Denver Beck's time as an apprentice Demon Trapper was anything but easy. This time he's deep in Atlanta's metro system facing a wily, and ravenous, Gastro-Fiend.
A Demon Trappers® Short Story
Denver Beck’s knew he had to prove himself on this run, or call it quits. Every apprentice demon trapper faced this test: today he would trap his first Grade Three demon. If he succeeded, he would be one step closer to becoming a journeyman trapper. If not, he’d have proved so many people right – that he was nothing more but a waste of space.
For the last few months, he’d been under the watchful eye of a master demon trapper, learning the ins and outs of the trade. In truth, Paul Blackthorne was more like a father than a teacher, a role that began when they’d first met in Paul’s high school history class. Beck had always respected the man, an easy-going widower in his early forties. Even after Paul had lost his teaching job and become a demon trapper, their friendship continued. Now it was Beck’s chance to show him just how good he could be.
Though Hellspawn could be found anywhere in Atlanta, they liked to congregate in the Five Points area just south of downtown. The trappers, a mismatched crew of men from all walks of life, called it Demon Central. It was the best place to find one of Lucifer’s more ferocious Hellspawn, a Gastro-Fiend. Threes, as the trappers called them, were dedicated killings machines.
He and Paul had been called out to trap such a beast. As they descended the first of three lengthy escalators into the depths of Peachtree station, Beck shifted the strap of his heavy trapping bag to keep it from digging into his shoulder. It was loaded with the usual trapper supplies: a two-foot length of steel pipe, a bag of chicken entrails, magical spheres and a few bottles of Holy Water. With the heat, the chicken was beginning to smell.
From below them came the characteristic whine of one of the trains entering the station. Though the city was bankrupt, the MARTA trains kept running, though erratically. Peachtree Station was on one of the main railway lines, located underground in the heart of the city.
The August heat made his T-shirt stick to his skin. Beck skimmed a hand through his military-style short blond hair. He had a history with this particular station and it hadn’t been a good one. The last time he’d been here he’d tried to trap a Pyro-Fiend, a fire-loving demon. He’d seriously botched the capture and a Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) team had been summoned to deal with the cleanup. Both he and Paul had taken a lot of grief from the Demon Trappers Guild for that screw up. It had nearly cost him his apprentice license.
If he screwed up this time, he was history.
Why am I doin’ this? I gotta be crazy. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much else a twenty-year-old veteran could do unless he wanted to break the law, or live on the streets.
A kid on the opposite escalator let out a war hoop and Beck instinctively crouched down, his heart pounding and his mouth dry. When he realized the source of the noise, he rose to his feet, feeling like a fool.
He’d only been home from the Middle East for a few months. Everyday noises, the kind that other people ignored, he had to process through his war-heightened senses. He found himself automatically scanning faces, looking for enemies, folks who might want to shoot him in the back or trigger a cache of explosives.
In Afghanistan, that extreme caution had saved his life. Though the war was supposedly winding down, there was always someone who’d love to kill a bunch of Americans, especially if they wore uniforms. On one afternoon, a roadside bomb had come very close to killing him.
No matter how he tried, Beck was still too keyed up to let down his guard.
His mentor noticed. “The only bad guys here are the demons,” Paul said softly. “No need to be so jumpy.”
“I can’t help myself. It’s the way I am right now.”
“It’s not a bad habit, Den,” Paul continued, “it’s just that it takes your attention away from the real threats.” His friend smiled at him. “Don’t worry, you’ll do fine.”
“Glad one of us thinks so.”
The Guild categorized demons according to their lethality and their general intelligence. Fortunately, Gastro-Fiends weren’t that bright, but they made up for that with pure ferocity. Threes stood at about four feet tall, their bodies covered in fur, usually solid black. The younger ones were plump and had a single row of teeth, both top and bottom. The mature ones had more teeth and highly aggressive.
Though Paul wouldn’t let this thing eat him, but there was nothing to stop it from ripping out Beck’s entrails before his friend nailed it with a Holy Water sphere.
“The fiend could be hiding in the tunnels or on one of the trains,” Paul remarked, always in teacher mode. “How do you propose we find it?”
“Listen for the screams?” Beck joked.
“Sometimes it isn’t that easy.”
Then the screaming began.
“Ah, damn!” Beck said and took off at a trot, hurrying past other passengers on the escalator. Once he and Paul reached the platform, they found a knot of civilians all trying to get somewhere else in a hurry. The reason for their panic was about ten yards away – a Gastro-Fiend. This one was leaner, with thick muscles underneath the rank fur, and it sported two crooked layers of teeth. Six talons protruded from each paw and its eyes were laser red.
