Al (for short) the demon looked at the clock on the wall. Again. One minute had passed, just like the last time he’d checked. He didn’t know why the summons hadn’t come, but he was worried. The witch had called him – by name (which wasn’t Al, of course) – every Halloween at eight pm sharp for 76 years. When she started, she could barely have been called a witch. Fourteen if she was a day, stumbling over the ritual phrases time and time again until she got it right, spending hours getting the sigils and ingredients arranged just so. Al almost didn’t answer the call – she had used the wrong kind of wormwood oil – but he was curious about who had spent so much time and energy trying to summon him.
And Al was a curious demon. Curious in that he was curious about the worlds outside his own. The world of demons wasn’t one of fire and brimstone, as many humans imagined, and Al looked, mostly, human – as long as he kept his clothes and hat on. Some demons were all about the mayhem and torture, to be sure, but Al wanted to know whatever he could about people and places and things. So he went to see the witch that first night.
Melody had been flush with excitement and terror when Al showed up. She bowed to him with the requisite respect and then told him what she wanted him to do. Her brother’s number had been called for the draft and she was terrified. The war was so awful and she couldn’t bear to picture him cold in the night with people shooting at him. She wanted Al to find a way to end the war and protect her brother.
That wasn’t something within Al’s power. And he knew that any being with enough power to do something that massive would be a horror greater than the world had ever known. So he did what he could – he broke Melody’s brother’s leg so that he couldn’t go to war.
In the years to come, Al learned that humans could unleash horrors of their own and that maybe a demon lord would have been a better choice. He also was called back every year to help Melody with something. An overly-handsy boy at school. A boss who wouldn’t give her a promotion. A boyfriend who thought he had the rights to use his fists.
It wasn’t all violence, either. With his preternatural speed and strength, Al was useful for lots of tasks. Chopping up a tree that had fallen after a lightning strike. Moving a piano and a roll-top desk after her husband hurt his back. And eventually, just keeping an old woman company.
Al knew that the other demons would laugh at him if they saw him sipping tea with Melody, watching for trick-or-treaters and exchanging stories. She shared his penchant for curiosity, and she loved the stories he would share about this or that aspect of the demons’ world.
Al also knew that humans didn’t live for centuries, not like he would. And when the clock turned to 8:01, then 8:02, then 8:10, he began to fear the worst. But he couldn’t just go to her – the door between worlds couldn’t open, not even on Halloween, without her summons.
The time stretched on. An hour. Then two. And then he heard it. It wasn’t Melody’s voice, but it was a summons. He leapt through the portal thinking that he’d do whatever this person wanted and then see if he could find his friend. But when he got through the portal, he froze at the sight before him. Melody wasn’t there, but a young girl – about the same age as she’d been when Al had first been summoned – stood there in the pentagram, a photo clutched in her hands and tears streaming down her cheek.
“You came. I tried for so long. I didn’t know if I could. I didn’t.”
“Who are you, child?” Al’s voice boomed, though he boomed it as softly as he could, trying not to frighten the girl any more than he had to.
“Kaylee, sir. She was my great grandmother. Melody, I mean. She said you’d help me. When she was dy…dying.” Al saw that the picture in her hands was indeed that of his friend, and that the eyes of the girl in front of her were her great grandmother’s eyes.
Of course Al would help her. For Melody.