Too much education for one lifetime.
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In Which We Learn of the Difficulties Involved in Being a Demon Without a Clearly Defined Form


Samuel woke to find there was a monster under his bed. He didnt just think there was a monster under there, the way very small boys and girls sometimes do; Samuel was no longer a very small boy and had accustomed himself to believe that, in all probability, monsters did not inhabit the spaces under beds. They particularly did not occupy the space under Samuels bed because there wasnt any, every spare inch being taken up by games, shoes, candy wrappers, unfinished model aircraft, and a large box of toy soldiers with which Samuel no longer played but which he was most reluctant to get rid of, just in case.
Now all those objects were scattered across his bedroom floor, and a sound was coming from beneath his bed that resembled pieces of jelly being tossed from hand to hand by a troupe of tiny jugglers. In addition, Boswell was standing on the bed, trembling and growling.

Samuel felt a sneeze coming on. He tried every trick he knew to stop it. He held his nose. He took deep breaths. He pressed the tip of his tongue against the top row of his teeth, the way that Japanese samurai used to do when they didnt want to reveal their presence to an enemy, all to no avail.

Samuel sneezed. It sounded like a rocket taking off. Instantly, all noise and movement from below his bed ceased.
Samuel held his breath and listened. He had the uncomfortable sense that a very squishy creature was also holding its breath, if it had any to hold. Even if it didnt, it was definitely listening.

Maybe I imagined it, thought Samuel, even though he knew that he hadnt. You didnt imagine something squishing under your bed. Either it squished, or it didnt, and something had definitely squished.

He looked around, and saw one of his socks lying at the end of his bed. As an experiment he leaned down to pick up the sock, then dangled it over the edge of the mattress before dropping it on the floor.

A long pink thing that might have been a tongue, or an arm, or even a leg, grabbed the sock and pulled it under the bed. Samuel heard chewing, and then the sock was spat out and a voice said, Ewwwww!

Hello? said Samuel.

There was no reply.

I know youre under there.

Still no reply.

Look, this is silly, said Samuel. Im not getting off this bed. You can stay there for as long as you like. Its just not going to happen.

He counted to five in his head before he heard a sigh from beneath the mattress.

How did you know? said a voice.

I heard you squish.

Oh. Im new at this. Still getting the hang of it. You tricked me with that sock thing. Very clever, that. Tasted horrible. You need to get something done about your feet, by the way. They must stink something awful.

Its a gym sock. I think its been there for a while.

Well, I suppose that explains it, but still. You could knock someone dead with a sock like that. Lethal weapon, that sock. Its made me feel quite ill.

Serves you right, said Samuel. You shouldnt be hanging around under peoples beds.

Well, its a job, innit?

Not much of a job.

Agreed, but you try being a demon of no set form in this day and age. Its not like Im going to get work looking after puppies, or singing babies to sleep. Frankly, its this or nothing.

What do you mean, no set form?

The demon cleared its throat. Technically, Im a free-roaming ectoplasmic entity

Which is? asked Samuel, a little impatiently.

Which is, said the demon huffily, if youll wait for me to finish, a demon capable of assuming almost any shape or form, based on psychic vibrations given off by its victim.

Youve lost me, said Samuel.

Oh look, its not that complicated. Im supposed to become whatever scares you. I just picked the whole slushy tentacled thing because, well, its a classic, isnt it?

Is it? asked Samuel. So youre a bit like an octopus, then?

A bit, I suppose, admitted the demon.

I quite like octopi.

Octopodes, corrected the demon. Dont they teach you anything at school?

Theres no need to be rude, said Samuel.

Im a demon. What do you expect me to be? Pleasant? Tuck you in and read you a story? Youre not very bright, are you?

No, youre not very bright, turning up here in the dead of night and being caught out by an old sock. And you havent assumed a form that scares me. Youre an octopus.

Im like an octopus, said the demon. But scarier. I think. Its hard to see under here.

Whatever, said Samuel. If its all about psychic vibrations, then why didnt you take the form of something else?

The demon muttered something.

I beg your pardon, said Samuel. I didnt quite catch that.

I said, I cant do psychic vibrations. The demon sounded embarrassed.

Why not?

Theyre hard, thats why not. You try it, see how much luck you have.

So you just take a form and hope that it will be scary? That all sounds a bit casual, to be honest.

Look, its my first time, said the demon. Are you happy now? Its. My. First. Time. And I have to say that youre being very hurtful. Youre not making this easy, you know.