He’d seen them before, but Paul had been the one trapping them. Now this was his.
“It’s one of the older ones,” Paul warned. “It’ll move faster than you’re used to. Keep it away from the civilians and I’ll hit it with the Holy Water.”
Beck’s hands shook as he eased his trapping bag to the concrete. Adrenalin stormed through his body and he forced himself to take a deep breath. This was the part of the job that scared the hell out of him, and the part he lived for.
“You be careful, okay?” Paul said.
“Yes, sir,” Beck replied. He quickly removed pipe and the entrails, which would serve as bait. Paul already had a Holy Water sphere in hand, ready to deliver it the moment the demon went after Beck. If he hit the fiend in the face with the glass sphere, it would be rendered unconscious long enough to secure it. It wasn’t a perfect take-down system, but it usually worked. When it didn’t, trappers got hurt … or killed.
No longer fascinated with a trash container’s contents, the demon had taken an unholy interest in a teenage boy. The kid was busily snapping photos of the monster with his cell phone, no doubt to impress his friends.
Idiot! “Get the hell away from it!” Beck shouted, already on the move.
Startled, the teen peered over his shoulder at him, a deer in the headlights. The fiend chose that moment to launch its attack.
Beck picked up speed, legs pumping in a bid to cover the distance in half the time. As he ran, he heaved the bag of entrails so it landed some distance to the left of the kid. The Three ignored it, homing in on the much larger meal.
Shouting to attract its attention, Beck put himself between the teen and the Three. He hip-checked the boy toward an open train car.
“Go!” he shouted.
The kid stumbled, hit the floor of the train and slid, his fingers still locked around the phone. Though the civilian was out of the way, Beck found himself out of position. He tried to turn fast enough to ward off the demon, but it raked his arm with its toxic claws as it charged by. He bellowed in pain.
With a startling crash, a Holy Water sphere shattered against the side of the train, splattering liquid and glass fragments in all directions. It’d just missed the demon’s head.
To Beck’s relief, the car doors closed and the train rolled of the station.
At least the kid’s safe.
Its departure distracted the fiend long enough for Beck to back away and assess the situation. The Three was doing the same as drool rolled down its chin. It glared at him with flame-red eyes. He flinched at the sight of his blood and flesh on the thing’s claws.
Beck tightened his grip on the pipe. It felt warm to the touch.
“Trapperrr!” the demon cried as it flung itself at Beck. He slammed at it with his pipe, but his timing was off. Instead of a solid blow, the Three hooked a paw around the weapon, using it to pull him closer. Before he realized what was happening, its teeth snapped inches from his neck, its foul breath scorching him as the stink of putrid fur filled his nose.
A glass sphere slammed into the demon’s shoulder, but it had no effect. Beck released the pipe and lurched to the side. Instead of dropping it, the demon sent the weapon flying across the open space directly at him. When he raised an arm to shield himself, it bounced off the bone, clipping his forehead as it passed. Beck’s head exploded in a burst of pain and he almost went to his knees. If he did, he was dead.
“Get out of the way!” Paul called out, panic in his voice now.
When Beck complied with the order, another Holy Water sphere flew through the air, but it missed. He grabbed up the pipe, but the fiend was already on the move, taking a running leap at him. They tumbled onto the concrete and rolled, their combined momentum carrying them off the platform into the dirty pit below.
He landed hard on his back, the wind knocked out of him, costing him precious seconds to regain his breath. Looking around wildly, he cursed when he saw that his pipe hadn’t made the journey with him. He also realized he was next to the covered rail, the one that supplied the electricity to run the trains. He quickly scooted away from it.
No wonder Paul hadn’t thrown another sphere, not with Beck so close to that massive power source. Get fried was not his idea of fun.
“Den?” his friend called out, his face peering over the edge of the platform. “You okay?”
Beck gave a nod and pulled up himself up, searching for the demon. It was about fifteen feet away, rising to its clawed feet as well. He was pleased to see it had taken some hurt: one arm was cut and dripping black blood.
A low rumble filled the station as a train arrived on the other side of the platform. That meant there were more people now, more chances for someone to get hurt. The demon raised its muzzle and sniffed the air, scenting fresh prey.
Beck backed away slowly. He was out of weapons, and if he ran, the fiend would just chase him down and rip him apart. If the demon followed him onto the platform, it’d get worse in a hurry. From there it had a couple ways to escape and a lot of people it could damage in the process. Even though the MARTA cops were trying to clear out the curious, folks weren’t moving. Not when there was so much drama.
I have to keep it down here with me.
