The writing was small but clearly legible, though the words themselves were foreign to me. The ink was red. The bloody smearings from the broken nose of a fountain pen decorated the four by two inch square of card that I held tightly to my chest.
This was my last chance.
I was worried that I might not be able to pronounce some of the more complicated syllables. It was vital to get every utterance exactly perfect. A mumble or misplaced 'e' might mean conjuring that which I did not intend to invoke. Rumour has it that a slip-up such as this had sired Kilroy. A burden that no world should have to bear twice.
I found the card in a book at the charity shop. I was admiring the full length skirts in the fuller-figured section – having just cashed my pension for the week and being in the mood to treat myself – when I noticed the black business card peaking from the pages of a dog-eared Mills and Boon. The tiny advertisement seemed to have been placed there just for me, so completely did it match my needs. Like finding a pound coin in your slipper, just as the ice cream van trundles into view. Serendipity had smiled upon me, and finally I would be able to recapture Frank's memory.
I placed the card carefully on the coffee table. I had covered the scuffed surface with a navy blue towel. It was closest I had to a black alter cloth, and was more appropriate than the table covering patterned with snowflakes that I used at Christmas time.
Bunty had been shut in the dining room, and the dimmer switch had been employed to give the room an ambience that it might have otherwise lacked. The porcelain figurines had been turned to face the wall, so as not to witness any of the diabolical goings-on. With this kind of affair, preparation is key.
Despite the fact that it was just after four pm, I shut the blinds in the lounge tightly. I often had a nap at this time of afternoon, after Countdown, so the warden would not be too incensed by my darkened window. I didn't want Maude or Lucy to drop by unexpectedly either. Maude's heart was weak, and she might not be able to handle a visit from the dreaded apparition. Lucy was built of sterner stuff, but was such a terrible gossip that the entire sheltered housing association would know before the day was out. I would never be asked to join the WI if they knew I were dabbling in the occult.
I fished a fat black candle from out of the draw in the kitchen and took Bunty a biscuit. The little dog yelped apprehensively, ever the voice of reason. But this was important to me, and since all other avenues had been exhausted, I was prepared to take drastic action. Once this was explained to him, Bunty became more subdued and while he did not expressly give his blessing, his protests were silenced.
I lit the candle in a saucer on the coffee table and, suddenly nervous, I removed my false teeth and raised my glasses to my cataracts. After a few deep breaths (and a sneaky glass of sherry to calm my nerves) I began the steady Latin chant, as the card instructed:
'Aquila, Antithesis, Nocte, Nacho, Carpe Diem,Lapis Luzuli!'
A great plume of smoke erupted from the candle's flickering flame, filling the room with acrid blue smoke that shimmered as if studded with stars. Or human eyes. The smoke caught in the back of my throat, tasting of fear and other people's vomit. I cast my hand out, searching vainly between the sofa cushions for my inhaler when, just as suddenly as it had appeared, the smoke vanished.
A great beast stood in the centre of the room, dwarfing the three piece suite and looking out of place beside my old record player on the side board. The demon's legs were similar to that of a goat, but his bare torso was a vivid green, with muscles that rippled and flexed beneath the surface of his emerald skin. His tail was fat and bushy, like a cat's, and swung about the room, knocking several of my Dorchester figurines off the mantelpiece. Had he been an ordinary house guest, I might have been moved to chastise him for this indiscretion, but as it was, I was too dumbfounded to utter a single word. I cowered in my seat, my gaze focused unwillingly on his blood red eyes.
“Who summons Shendu, all powerful demon and slayer of men, to the mortal realm?” The demon bellowed, wheeling his heads about the room menacingly, his tusks grazing the fringed lampshade.
“Erm, I did.” I squeaked, rising slowly to my feet.
The abomination looked me over haughtily. “Do you know that which you have unleashed upon the world? Can you even comprehend my might?” He waited for a response, and when none came, he continued with his sales pitch. “I have the power to smite your enemies, to cause unspeakable suffering to those who have wronged you. I can make your most sadistic fantasies a reality in one glorious, shining instant. I can send your adversaries to the depths of madness, plunge mortal minds the very pits of despair. I can even make unpleasant smells follow a school bully for the rest of his days.”
He held out a pamphlet that bore the heading 'Diabolical Services: A Menu of the Macabre'. I took it and held it limply in my shaking hands.
“Er, no, actually.” I squeaked. “I was interested in your other services.”
The demon raised all five of his eyebrows and surveyed me quizzically. Then his eyes fell to the card on the coffee table.
He sat down heavily on the sofa beside me, his heads sagging against his domed chest. My bronchitis started to act up and I coughed noisily, flecks of spittle falling around my lips. As I wiped the moisture away with the sleeve of my cardigan, I could feel the monster's eyes upon me, the muscles in his cheeks twitching with ill-suppressed disgust.
We sat in silence for a few moments.
“Look,” Shendu breathed finally, “The smitings and slayings...well, they just don't bring in the cash like they used to. People are going soft. No one wants bloody revenge any more! All anyone seems to want nowadays is 'closure' and 'mediation'. I tell you, the day the invented marriage counselling, I saw my profits HALF! And then the recession hit, and things have just gone from bad to worse.” He looked up. “I had to diversify.”
I patted his knee and made soothing noises.
“But,” He continued, “And don't take this the wrong way, you're not quite the client I was imagining when I started this little sideline.” I felt all six of his eyes resting on my stained cardigan, baggy stockings and grey, thinning hair. “So, if you had any enemies you wanted me to crush instead..?”
“Look here!” I said, my confidence rising in line with the sense of indigence at being misled. “It says on your card that for twenty quid you will 'Take me to the depths of depravity and plug the mouth of hell with your sizeable demonic forces'. That's what I want. None of this revenge and murder nonsense.”
The demon sighed, expelling all the air from his lungs. His tail swung listlessly at his waist. I plucked a crisp twenty pound note from my purse and placed it on the table. “I'm just going to put a pot of tea on.” I said. “Let me know if you change your mind.” I got up from the sofa, and made as if to leave the room.
“All right love,” the Titan said, snatching the money from the table and pushing it into the pocket of his trousers. He eyed my cold-sored mouth dubiously, “But no kissing.”