We might survive this, if we don’t kill each other first.
If you told me I would open up a demon exterminator business with the guy who’s pulled on my pigtails since grade school, I would have told you to put down the crack pipe and snap out of it.
But the gates to a hell dimension opened up, releasing dark creatures into our world, and now it’s up to Travis and me to clean up the streets.
A hell of a pair we make. The sidekicks, the losers, the screw ups. But at least we have a purpose now, chasing down the nightmares in our Whack A Ghoul van. Being part psychopath has never been so advantageous.
It’s satisfying work, even if we sometimes accidentally burn down a client’s house while trying to exorcise the demons.
But when a mass of strange and unsettling suicides crop up, we find ourselves in waaay over our head. Not only because we have to track down the supernatural evil at work, but because my past has come back to haunt me.
I shoved my childhood trauma so far down, I can’t afford to let my subconscious vomit it back up. I’ll do anything to keep it locked in that cage, even if it means pushing away the one person who’s stuck by me through literal hell.
And if that’s not enough to send me to the insane asylum…
I’m hiding the fact I’m knocked up with Travis’s baby from our one night stand.
Touch of Hell Chapter 1
“Sweet motherfucking hell, aim for the kneecaps,” I screamed.
“Does it have kneecaps?” Travis asked as he swung the neon green bat, but the giant, gray blob rolled to the right, knocking over the end table. The two porcelain angels held onto each other for dear life at the base of the antique lamp as it crashed to the ground. Their cherubic features shattered beyond recognition.
A slimy blob, the height of a Great Dane, careened toward me. I jumped onto the upholstered armchair. The stilettos on my knee-high boots audibly ripped through the chair’s pale-yellow cushion.
“I don’t know but a knife through the heart didn’t work,” I said. The blob bumped into the chair and then rolled in a different direction, just like an evil Roomba.
Travis panted on the other side of the living room, his black shirt darkened with sweat. “I don’t think it has a heart either, Krystan.”
I tilted my bat to him. “Right, heartless demon blob. Fair point.”
A thin, spray-tanned face with garish tangerine lipstick popped out from the kitchen. “I thought you two were professionals?”
I took another swipe at the beast and grunted. “We are professionals.”
Travis twisted around to face our client. “Mrs. Keen, I assure you we have the situation under control. It would be much safer if you waited outside.”
Mrs. Keen wasn’t listening, her eyes were glued to the shattered lamp on the ground. I knew that look. She was thinking she should have gone with another company to take care of her “infestation.”
If she even thought about not paying us, I might take my bat—I’d cleverly named Batman— to her head.
“Travis,” I yelled. The blob hurdled toward my partner and if it touched his skin, he’d be a goner like Mr. Skittles, the Keen’s family cat.
Travis whipped around, his mouth opened and closed like a guppy’s when he realized how quickly the blob was closing in on him.
According to Mrs. Keen, the blob had instantly turned their cat into a gelatinous mass on contact, then slurped it up. I wondered if the suburban housewife had been high when she saw it happen because I’d yet to see a mouth on this clay-like ball.
Travis scuttled right back into a corner. If he tried for the kitchen, he’d lead the creature right to Mrs. Keen who was about as dumb as this evil blob. Unfortunately, she was not as fast. Travis was trapped. Again.
I leapt off the chair, ready to sail through the air with my nail-riddled bat to pound on the demonic beast like a majestic fucking superhero. At the last second, my stilettos caught in the chair fabric and instead of sailing forward, I was slammed, face-first into the ground. Pain exploded across my cheek and the impact was like a mule kicking me in the chest with both legs.
I groaned. At least, I hadn’t landed on Batman. Pushing myself up to my knees as fast as I could, I found I had at least drawn the attention of the blob with my fantastic crash landing. I had the perfect view of its swollen, bubbling skin now rolling back toward me.
Travis smacked the side of the creature with his bat, the thwap sounded like he was beating up a bean bag. He changed the blob’s trajectory, but like the last fifteen swipes, the beating didn’t seem to hurt or slow it down.
Travis grabbed my hand and yanked me up to his chest. I was now inches away from his face, his green eyes bore into mine with more concern than I was comfortable with. He used to have a round, ruddy face. While he was flushed, the blush no longer made his face appear like a flustered child. His cheeks had considerably hollowed, bringing more attention to his strong straight nose.
The heat from his chest radiated onto mine and his breath puffed over my face. I expected him to smell like Cheetos and weed, but instead my senses were met with whatever spring-fresh body wash he’d used this morning, and the coffee we’d slammed back in the van. The mixture of scents wasn’t entirely repulsive. In fact, it was a scent that belonged to a virile capable man. Not Travis. I leaned in a little closer, telling myself it was to regain my balance even as I breathed in deeply.
“We should have brought the flame thrower,” he said, his eyes dropping down to look at my lips for half a second.