Im not supposed to make it easy, said Samuel. What would be the point in that?

Just saying, thats all, said the demon. Samuel heard it sniff dismissively.

Okay, said Samuel. Im not very keen on spiders.

Really? said the demon.

Yes.

Youre not just saying?

No, I really dont like them very much at all. Why dont you start with that and see how you get along?

Oh, I will. Thanks very much. Very nice of you. Give me a minute, will you?

Take your time.

Right you are. Much appreciated. Dont go anywhere, now.

Wouldnt dream of it, said Samuel.

He sat on the bed, humming to himself and patting Boswell. From under the mattress came various squelching sounds, and the occasional grunt of effort. Finally, there was silence.

Er, a question, said the demon.

Yes?

Do spiders have ears?

Ears?

You know, huge big flappy things.

No. They feel vibrations with the hairs on their legs.

All right, all right, I didnt ask for a lecture. It was just a simple question.

There was silence again.

What are the things with big flappy ears, then? said the demon.

Samuel thought about the question. Elephants? he suggested.

Elephants! Theyre the ones. Right, are you scared of them?

No, said Samuel.

Awwww, said the demon. I give up. Lets forget about the whole shape-shifting thing. Just climb off the bed and well get this over with.

Samuel didnt move. What will you do if I climb off the bed?

Well, I can eat you, or I can drag you down to the depths of Hell, never to be seen or heard from again. Depends, really.

On what?

Lots of things: hygiene, for a start. After tasting that sock, I dont fancy eating any part of you, to be honest, so itll have to be the depths of Hell for you, Im afraid.

But I dont want to go to the depths of Hell.

Nobody wants to go to the depths of Hell. Im a demon, and even I dont want to go there. Thats the point, isnt it? If I told you that I was going to take you for a nice holiday, or on a trip to the zoo, it wouldnt be much of a threat, would it?

But why do you have to drag me off to Hell?

Orders.

Whose orders?

Cant say.

Cant say, or wont say?

Both.

Why not?

She wouldnt want me to.

Mrs. Abernathy?

The demon didnt reply.

Oh come on, I know its her, said Samuel. Youve already given most of it away.

Right then, said the demon. Its her. Happy now?

Not really. I still dont want to be dragged off to Hell.

Then we have whats known as an impasse, said the demon.

How long can you stay down there?

First sign of daylight, then I have to depart. Thems the rules, just like I cant get you unless you step on the floor.

So if I just stay up here, then you cant touch me?

I just said that, didnt I? I dont make the rules. I wish I did. This whole business would run a lot more smoothly, I can tell you.
Then Ill simply stay here.

Great. You do that.

Samuel folded his arms and stared at the far wall. From under the bed, he heard what sounded like tentacles being folded. Lots of tentacles.

Not much point in you hanging around, though, is there, if Im not going to set foot on the floor until youre gone, said Samuel.

The demon thought about this. Suppose not, it said.

So why dont you just leave? It cant be very comfortable under there.

Its not. Smells funny, too. And theres something poking into me.

Samuel heard scuffling from beneath the bed, and moments later a stray toy soldier was tossed against the wardrobe. You dont even want to know where that was, said the demon.

Whatever, said Samuel. Are you going to leave?

Not much else I can do, really, said the demon, not if youre going to be difficult about it.

Off you go, then, said Samuel.

Right. Bye.

There was a great deal of squelching, then silence.

Youre still under there, arent you? said Samuel.

No, said a small voice, slightly ashamedly.

Fibber.

Fine, Ill go. Dont know what Im supposed to tell her, though.

Dont tell her anything. Just keep a low profile until dawn, then say that I didnt get up during the night.

Might work, said the demon. Might work. You promise not to get up to use the bathroom or anything?

Cross my heart, said Samuel.

Cant ask for more than that, said the demon. Well, pleasure doing business with you. Nothing personal about all this, you know. Just following orders.

Youre not going to come back, are you?

Oh no, I shouldnt think so. Took a lot of power for her to summon me up. Cant imagine shell try that one again. She has a lot on her mind, what with keeping the portal open and all. Very unstable, that portal. Someone could do themselves an injury in there if theyre not careful. She might look for another way to get at you, though. Then again she might not. Soon, it wont matter much either way.

Why not? said Samuel.

End of the world, said the demon. Wont be any beds left to hide under.

And with a squish and a pop, it was gone.
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