A Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft and Demon Hunting #1
Chapter 1, Part 2
Once I’m back at the apartment, I open my laptop, pulling up the day’s news. Sure enough, there’s a live feed from outside the sheriff’s office, where a deputy is talking to the reporter.
“The attack happened in the early hours of the morning, in the Bleaker Street neighborhood. At this time, we suspect it was a wild animal attack, but there is no reason to be alarmed. Deputies swept the area, and no animal was found. We will continue working with the wildlife department to find the animal responsible and put it down…”
I close the feed.
Shit on a stick. That means while I was busy putting one down, another demon was still on the loose.
What had the demon said?
We are legion.
Well, great. Leave it to me to stumble on a one-horse, two-demon town.
“Why can’t it ever be easy?” I ask no one in particular.
The coroner’s office is tucked away in the back of the police station, which makes going in unnoticed nearly impossible. Lucky for me, I’ve perfected my resting bitch face. If you look like you know where you’re going and aren’t thrilled about it, people tend not to question you too often.
I wear this expression now, part in defense and part because I’m still ticked at myself for missing the signs.
Of course there was more than one. With a population just shy of ten thousand people, the rates of missing persons and animal attacks in this shitty little town were mind-boggling. Of course, that’s the thing about shitty little towns; missing persons tend to get chalked up to people just taking off and mutilated bodies…well, anything with claws is some kind of animal of course.
Then again, if they knew what they were looking for…
I push open the door to the coroner’s office and find myself face to face with a baby-faced guy in black spectacles who couldn’t be more than twenty. He’s got a tub of ice cream in one hand and a red spoon sticking out the corner of his mouth.
Nearly colliding with me, he takes a step back, removing the spoon and adjusting his glasses.
“Hey there. Are…uh, are you lost or something?” he asks, looking me over.
I straighten. There are few things that throw a guy off his game, but nothing that works quite as effectively as a smile and a nice rack.
“Are you Ethan?” I ask, quickly reading the name from his lab coat.
He smiles. “Yes, ma’am. What can I do you for? Do for you?”
I toss my dark hair over one shoulder. “Well, I’m kinda new in town. I just got a job at the paper, and a little birdy told me that if anyone might know more about the recent attack…you’d be my guy.”
His expression perks up, then falls. “Yeah, but…I’m real sorry, I can’t make a statement.”
I reach out, putting one hand on his arm. “Oh no. I’d never ask you to do something that might get you in trouble. But I heard about a few similar attacks south of here, and the victims had some weird… well, they think there might be something wrong with the animal responsible. Like it might be sick on account of some infection around the wounds.”
His mouth opens, then closes again.
I hold up my hand. “You don’t have to say anything, and this isn’t for a story. But I mean, if it is the same, I’d like to let them know to start looking up this way.”
Indecision flickers across his face.
“The bottom line, Ethan, is I want to make sure whatever did this never hurts another person ever again, and I think you want the same thing. So, what do you say? I just need, five minutes to look at the remains. You can stand over me the whole time.”
The resolution forms quickly, and he nods once. “Alright. Five minutes. But whatever you find, I have to report to my boss here too.”
“Deal,” I say, motioning for him to lead the way.
He stuffs the rest of his snack in a black mini fridge beside his desk and leads me through a set of double doors to the back.
I’ve been in a morgue or two, and it never fails to give me the creeps. Despite the clean conditions, the set of chains dangling from above one of the tables makes me shiver. I know, practically, it’s how they move the heavier bodies around, but it’s still too gross to contemplate.
The row of freezers is only three wide and four deep, but each one has a tell-tale tag affixed to the front marking it occupied. Moving to the bottom left, he opens it, sliding out the metal gurney.
“Five minutes,” he says again, and I nod.
Unzipping the bag, he reveals the pale, waxy face of the young girl.
“What’s her name?” I ask, leaning forward.
“Roxie. Roxie Johnson. She’s fourteen.”
“Was fourteen,” I mutter, and he nods, his bushy eyebrows furrowed.
The slashes are deep and overlapping, claws no doubt, but far too large for a coyote. Hell, these are big enough to make a polar bear suspect seem plausible, and as I feared, the edges of the skin are burnt, black veins just visible beneath the surface of her skin.
I point to it. “This is it, the infection.”
Ethan leans forward, adjusting his glasses. “My god, you’re right. How did they miss this?”
“People see what they want to see,” I mutter, reaching forward with one hand and turning her face to the side, exposing the neck and worst of the wounds. Even cleaned and dry, they are gaping and painful looking.
“They say she bled out,” he says, shaking his head.
Not touching the wound, I hover my fingertips just above the flesh. The burns around the neck are worse, the veining darker. Two minutes at least. Two minutes of burning, terrifying agony.
“This was the first cut, so maybe it was over quick for her. Hopefully, it was quick.”
He nods but says nothing. Straightening, I stare at her face, letting it sear into my memory.
There’s nothing I hate more than being too late.
And I’m always too late.
The demon hadn’t just killed her; he’d ripped her soul from her body. There’s no way to tell for sure, of course, but it was their way, their reason for attacking.
Part of me wants to cry, part of me wants to scream. I do neither. My jaw clamps shut, and I draw a deep, steadying breath in through my nose, holding it for a few moments before releasing it.
“Thanks, Ethan. I had to be sure.”
“I’ll let the doc know when he gets back,” he says. “Will you tell the hunters? So they know what they’re looking for?”
I nod, turning to leave. Stopping at the doors, I look back over my shoulder.
“Hey Ethan, be careful out there, OK?”
He nods, zipping the body bag.
“You too.” His head jerks up. “Hold on, I never got your name.”
“Aria,” I answer, too tired to lie.