Beck became aware that his friend stood just to his left, up on the platform. “This pretty much blows, Paul,” he called out.
“I agree. I don’t have a good shot right now, not with you down there.”
“If I crawl out, the demon will follow me right into the civvies.”
“I know.” He turned and shouted at one of the MARTA cops, pleading with them to clear the platform. They were doing their best, but some of the passengers refused to leave, their cell phones out, just in case this turned out to be a graphic YouTube moment.
A plan began to form in his mind. “Give me my pipe and a sphere,” Beck called out.
“Water isn’t your friend right now,” Paul warned.
“I know,” he replied. It wasn’t the demon’s, either.
The requested items came his way, along with his friend’s worried muttering. Beck tucked the orb up close to his chest, and brandished the pipe. The demon shifted it weight forward, a sign it was about to make another run.
“Chew yourrrr bones!” it yelled as it rushed him.
Beck struck it hard in the chest, and again, the thing clawed him as it passed, coming dangerously close.
Beck spun around and backed away, never having had the chance to use the sphere.
Maybe this isn’t a good idea after all.
As the train on the other side of the platform began to move out of the station, Beck shot a look over the demon’s shoulder. It was only a matter of time before one arrived on their tracks. Maybe he could use that to his advantage. He glanced up at the electronic billboard, hoping to see when the next train would arrive. The board was running an ad for some concert.
“Damn,” he muttered.
The demon was breathing heavily now and glancing repeatedly toward Paul and the platform. Instead of taking him down, was it weighing its chances of escape? It was time to get the thing mad. If it was trying to kill him, it wouldn’t be thinking clearly.
“Hey, demon, how’s this goin’ for ya?” Beck called out. “Yer the best old Lucifer’s got?” He snorted. “No wonder they kicked his sorry ass out of Heaven.”
The fiend snarled at the mention of its master’s name. They hated being reminded they were nothing more than Hell’s slaves. It snarled.
“Come on, dumbass. Let’s get this done. Or are ya afraid of me?” The demon roared its anger, waving its arms in the air.
He sent the pipe end over end toward the Three’s head. It ducked, which was exactly what Beck had hoped. He ran forward, under-handing the sphere directly into the demon’s face. The sphere shattered, splattering the sacred liquid. With a groan, the monster crumpled onto its knees between the tracks, fighting to stay conscious.
A low noise brought Beck’s eyes up. A train loomed out of the tunnel on his tracks, so close he felt the pressure wave of air that rode just ahead of it.
“Den! Get out of there!” Paul ordered.
Beck took a desperate leap toward the platform, his knees ramming into side of it as he tried to claw his way out. The horn split the air, followed by the shriek of brakes as the train operator realized the tracks weren’t empty.
There was a sickening crunch and then the sound of fat sparks.
Hands grabbed at him and pulled. Beck felt something tug on the back of one of his boots, nearly pulling it off. A high-pitched cry filled the air. For a second he thought it had come from his mouth. After what seemed an eternity, he slumped like a beached whale, belly first, on the concrete platform.
When the train halted, Beck forced himself to breath. “My legs … are they still there?” He knew how massive injuries sometimes didn’t register right off. He’d learned that one personally.
Paul checked him over as he knelt next to him. “You’re good. I don’t see anything missing. Where does it hurt?”
“Everywhere,” Beck mumbled. He sighed. It had been the train tugging on one of his boots. It’d been too close. With considerable effort, he slowly raised his head. “The Three?”
“It’s history,” Paul replied in between deep breaths, his eyes were wide. He was shaking and that spooked Beck more than anything. “Oh God, Den, your back’s all ripped up.”
Tell me about it.
Beck placed his cheek on the cool concrete as all his wounds sent frantic ohmigod it hurts messages to his overloaded brain. At least he wasn’t train sushi like the demon. From around them came excited voices and the crackle of police radios.
The air slowly filled with the sickening stench of burning fur.
Eventually, with Paul’s help, Beck sat upright, which only made his back throb in time to the wound in his scalp. He took a grim inventory: the adrenalin surge was making him sick to his stomach, his hands and knees were skinned and there was too much blood on his jeans and the front of his tee shirt to be good news.
“Fire department and Hazmat are rolling,” one of the MARTA cops exclaimed.
Ah shit. Not again.
As someone gagged in response to the stench of roasting demon, an announcement came over the intercom stating that the north-south MARTA line was out of service for the time being. That was going to piss off some folks, especially those headed to the airport.
And I’m to blame. All he’d wanted was to make Paul proud of him but like most things in his life, it’d gone square to hell. Maybe I should just give it up now.
