. With its help, one of the imps was busy summoning his friends in bulk.
“We gotta do something,” Sling said, shifting his weight from foot to foot like he had to urinate.
“Yeah, we do,” Timothy said, with unusual steel in his voice. “And I know what.”
“Run?” Chris said.
Timothy shook his head. He was not wearing shoes or a jacket, but he was wearing his work pants and so he had his cell phone in one pocket and the keys to his car in the other.10 He pulled the keys out and tossed them thoughtfully from hand to hand.
“What are you doing?” Chris snapped.
"They like water, don't they?"
"Sure?" Sling said.
“Call the police again. Tell them to bring the National Guard,” Timothy said. He handed his cell phone to Sling. “Oh, and take a video.”
“Yeah. Okay,” Sling said.
“What are you going to do about them?” Chris said, pointing at the imp cloud.
“I’m going to stall the bastards.”
This wasn’t exactly a declaration of war, but it was still pretty good, considering the source.
Aside from a few disinterested whacks, the imps mostly ignored Timothy as he crossed the parking lot. He climbed into the Metro and turned the key. Unfortunately, the Metro had an addled prima donna of a starter that didn’t like humidity. Now, instead of turning the engine over, it made a terrible screeching noise followed by some impotent clicking. Timothy tried again, but got the same result. He fastened his seatbelt, tried the car again. Nothing. He pounded on the steering wheel and screamed. The other two eventually strolled over, Sling still recording. Chris tapped on the window.
Timothy took a breath.
He rolled the window down a crack.
“I need a push,” he said.
“Why?” Sling said.
“To get the car started. Get it rolling and I’ll pop start it.”
The Metro weighed about as much as a couch, so Sling and Chris were easily able to shove the little car out of the space and get it moving off generally in the direction of the street. Timothy waited until the Metro had reached a jogging speed and then he popped the clutch. The car jerked, lagged, nearly stopped and then puttered awake. Without pause to reflect on his own considerable cowardice, Timothy put the pedal to the novelty anime-themed floor mat and the Metro hustled across the lot, across the street, up onto the opposite sidewalk and directly into a fire hydrant, which promptly exploded into a fountain of irresistible, free-running water.
The imps, formerly wandering off to every point of the compass, about-faced and charged back to the water gushing from the broken hydrant and began bailing with glee. Timothy, dazed but unharmed, got out of the car and promptly tripped over a knot of imps, gashing his forehead on the curb. Stumbling upright, he managed the journey across the street without further incident. By then, the imps had landed on the Metro en masse.
“That was sweet, man,” Sling yelled.
Indeed. As a delaying tactic, Timothy’s plan seemed sound. Unfortunately, there was much he didn’t understand about imp psychology and their instinct to swarm. Prior to the eruption of the fire hydrant, the imp with the book was idly summoning its pals so they could have a look at the mortal plane. Now that something worth bailing had appeared, the imp considered itself back on the clock. Empowered by the book, it chanted and imps poured forth into the moral realm.
“That’s bad,” Sling said.
“Yup,” Chris agreed.
Like Alabama ants in a drought, the imps swarmed the hydrant, nearly blacking it out with their tiny, squirming bodies. Within a minute, perhaps less, some of the imps had chased the water back into the pipes. Others ran down every free drop in the gutters while further hordes bailed what had already been bailed. They bailed and bailed, with no direction, but unlimited energy.
Sirens wailed in the far-off distance, but by the time the police arrived, the street might have been filled with imps from gutters to stratosphere.
Timothy, knight of Halo, occasional defender of his own dignity and reluctant champion of not one single thing, surveyed the scene. All up and down the street, people stood in their doorways or peered out of windows. His car had nearly vanished under the imp heap—just its round ass stuck out of the pile—and the horde continued to multiply.
With a steadying breath, Timothy stepped off the curb. He took another step. He stripped off his t-shirt and wound it into a rope between his fists. He turned to Chris.
“Lighter,” he growled.
Chris underhanded his Zippo and Timothy caught it without ever taking his gaze off the pile of imps. Thus armed, he walked across the street.
Once again, the imps ignored him. He walked right up to the car and even brushed a few of them away from the gas-input cover.11 Still unmolested, he unscrewed the cap, stuck a good length of his twisted-up shirt into the hole, and then, under a continuing barrage of indifference from the imps, he painstakingly set the shirt on fire. It took a while, but eventually the flame caught and began to grow.
Timothy sprinted back to the park and his waiting friends, expecting at any moment to feel an insistent push at his back followed by a wave of heat. Instead, he arrived at the curb out of breath and the three of them turned to watch the Metro’s continued non-explosion.
“Huh,” Chris said, while Sling recorded.
The shirt flared yellow for a moment and then seemed to go out. A fresh wave of imps arrived, shifting the geometry of the pile, and the car vanished entirely under the mass of limbs and buckets. The boys watched for a while.
