Happy Halloween from everyone here at Orbit! In honor of this most scary holiday, Jennifer Rardin, author of Once Bitten, Twice Shy (US / UK ) and the upcoming Another One Bites the Dust, has written us a Jaz Parks treat!
Taking Out the Trash: A Jaz Parks Mini-Mission
The demon appeared just as the president’s psychics had predicted, clattering from the furnace of the deserted glass blowing studio. He saw us immediately, targeting him with the only weapon that would vanquish him. A bazooka whose charges were packed mainly with shredded law books. Apparently to this devil, justice was a killer.
“Wait!” he squeaked. “Avarice! Apartheid! What the hell is the word!” He banged his knobby knuckles against his forehead so hard they left red marks.
Vayl and I traded puzzled looks as he screamed, “I’m not the one you want! Please!” He went to his knees, probably staining his white pants. Since it was Halloween, it made sense that he wore a sailor suit. And people might actually buy that his bulbous nose and square, yellow teeth were part of a mask—if he survived the night. It was our job to see he didn’t.
“Finish him, Jasmine,” Vayl whispered, the warmth of his breath stirring my curls, filling me with tingles. I glanced into his eyes, momentarily as black as his hair, and forgot to breathe. The demon’s whining jerked me back to real.
“No! I’m just a decoy! Gafrimen wants your country’s leader! Oh, flames and smolders, what—aha! Amnesty! Um, asylum?”
I hesitated because Vayl said, “Gafrimen,” like he wanted to kick something.
“Who’s he?” I asked.
“We call him an yloden. A siordent who preys on vampires. The Whittier witches must have made an immense sacrifice to direct him toward a human.” He drew his lips back in a look of disgust that his fangs made ferocious. “We must destroy him.”
“So we’re buying this crap-dealer’s story?” I asked.
“My name’s Roent,” said our little slice of hell, not even ruffled by my tone. Which was why I finally believed him. “I once rode Gafrimen’s coattails, eating his leftovers. But I made him angry so,” eloquent shrug, “here I am.” Roent took a breath, which involved the loud inhale of a whole mouthful of spit. I suddenly wished I hadn’t eaten soup for supper. “Gafrimen’s landing soon,” he said helpfully. “I can take you to him.”
“That seems a small price to pay for your life,” said Vayl.
“But I know which weapon can kill him!”
“The president’s psychics would have told us that if Gafrimen had, indeed, been the possessor.” Vayl adjusted the bazooka.
“There’s all kinds of ways to dupe a Seer!” yelled Roent, crossing his hands over his chest. “I came over with the intention of possessing the president. Had to, or else Gafrimen would’ve gobbled my intestines for breakfast! He hid his intentions behind mine. That’s why the psychics missed them!”
I turned to Vayl. “Can they do that?”
Reluctant nod. “I have heard of such a thing.”
“Please,” Roent clasped his hands together in supplication. “Just let me lead you to him and I’ll . . . I’ll resolve all your garbage issues.”
I laughed. But Vayl seemed to be considering his offer. “I have raccoons,” he said.
“Five years,” Roent replied.
“Tack on another five.”
“And homeless people.”
“Who isn’t rooting through your trash?” Roent demanded. He did some calculations on his fingers. “I’ll guard your cans for fifteen years.”
“Make it twenty-two and you’ve got a deal.”
“Good.” They each raised their hands toward their own faces. I thought they were going to spit and shake. Nope. They each bit into the fleshy part just below their pinkies. Only when the blood flowed freely did they seal the bargain.
“You know how gross that was, right?” I asked Vayl as Roent led us out of the building.
“It was worth it,” Vayl replied, his lips twitching in his version of a grin. “I have just acquired a combination garbage disposal, guard dog.”
“He’s a demon!”
“Which is why I will never allow him over my threshold.”
We stowed Roent in the back of the gold GMC Acadia we’d rented for this trip and, after he told us how to kill Gafrimen, drove straight to the White House.
Clearance wasn’t a problem once we arrived. Everybody we encountered was dead.
“Roent, we’re never going to make it to the president on time,” Vayl said as we let ourselves in through the North Entrance. “We need to summon him to us.”
“I can do that. Just tell me when you’re ready.”
Vayl and I shared a moment of unspoken communication. Nodded. “Now!” said Vayl.
As soon as Roent began chanting we heard a high-pitched squeal from somewhere above us.
The screech of claws straining to sink into the floor. That sound, so much like the feedback on a badly adjusted microphone, made me shiver. Vayl brushed his shoulder against mine. I instantly felt better.
Gafrimen appeared at the top of the stairs moments later, a four-legged, serpentine figure with two horned heads, both of which still bore the bloodstains from the guards it had murdered on its way to the Commander-in-Chief.
“Roent,” he growled, “this had better be good.”
“Oh, it is,” our convert assured him. He bowed to us. “Divas?”
We began to croon, “Hush little Gafrimen, don’t say a word, momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.” We harmonized like barber-shoppers. If there’d been an infant in the room, she’d have been snoring within the minute.
The demon reacted differently.
He squealed. He writhed. He drooped.
First his jaws dropped. Then his ears. His shoulders slumped, then suddenly the entire right side of his body oozed downward, as if his bones had melted, the sweetness of the song having turned them to sugar. Eventually we’d reduced Gafrimen to a puddle that sucked right into the shop-vac we found in the maintenance man’s closet.
“Now what do we do with it?” I asked Vayl as we stared at the vac’s contents. The glop bubbled, as if daring us to flush it and see what havoc it might wreak on the water treatment plant.
“I have an idea,” said Roent as he drew lines along the floor with the toe of his boat shoe.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Throw it in Vayl’s garbage.”
Vayl held up a hand. “Never mind, Jasmine.”
“Eeww, Vayl! He’s not going to scare off your raccoons. He’s going to eat them!”
“I find that offensive,” protested Roent. “I don’t eat cute-and-furries. However, I was wondering,” he turned to Vayl. “This being Halloween and all, can I gobble up the trick-or-treaters?”
“Not the live ones,” he whined. “Just those who end up in your garbage cans.”
“Vayl!” I cried.
“He is just kidding. I would never—Roent, I am not that kind of vampire.”
Vayl nodded. “Really.”