Paul rose and flipped open his license as one of those cops approached. “I am Master Trapper Blackthorne and this is my apprentice. We were called here to deal with a Grade Three demon.”
“That’s not what we heard,” the man replied, frowning. “We got a report of some crazy person was playing tag with a demon and throwing people around.”
Beck kept his mouth shut and let his mentor take the lead. He had too much of a temper and if he let it loose, it’d only get worse. If that was possible.
Despite his friend’s even-tempered approach, it took Paul five minutes of calm reassurances to get the cops to understand that they weren’t the enemy. That didn’t stop the “protect and serve” crowd from having the bomb squad’s dog check out both their trapping bags and themselves. There had never been any love lost between the trappers and the cops.
When the dog sniffed at Beck, it backed off, sneezing. With a whine it ducked behind its handler’s legs.
“I’ve never seen him do that before,” the guy said.
“Dogs are smart – they fear demons, and right now that’s what my partner smells like,” Paul explained.
The bomb squad dude took his canine elsewhere.
As it all played out, thin oily smoke continued to fill the cavern, the remains of fried Three polluting the air and everyone close to it. Beck watched with no amusement as the fire department and the Hazmat guys tried to figure out how to handle the situation. He was willing to bet there was nothing in their manuals for that one.
What an effin’ mess.
Paul helped him limp to the nearest wooden bench and then sat next to him, a bottle of Holy Water in hand.
“Just do it,” Beck said. He’d only get sicker if the wounds weren’t treated soon, the toxins causing his body to rot from the inside out.
When the sacred liquid hit his clawed-up leg, Beck bit off an oath, mindful they were in public. Next came the arm and finally his back. The latter’s searing agony nearly made him vomit.
“That’ll hold until the doctor can get you patched you up,” Paul announced, tucking the empty bottle in his trapping bag. “God, you took a lot of damage.”
“It don’t matter anyway,” Beck said, his voice tight. “Master Harper was right -- I’m a total loser. He’s gonna make sure they toss my ass out of the Guild for this. Maybe I should just save them the trouble and walk away now.”
Paul was suddenly in his face. “What? I thought you were tougher than that, Den. You always said you were. Was that just bullshit or did that demon slice off your balls, too?”
Beck reared back, stunned. He’d never heard his friend talk like that. “Don’t act like this isn’t a big deal. That kid’s parents are gonna sue the hell out of me and the Guild. This is seriously fuc--”
“It isn’t a picnic and it’s never easy, but what you’re doing is important. You saved that boy’s life, and now you think it isn’t worth it?”
“But I screwed up.”
“We all do. That’s life.” His friend frowned. “So, what’s it going to be? Are you in or out? Tell me now. I have to know.”
If he quit, Beck knew what the other trappers would say. Yeah, he gave it up. Didn’t have the guts to make it. Never was one of us. Then they’d say he wasn’t man enough to handle the job.
“Den, are you in or are you out?” his friend asked solemnly.
Paul deserved an answer.
Beck weighed his future and took a gamble. “I’m in,” he murmured, so softly he wondered if he actually said the words.
Paul sighed in relief. “So, tell me, what did you do wrong?”
“No, not quite. The next time you trap a Three you’re need to be a lot smarter, providing you learned something from this … disaster. Talk to me. Tell me what you would have done differently.”
Let some other dumbass capture the thing?
Knowing that comment was only going to buy him grief, Beck worked back through the trapping, step by step. “I shoulda been carryin’ a sphere right up front, since I was gonna be so close to that thing.”
A nod returned. “What else?”
“I shoulda given ya a clear field of fire. I was in the way most of the time so ya couldn’t hit the demon.”
“Correct. And …?”
He looked over at his mentor. “What else is there?”
“Do not play chicken with a train,” Paul replied, his tone sharper now. “That was just crazy, Den.”
“Yeah, well, it kept the demon away from the civvies.”
“Yes, it did. It was also remarkably brave. I don’t know if I’d have had the guts to do that.”
“The Guild isn’t gonna see it that way.”
“They might once they view the security footage,” Paul replied. “That could save our butts.”
Beck hadn’t considered that. Everything he’d done would have been recorded. “That’s a damn long shot and ya know it.”
“That’s the story of our lives. One long shot after another.”
He looked away, staring into the distance. This wasn’t just about him. What will they do to Paul? They wouldn’t kick him out of the Guild because of me, would they?
He noticed a burly man talk his way through the ring of MARTA cops and head their way. He had a linebacker’s build and wore a dark suit and blue tie. His expression was no-nonsense.
“You the trapper who tossed my kid inside a train?” he demanded, his eyes on Beck. His voice was deep and resonant.
