Always Have an Exit Strategy

The sky was black and swollen with rain clouds about to blow their loads, and in the weeds on the side of the dirt road, every shadow had eyes. Giselle was not looking forward to the drive back, when the ground would be churned into the world’s biggest mud pie, but Randy had insisted time was of the essence. That was the kind of thing Randy said: time is of the essence. She was partial to “hurry up or untold demons will walk the earth,” but that was why he was in charge and she was just along as the Clair. Clairvoyant, mostly, but that was more preference than ability.

“What’s the plan?” she asked.

“You sit in the truck,” Randy replied. “Stan and I will search the grounds and neutralize the target.”

“That’s it?”

Randy glanced at her in the rear view mirror, his brown eyes narrowing. “We’ve been instructed to be more… Selective in where we take our non-combat psychics.”

Giselle grinned and slumped against the beige leather seat. “Sweet. Can I put on the radio?”

“Negative. We need you on alert.”

“How about a walkie-talkie?”

“Only for emergencies.”

Stan swiveled around in his seat and slid his sunglasses down his nose to glare at her. “Serious emergencies, kiddo. No comments from the peanut gallery while we’re inside.”

“Oh my god, I’ll try not to critique your stance or whatever.” She rolled her eyes. Stan was old enough to be her dad, and he couldn’t stop acting like one; it was how he coped with extra-bad assignments. He also tended to chug nasty green vegetable smoothies, and break boards with his head, but hey: she’d probably do that, too, if she could.

They pulled up in front of a house that reminded Giselle of the Wizard of Oz–the Kansas bit, not the Technicolor fever dream. Dingy gray wood gave her splinters from looking at it, and the crawl space underneath creeped her out even with her third eye closed. A big bolt of lightning flashed in front of them, thunder cracking so fast that she couldn’t even count one Mississippi. The weather in Florida was nothing if not theatrical.

“Survey the area, please,” Randy said.

“Yeah,” Stan said. “Where’s our little ecto-terrorist hiding?”

Giselle took a deep breath to center herself, closed her eyes, and opened her third eye. That’s how she pictured it, anyway; chakra, pineal gland, whatever it was, it had always been her little cyclops secret, even if it seemed to let her do more than just see stuff that others couldn’t. The world got the washed-out look of an old Polaroid, grasses and other little scrubs turning fuzzy and pale while the sky stayed dark as coal. Some of the older trees were more solid, and one tree in particular towered in front of the house like the Conan of conifers. Randy was his usual knight in shining armor self; Stan was mostly wispy. But the house, holy crap…

If it was ugly before, it was triple ugly now. The foundation oozed dark, stringy stuff like bloody snot, and the boarded-up windows shone with a red light that made Giselle’s closed eyes burn. This wasn’t new evil; this was years of psychic garbage piling up in the can. A low-pitched keening started from inside, growing no louder but somehow more intense until her chest buzzed with the sound. A shadow passed in front of one of the windows, and Giselle knew the demon had spotted her. With her third eye open, her aura was extra bright, like a flamethrower in a cave. And there were plenty of giant moths around ready to throw themselves at it.

She closed the eye with a shudder. “House,” she said. “Very much house.”

“So maybe it is stuck inside, like the girl’s mom said,” Stan murmured.

“I vote we burn it down,” Giselle said.

Randy shook his head. “We have to try to get the victim out.”

“Do we?” she asked.

“Christ, G,” Stan said. “We can’t leave her in there.”

“I’m just saying, I’d probably want to die in a fire after–”

“A roaring lion kills no game,” Randy said, his dark face impassive. “Wait here.”

He and Stan climbed out of the truck while she cowered in the back, teeth clenched to keep them from chattering. They approached the house and eased open the front door, guns drawn. It was one thing to hear that some psycho had thought it would be rad to let a demon rape his daughter; it was another to see the demon digging around inside the dude’s nasty house like a maggot in a festering wound. The Research and Defense Agency had some good shrinks, at least. She’d seen them often enough herself.

There was a shout, and Giselle got a glimpse of something like a dinosaur covered in tumors charging in her direction. Then the truck was lifted into the air and launched into the massive tree she’d seen earlier. It landed with a crunch, branches crashing through the windows and denting the doors. She screamed as whiplash cracked her head against the glass of the rear passenger door, which spider-webbed but didn’t break.

Below her, shots clapped like little thunders. Her vision was spotty, but she could see Randy swapping clips while Stan unloaded on the demon. Standard bullets must have been a wash, she thought. Probably needed silver, or blessed iron.

Or holy water. Randy reached into his coat, pulled out a vial and dumped it on his bullets. He fired as methodically as if he were at a range targeting a piece of paper. The demon skittered around below her, and had taken a few hits because its skin was sizzling.

It started to rain, and the creature crowed like a rooster on meth as the sizzling stopped. The holy water would be washed off, diluted, and the bullets would be useless again. Unless they could bless the rain somehow…

Giselle clambered over the edge of the front passenger seat, her head spinning as the truck creaked and shifted. A branch clawed at her arm, but she ignored it. She had to get into the glove box. Water poured through the broken windows, making the leather slippery and soaking the knees of her jeans. She collapsed into the seat, fumbling the latch on the glove box, but it was stuck. She kicked it once, twice, and it fell open. The vial she wanted tumbled out and slid under the seat, and she yelped, then started to climb back down to recover it.

With a groan, the truck dropped a few feet, slamming her into the dashboard. Stars flew across her eyes. Outside, Stan screamed. She had to hurry before they ran out of bullets, or shooters. Down she went, quickly as she dared, reaching out a hand until her fingertips brushed the vial. The branches shifted again but held as she made a short lunge and grabbed it. Now she just had to get the thing to Randy.

“Stupid power doors,” she muttered. She couldn’t get out the top window because branches blocked the way, and if she kicked out the bottom one, the truck might fall.

A stray bullet turned the spiderweb of cracks into a mosaic. It also zipped through her hair, but she wasn’t going to look a gift shot in the mouth. She gently knocked the glass out and poked her upper body through. The truck was about two stories off the ground, twenty feet from the demon and maybe thirty feet away from Randy and Stan. Stan, who got extra protective around young women in trouble. Stan, who was on the ground, bleeding and clutching his stomach.

“Jesus, Thor and Quetzalcoatl, bless the hell out of this pitch,” she muttered. “Randy! Heads up!” She waved the vial so he could see what it was, then threw it underhand as hard as she could.

It carved a beautiful arc through the rain. Randy followed it with his gun, and just as it flew over the demon, he shot it clean through. The thrice-blessed ashes of an ancient martyr exploded in a cloud that mingled with the rain, showering the demon with a holy slurry that melted it faster than a wicked witch could say, “Oh, what a world.” In seconds, it was just a wisp of smoke and an evil stain slowly mixing with the lighter mud around it.

“Nobody messes with Thor!” she shouted to the sky.

The walkie-talkie squawked, making her jump. “Giselle,” Randy said. “You okay?”

“Only mostly concussed,” she replied. “Is this enough of an emergency for Stan yet?”

Randy shook his head and she giggled.

“Stan says to get down here so he can bleed on your sneakers.”

He was probably going to be okay, then. She sobered. “How’s the girl?”

“Alive. We’ll find out more when our backup gets here. Shouldn’t be long.”

“Good,” Giselle said, turning her face to the rain and letting it wash the blood out of her hair. “Because I have no clue how I’m going to get down from here.”

* * * * *

For a Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge.

One Response to “Always Have an Exit Strategy”

  1. Terri says:

    Very well done, congrats on your win! Twas awesome.

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