I jerked my hand out of his and backed away from his warmth and delicious man-smell, tightening my grasp on Batman, watching the blob knock against the far wall before rolling back toward us. “Yeah, the Keens would love it if we burned down their house.”
“What?” A screech came from the kitchen. Behind Mrs. Keen, Mr. Keen was attempting to cajole his wife to join him back outside and let us do our job.
I shot Travis a look filled with daggers. Travis shrugged, his cheeks reddening to a crimson shade. My moment of brief burning attraction to him was washed away by his stupid.
We jumped over the couch to avoid the blob which seemed to be satisfied acting like a pinball, bouncing around the living room against various furniture pieces.
“I mean, I can distract it while you go get the swords,” I suggested. “Maybe stabbing it is the way to go rather than blunt force?”
Travis shook his head. “If those nails jutting out of your bat aren’t doing the trick, I don’t think a sword is going to help.”
“Well, what the hell is going to help, dingus?” I laid Batman over my left shoulder, angling the nails away from my head. Batman wasn’t the problem. Batman was always there ready with a solution.
Travis shot me an annoyed look, his eyes glittering with irritation. “You always do this. You always act like I should know how to handle everything, when really, you’re just covering up the fact that you have no idea what to do. It’s not fair.”
I used my best baby voice to mock him. “Oh really? It’s not fair? That must be so fwustrating for Twavis.”
The blob bumped into the couch, except this time instead of rolling off in a different direction, it bounced up and over the couch flying at us. Travis grabbed my shoulders and slammed me to the ground as it sailed over our heads. Batman clattered to the ground. I instantly subtracted money from our quoted fee, imagining the tantrum Mrs. Keen would go on if Batman left marks on her hardwood floor.
Flattened on the ground, I found it was suddenly hard to swallow. When I met Travis’s wide-eyed stare, his face even closer than the last time, tingles rushed down my arms and chest. My mouth inexplicably watered. I told myself it was the adrenaline from almost dying by Gumby’s cousin.
I swallowed and pulled myself together. “Okay, the thing is poisonous, maybe we can use a chemical of some kind?”
We got back to our feet and turned to face our nemesis.
The injustice of having my nemesis be a lame, evil clay ball was not lost on me. Why couldn’t we be fighting a vampire or a werewolf or something cool? I’d yet to hear reports of those kinds of monsters wreaking havoc in Colorado. Demons, ghouls, and evil spirits ran rampant, but hell if I could find a sexy, sparkling blood-sucker who was loaded.
The ball was at the front entrance of the house. Light streamed from the slim window over the top of the white door. I wiped the sweat off my forehead with my arm. Colorado weather was weird. It was mid-December but in true bipolar form, we were on a hot streak of seventy-degree days. Any day the pendulum would swing the other way, and we’d get hit by a snowstorm. It would probably have to hit eighty before it dropped all the way back down to the twenties.
The shifting gray blob rolled back and forth slightly, like a bull preparing to charge back down the hallway at us.
Scouring my brain for any remnants of high school chemistry, I asked, “How can we tell if it’s an acid or base?”
Travis glanced at me. “Um, throw a bunch of different household cleaners at it? I’ve seen that in a couple movies before.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Forget a formidable nemesis. Why couldn’t I have a cooler partner? One who had a mysterious, questionable past, and extensive knowledge of the dark and all that emerged from it? No, this former stoner’s main frame of reference was probably from monster movies he watched at 2:00 a.m. on a Tuesday while completely blazed.
Never mind that you got the idea of a nail riddled bat from a TV show you watch.
I told my brain to shut up; that was totally different.
I shot a quick look to check if Mrs. Keen was still judgmentally lurking in the kitchen, but it appeared she’d finally hightailed it out of the house. If she were like any self-respecting housewife, she would have stashed her cleaning supplies under her kitchen sink.
I patted Travis’s shoulder. “Cool, brb.”
“Wait, what?” He turned toward me, but I was already sprinting for the kitchen. The gross gushy sounds told me the blobby bull had also decided to make its move.
I nearly ripped the cabinet doors off and pulled out as many spray bottles as possible, unsure of which would be effective, if any.
I ran back to find Travis had somersaulted backward off the couch. He struggled to get to his feet. Meanwhile, our evil blob had a new trick. Part of its mass shot up to hang over the couch then pulled the rest of itself up and over.
I wielded the Windex and began to spray the unholy demon. “Hyah,” I hollered like a cowboy. “Back.”
The blue liquid spritzed against the blob, and the demon stilled. I sprayed several more times. “Die, die, die.”
“Uh, Krystan, I think you want to try another,” Travis said, edging backward. The blob shuddered and swelled up. “I think you’re feeding it,” he added.
Well, fuck nuggets.
I dropped the Windex. The blob stopped shuddering and swelling, having added several inches to itself on all sides. The blob split across, and a mouth opened displaying tiny sharp teeth.
