Aphelion Issue 274, Volume 26
July 2022
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A Single Kiss

by Tina Anton

Barefoot, toes sinking deeply into the damp moss, the young woman walked forward. She wore a dirty white dress made of a thin, shifting material that hugged her legs as she moved.

"Kiss it, girl," a harsh voice spoke from further back.

She glanced over one shoulder, her pale blond hair fluttering at the movement. The Man was watching her every move with squinted eyes and his gun was aimed steadily at her head.

"Kiss it."

She swallowed hard, chin trembling, and turned forward again. Two more steps and she had reached it. The girl knelt, the wet soaking through her dress, and reached tentatively for the skull. It was sun bleached and dusty, old beyond remembrance, and a pair of horns grew out of each temple. A demon skull from before such things were called fantasy.

Moving slowly, feeling like time had suddenly stopped, the girl drew the evil bone towards her mouth, lips waiting patiently with magic ready.

The Man's breathing grew suddenly sharp and ragged. It was the only sound she could hear outside the beating of her heart.

Her pink lips parted for a breath and then they touched the skull, in the center of the forehead between the eyes, and magic flowed in one bright yellow arc from her body to the bone held in her hand. Knowing what came next, the girl threw the skull away quickly, standing and backpedaling away from where sparks of light were beginning to form around the demon bone.

The sparks whirled into motion so fast that soon they were nothing more than firefly blurs forming the shape of a man, no, a demon.

The girl's doe eyes blinked in horrified fascination as an image out of nightmares solidified and darkened less than six yards away.

"Sweet Jesus," The Man whispered.

It might have been a prayer.

The girl felt a scream claw up her throat, but no sound came out as she watched the light of her transferred magic begin to fade.

The creature, smoke pouring out of its nostrils and horns shining under the murky sun, spoke. The sound of alien words, their meaning unclear, echoed around the mossy meadow.

The girl felt her heart stop beating and for a moment feared it would never start again.

Then The Man stepped forward. "I called you forth from beyond the great darkness," he recited, "and re-made your form. For this, I demand your loyalty."

The girl gasped, a muted sound, and her eyes grew impossibly wider. The Man could not be so foolish as to think he could control the demon. The girl looked around for escape, help, anything, but all she saw was a demon and a gun.

"Loyalty?" the demon sounded out the word slowly, getting the inflection wrong.

"Yes." The Man nodded. "You will follow me, be my right hand, and we can rule the world. Cross me and I'll put a bullet through your brain and have little Jetta here re-form another, more willing demon. Do you understand?"

She thought the demon did.

Horns inclined forward as its head nodded several times. Red eyes switched their gaze from The Man to young Jetta Lee.

"Loyalty?" The demon pointed at the girl.

The Man shook his head and spit on the ground, a growl working up his chest.

"Jetta isn't loyal to anyone but herself, the ungrateful piece of --"

"I demand your loyalty!" the girl shouted suddenly.

Her words took them all by surprise, the demon jerking its head spasmodically.

The Man trained his gun on her again. "What did you just say?" he asked, voice dangerously low.

She let more words tumble over her lips, unable or unwilling to stop them. "It was my magic, not his, that released you to this world again. I have the magic to bring many more demons. I can help you all return. I can bring all back from the darkness." She straightened, chin jutting forward. "I demand your loyalty."

The Man was shaking with rage now and his face was an unhealthy shade of red.

"I'm going to kill you, you little bitch!" he yelled.

One moment The Man was striding forward with murder on his breath and then he was gone. Jetta blinked. The demon was now closer, standing precisely where The Man had been, in fact. There was a scream from above and the girl looked upward.

A large shape was falling towards earth. The Man, she realized in confused amazement. Then his body impacted with the ground and she heard the spine-tingling sound of a dozen bones crunching. The Man was dead.

"Loyalty," the demon said somberly, as if in explanation for an unasked question.

The blond girl moved forward, her neck craning so that she could look up at the monstrous demon. It stood at least eight feet tall, smoke curling around its face like a veil. Her fear stuttered and then died out while she stood in the mossy clearing studded with glaring white bones.

Jetta turned in a half-circle, turning most of her back to the ancient creature, and surveyed the many dozens of skulls, bones, and broken horns. A graveyard for an evil older than remembrance. The girl's jaw worked, she bit her lip and then turned back to look at the demon.

"What happened here?" she asked.

The demon let out a deep, growling breath and took a step forward, its cloven hooves sinking deep into the green damp. It spoke in that same alien and disharmonious tongue.

"I don't understand."

Twin horns dipped forward, the demon's shoulders hunching. When it spoke again, this time using familiar words, it was hesitant.

"Battle. Dark -- long -- battle," the demon answered haltingly.

"This was a battlefield?"