Here it comes. “Yes, sir, I am.”
“Get up here, son,” he ordered. The teen who’d put himself in harm’s way shuffled up, one of his high top’s laces untied. He puffed hard like he’d been running. The boy stared at the floor, his cell phone in hand as if was a permanent part of his anatomy. “What do you tell this guy, Billy?”
“Ah …” The boy looked up at Beck. “Thanks. What you did was … awesome.”
“Yeah,” he said, smiling. “I ran back from Five Points station to see what happened. I even got some of it on my phone.”
“I’m sure ya did.” Beck winced as he tried to sit straighter. “Just promise me ya’ll keep away from those things, ya hear?”
“Yes, sir. I won’t get near one again.”
Sir? Beck found that amusing. He wasn’t more than about four years older than this boy and yet it felt like at least fifty.
“Then it’s all good,” he murmured. At least for the kid.
“My son called me and told me what happened,” the man explained. “You saved his life. I won’t forget that.”
“That’s our job, sir,” Beck said.
The man handed Paul a business card. “Let me know if this young fellow needs anything, okay?”
“I will. Thank you, Mr. … Dennis.”
The guy nodded, then headed off toward the exit, the teen in tow.
Paul chuckled as he stuck the card in a shirt pocket. “You know, Den, you must have an angel watching over you.”
“Why would ya think that?”
“That gentleman works in the governor’s office. He’s the ombudsman.’ At Beck’s puzzled expression he added, “He’s the kind of guy you want in your corner if this gets ugly with the Guild.”
“Really?” His friend nodded. “Well, hell …”
It took some effort for Paul to get him to his feet. To his embarrassment, Beck found he was dizzy, his head whirling around like he’d downed a six pack way too fast.
“And I wanted to be a trapper … why?” he muttered.
“I think you said it’d help you score with the chicks,” Paul said, grinning.
“Riiiight. Shows what I know.”
They’d barely made it through the turnstile on the upper level when someone stepped in their path. Beck groaned. He knew the guy – George something or other – a reporter for one of the local TV stations who’d covered his last major screw-up.
“Hey, Beck. What is it with you and train stations?” the guy said, grinning. “Here I thought it was going to be a slow news day.” He waved a finger in the air and the cameraman behind him clicked on the lights and began filming.
“We’re live in Peachtree MARTA station,” the reporter began, “where a heroic rescue as just taken place.”
“I am not a hero,” Beck grumbled under his breath. Paul’s elbow clipping his ribs told him now was not the time to be humble.
“Master Blackthorne, can you give us a rundown of what happened today?”
The microphone came his way. “I most certainly can.”
Paul always has my back. Why would I ever walk away from this guy?
When Beck finally made it to street level, he slumped on a bench while Paul went to collect the car. He gulped in the fresh air, though he could still smell the roasting demon on his clothes. His teeth were starting to chatter as a fever took hold, even though his injuries had been treated with Holy Water. As time went on, the demon wounds wouldn’t bother him as much, but right now he was getting the full Hellish treatment.
As least I’m not a grease spot on the tracks.
As he gloomily pondered the odds of keeping his job, two small feet appeared close to his blood-stained boots. He looked down to find a little girl, maybe four years of age, watching him intently. He tried to smile, but even his lips hurt.
“Hi,” he said, his voice thick.
“Hi,” she replied. She had big brown eyes and brown hair in long braids, which sort of reminded him of Paul’s daughter. This little one could be a mini Riley, though her nose was shorter and her eyes were more green than brown.
After a look at her mom, probably for courage, the girl offered him a small ice cream cone. “I saw what you did. Sworry you’re hurt,” she said with a slight lisp.
“Thanks. That’s mighty kind of ya,’ he said and took the gift, hoping the kid didn’t notice the blood on his hands.
She skittered back to her parents, suddenly shy. Her dad gave him a thumbs up and then they walked away, the little girl holding their hands and talking animatedly.
At least someone likes me.
He’d even scored a vanilla cone out of the deal. He took a long lick and let the cool creaminess melt inside his mouth. It tasted pretty good. He’d always been a sucker for a cute smile.
Maybe his life didn’t suck as bad as he thought. He was doing what he loved, even if the job kept trying to kill him. If the Guild ruled in his favor – and that would be a miracle – someday he’d be a journeyman. Maybe even a master demon trapper just like Paul.
No, this wasn’t the end of his career.
This is just the beginnin’.
© 2013 Jana Oliver
Demon Trappers® is a registered trademark of Jana G. Oliver
All Rights Reserved.
is an international & multi award-winning author in various genres including young adult, urban fantasy and paranormal romance.