“Goddamnit,” Timothy panted.
“Were you trying to blow up your car?” Sling said.
The Metro exploded.
Any self-respecting revolutionary will tell you that the wick on improvised explosives—Molotov cocktails, Geo Metros—ought to be soaked in something combustible before use. T-shirts don’t burn very well on their own. That Timothy’s idiotic plan worked at all was largely due to an equal idiocy working in the opposite direction, as is almost always the case.12
That necessary idiocy was provided by one of the imps, who, frustrated by its inability to reach the water under its many, many friends, detected some sort of liquid down at the end of a tight, narrow pipe. So the imp wriggled into the hole, down past some sort of smoldering material, and then splashed into a dark little cave that that smelled cheerfully nostalgic. Pleased, the imp began bailing. As it bailed, a few, fine droplets of gasoline went up the pipe, where they met the last, fading ember of Timothy’s charred t-shirt.
While the little car was busy doing exciting exothermic things with gasoline, thousands of flaming imps went on unexpected journeys into the sky and the resulting fireball blinded the roommates. Up and down the block, lookieloos started screaming while Sling went right on recording.
For the imps, the explosion was interesting, but completely harmless as it takes a lot more than the contents of one Geo Metro’s stomach to hurt a denizen. In Hell it is considered a little rude to explode someone without cause though, so the flock drew itself back together and then whirled up into an agitated mass, before spilling across the street in a rippling tide. The boys—and everyone else in the vicinity—would have died then, except at that moment another demon appeared.
She was called Tiramok, and she was a lieutenant of Hell. She stood taller than the walls of Babylon, her horns were broad as a river in flood and her claws could impale four men standing front to back. A whisper from her lips could poison, corrupt and kill. She was aftermath. She was the carrion crow. She was the battle lost. Her name, her true name, was the sound of rain on the ashes of a village swept bare by raiders.
Or, in this case, in the presence of the Book, her name was perfectly pronounced by hydrant water sizzling against the hot roof of a recently-exploded Geo Metro.13
Tirarmok surveyed the scene with her ghastly, ghostlamp eyes and a seismic growl issued up from her throat.
“Whodares?” she said in rather posh demonic.14
Then she saw the imps. And the book. And the humans standing around with expressions on their faces that revealed their complete lack of understanding.
“Oh, damnit,” the demon muttered, with significantly less menace.
The bucket imps threw themselves prostrate at her cloven feet.
Tirarmok sighed. Two bursts of flame erupted from her nose.
**********, she shouted.
Another demon appeared at her side. This second demon was quite menacing, but only about the size of a human, with the head of a pig, the torso of an ant and the legs of a male ballerina. It carried a long whip coiled over its shoulder.
“Yes, master?” the new demon hissed, also in demonic.
Tirarmok pointed at the worshipful pile of imps.
“Ha!,” the new demon said, “How’d they get up here?”
Tirarmok bent and picked up the book from where it lay near the Metro. She showed it to the other demon. It was unmarked from its adventures.15
“Oh. That thing. Slippery, slippery. Likes to go wandering.”
“He is going to be angry,” Tirarmok muttered.
“It’s not your fault, is it? You’re not the thing’s keeper,” the other demon said.
“Best get moving, then. By your leave?”
Tiramok nodded. The pig-ant-ballerina turned to the imps.
“Right, you lot. Hup to.”
At the crack of an infernal whip, the imps pulled themselves into a raged semblance of a parade rest. A moment later, they all vanished. Tirarmok stood with the book tweezered carefully between her claws and looked up and down the street. Cops were arriving on the scene with their lights flashing.
“Idiots,” Tirarmok muttered before she too vanished.
The Metro continued to burn. Official types began their own sort of swarming, setting up barricades and cordoning off the street. Almost unnoticed, the roommates stood in the parking lot.
“What just happened?” Sling said.
“I have no idea,” Chris said.
Timothy only smiled. He was a summoner now. Soon, the world would feel his wrath.16
The skeleton was Plague. Not infected fleas riding around on rats, but Plague, the spiritual embodiment of death-by-buboes.
Plague's true name sounds like a soft, whistling fart, making it one of the few demons a person can summon rectally. Several have, much to history’s dismay.
Technically, bucket imps aren’t really even demons; they’re stitched together from the remnants of damned souls, though those souls are so processed and modified that bucket imps are made of sinners the way a wiffleball is made of an apatosaurus.
Pedantry aside, to the layman a bucket imp looks, acts and smells like a real demon, only on a small scale. They are, like everything else in Hell, more than a little ornery. It takes a full squad of whip damei to motivate one brigade of bucket imps and a full dozen gate lords (who aren’t really lords, but merely middle-management) to oversee one squad of bucket imps, all to perform a job that humans can accomplish with a sump pump.