Her blue eyes widened. The mossy meadow was not very big and bordered with furry pines. It was the size of a small, dark green lake, and almost as wet -- the green-carpeted soil was so damp that every step brought brackish water oozing to the surface. Hazy sunlight poured down, highlighting the dips and hills with stark precision. The place held a rustic natural beauty broken only by the scattering of bones.

A battlefield.

"Were you a soldier?"

"Yes. Loyalty. Brothers"

The girl thought she understood then why he had killed The Man. He needed her help, her magic, to bring back the army of demons. To win the battle they had begun so far in the past. She held up a hand and looked into the red, flaming eye sockets that made her small body shudder with revulsion

"We have a lot of work to do," the girl said.

She had made a promise. His loyalty for her magic.

A snort of ashy smoke punctuated by a muffled hoof beat broke the silence as the demon reached forward and slowly clasped her tiny hand in his enormous padded paw. Hand-in-hand they strode to the closest skull where it lay half sunk in the grungy growth, permanent grin staring up at the patch of sky.

She knelt, the demon falling to its knees at her side, and reached for the bone. Ridges extruded from the temples, not yet horns, and she let her thumb ghost over them before she pecked her lips against the skull's milky white forehead. Magic burst into life around the bone and she tossed it away watching as it bounced gently against the meadow's floor.

Something at the peripheral of her vision tugged her attention away from the awful spectacle of another demon coming back from the dead. Sunlight glinted dangerously off the metallic barrel of The Man's discarded gun. It had landed amid a copse of short ferns, their tendrils grabbing feebly at the weapon.

She reached out and closed her hand around the cold ivory-plated grip of the gun. She wondered what creature would spring to life if she ever dared use her magic on the weapon. New, deep growling words echoed through the clearing and she turned back to the newest demon.

It was smaller, perhaps six feet, with red scales covering its body and silver spikes creating a central ridge up its spine. Jetta shuddered and gripped her hand tighter against the warm demon paw. The two evil beings spoke to one another for a long minute before falling silent, both their red gazes falling on the girl.

"What?" she asked, nervously.

"Battle -- over?" the red demon asked.

"I guess so. I mean, you've been dead for a very long, long time."

"Battle -- over -- lost?" it asked an awkward break between each carefully sounded word.

"You were dead," she pointed out.

They had another conversation that she was not privy to, their low rustling growls crawling over one another. Jetta wondered how Red, as she had come to think of the smaller creature, had learned English without hearing it first. Perhaps telepathy, she reasoned. It was not beyond the power of some generations of psychics to transmit information through thought alone.

The clearing grew silent once more, without even the chirping of insects or the trilling of birds. The air seemed to be thickening, the pine trees closing inward. Jetta swallowed hard and stamped down on the fear growing inside. The paw holding her tugged upward as the demon stood to its impressive height, towering over both Red and Jetta alike.

"Awake. Others." he said.

She nodded slowly and stood to her feet. The bottom half of her dress was blotched with a fresh brown stain from where she had knelt on the damp moss. She grimaced, imagining the stern lecture her mother would have given her for being so clumsy.

There were at least a couple dozen skulls visible in the meadow and Jetta knew it would take a while to unearth the perhaps dozen more hiding under layers of thick green growth. She should get to work. A quick glance skyward showed that they had at least another six hours before dusk would darken the world.

The girl raised an army of demons, the gun clenched at her side almost forgotten, and a numb cold working through her veins. Magic was exhausting and young Jetta had never re-animated so many dead before in her entire life. Usually she was tasked with bringing back a loved one or a victim of murder. Theoretically, the girl knew that her magic was infinite, but that did not mean her body could withstand being a conductor of that power for long.

By the time night fell Jetta was sleeping on her feet, leaning into the demon's warm side. He -- she? -- it? -- had not left the girl for longer than a few seconds throughout the entire ordeal. Its presence was almost comforting.

A deep hum vibrated her body. Jetta's blue eyes snapped open and she found herself cradled carefully in the arms of the demon, a deep sound emanating from its vocal chords in that strange language. It was almost sing-song in nature and it took her a moment to realize that the creature was trying to soothe her with a melody. Music, perhaps an ancient lullaby.

The thought was alien, but if she had learned anything today it was that demons were not the bloodthirsty things of legend. They came in all shapes, sizes and temperaments. As far as Jetta could tell, the demon holding her in its arms was the leader of the army. The others listened to it, answered to it. Leader, she decided in that sleep-hazy moment, was as good a name as any for the large demon.

Leader walked through the dark forest, the only light coming from the many pairs of red, glowing eyes. It bathed the trees in a strange fire like glow that lulled Jetta back to sleep. She pretended she was at home with her family next to the fire. Warm smoke breathed over her face, completing the illusion, and the demon lullaby faded as dreams took over her world.


© 2012 Tina Anton

Bio: This is Tina's first appearance in a publication not related to school...

E-mail: Tina Anton

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