Double fuck nuggets.
“Krystan, it’s acidic, try a base, like baking soda!” Travis yelled just as the blob launched itself across the living room at me. I stumbled backward into the kitchen, dropping the rest of the cleaners as I hit the ground. My ass skidded backward across the tile.
The baking soda was probably in the pantry, which the blob landed splat in front of. I scuttled away until my back hit the cabinets. Travis screamed as it rolled right for me.
Was I seriously going to be murdered by a lame-ass blob monster? This seriously sucked. The stringent smell of Windex overwhelmed me as the blob’s mouth opened, ready to swallow my liquified flesh after its skin touched mine. The remaining foot between us shrank.
Light flashed so bright I threw an arm over my eyes.
Was I dead? Was the light me being sent to heaven? Why did heaven smell like Windex?
Yeah, like you’d go to heaven, my brain mocked.
I dropped my arm. The wide, toothy mouth was still open, poised to eat me, but the blob wouldn’t get a chance to dine on me because it had turned to stone. I sat up straighter from my scrunched-up position against the cabinet. A tall man with dark hair graying around the temples, dressed in all black from his turtleneck to his boots, stared at me from behind the rock blob with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh hey, Phillip.” I pushed myself up and dusted my pants off. “Uh it’s good to see you. I totally had this under control,” I said, gesturing to the now solidified monster. On the ground next to the frozen monster, lay a moonstone, a smooth pearlescent rock. Probably what Phillip had used to neutralize the blob. Any basic bitch could get their hands on a moonstone, but not everyone could use it to harness powers.
Phillip tilted his head ever so slightly. “I’m sure you did.” By his tone I could tell he didn’t believe me for a second. Phillip was tall and lean with an even temper. If I didn’t know he was a part of an ancient secret Order meant to serve the Light by protecting our world from the crap the Stygian (the hell dimension) spat up, I would have pegged him as a philosophy professor who threw elegant dinner parties for other intellectuals in between cycling tournaments. The man did make a mean paella.
“Phillip,” Travis said, coming into the kitchen brushing his hands against his pants. His cheeks were flushed again, and he spoke in a meek, everything-was-okay kind of tone. He looked as chagrined as I felt.
“Your grandmother said you were here on a job,” Phillip said, taking in the state of Mrs. Keen’s house. The living room was pretty much destroyed, and I’d managed to rip off several cabinet doors in the kitchen.
Great, gran sent him to check up on us. Fan-freakin-tastic.
“How did a Gorbeck get inside the house?” Phillip asked, his brows furrowed.
I leaned against the kitchen counter. “Mrs. Keen tells me a it was a beautiful day to let in a nice breeze and kept the back door open all morning.”
Phillip’s mouth twisted in disapproval. I was on his side. It was fine and dandy to leave your windows and doors open before a hell dimension threw up a bunch of demons and evil spirits onto our plane. Mrs. Keen should have known better.
She looked like she would have an active social media platform of some kind to play the pretty pissing game all the other suburban moms did—My kid is going to college to be a doctor! #blessed, isn’t our new car nice? #blessed, another promotion for the husband! #blessed. She should have noticed at some freaking point the world had gone to hell.
Eyeing the moonstone on the ground again, a wash of green envy overcame me. If I had been allowed in a secret Order meant to defeat darkness, I probably would have a few more tricks too. When I’d asked Phillip if he could teach me some of his methods, he said he couldn’t teach me an entire lifetime of faith to the Light. If he weren’t such a nice guy and Calan’s father, I would have been pissed.
A pang zinged through my belly. Calan and my best friend, Emma, had died throwing themselves into the Tear between our dimension and the hell dimension known as the Stygian. They’d sacrificed themselves, closed the gate, and saved the world from complete hell on earth. Losing Emma left a hole in my chest I didn’t think would ever get filled again. I didn’t have a lot of friends. Scratch that. I’d lost my only friend.
I shoved that pathetic thought down as quickly as it had risen.
Travis opened the pantry and grabbed the box of baking soda. He walked over and poured some on the stone monster. As soon as the baking soda hit, the stone flesh began to sizzle like a fajita platter. Instead of evoking scents of delicious Mexican food though, the stench of overcooked, rancid vegetables filled the kitchen.
Mrs. Keen chose that moment to stumble back in through the side door to the kitchen. “Oh my god, what have you done to my house?” Her voice reached decibels I’d thought reserved for whistling tea kettles. She covered her nose, as she looked about her house with wild eyes. Her coiffed blonde hair was now mussed, and she was missing a Chanel earring.
“I can see this isn’t a good time,” Phillip said, his eyes scrunched with a flash of fear, giving a slight bow to Mrs. Keen before disappearing.
I put on my best business voice. “Mrs. Keen, would now be a good time to discuss payment?”
Her wild eyes turned on me as if I’d set her house on fire.
At least, this time we could say we didn’t.
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