Demon Lover Excerpt
Sparks shot from John’s ax each time it struck the trunk of the steel tree. Every blow jolted through his aching arms and rang in his ears, yet he almost welcomed the racket. He’d lost track of how long he’d dwelled in the steel forest, chopping tree after tree without pause for food, water, or sleep. His demon’s body could survive for decades without rest or sustenance. If he ceased chopping long enough, the bleeding sores on his palms would heal and his muscles would almost magically stop aching. Unfortunately he must continue the drudgery until given the order to halt.
All around him, the smooth gray trees stretched for miles. As punishment for his crimes, John labored alone, chopping steel trees in Satan’s forest, only ceasing when sent to collect yet another evil soul to toil in Hell.
The sneering voice echoed throughout the forest and made John’s skin prickle with disgust. Pausing, he listened to his own panting breath in the stillness. Sweat dripped into his eyes and trickled down his torso, soaking into the wet waistband of his black trousers. He waited for the voice to continue. Usually when Bee called, it was to send him on one of his gruesome missions.
“Oh, John, your services are required. Won’t it be nice to go home again?”
“Home, Bee?” John curled his lip. The little bastard loved playing with people. Three-hundred-forty-eight years ago, John had been far more gullible. The first few times Bee had promised him a meeting with his sister or even a chance to escape from Hell, he had actually believed him.
At first he had looked forward to visiting the mortal world, but eventually the illusion shattered. Without friends or family, the world was a lonely place. People feared him and kept their distance. It was as if they sensed the evil inside him and instinctively stayed away. Never again would he experience the comfort and total relaxation of sleep, to close his eyes in complete surrender. Perhaps worst of all was his inability to fully enjoy lovemaking. He could pleasure women and feel intense sexual stimulation, yet climax eluded him.
“Can’t you think of a better story than that?”
“It’s not a story. Your hometown reeks of evil. Our master has been smelling it for quite some time now and he wants it. You go get it for him, John, and this time there might be something in it for you.”
“Beelzebub, leave us,” said a soft, musical voice. It sent a tingle down John’s spine and filled him with such warmth that he nearly panicked. After so many years in Hell, nothing touched him anymore. What sort of evil had Bee conjured that could stir his emotions again? The voice continued. “Once a soul is condemned to Hell, it is rarely allowed a chance for redemption. There are sometimes cases of a good soul doing evil, and though it is not condoned, under special circumstances it may be given the opportunity to move on, providing certain specifications are met.”
John closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. “It’s not going to work, Bee. I no longer believe in fairy tales.”
“Bee is gone. His kind cannot abide me.”
“I suppose you’re from up there?”
“I’m from everywhere. I know no bounds. Listen carefully to what I tell you, John Standcliff. Fulfill the task set for you and send the evil in your hometown to Hell. Do it without harming an innocent soul, and you will be freed from Satan’s realm and allowed your chance at redemption.”
John laughed humorlessly. “You don’t give up, do you, Bee?”
“Believe what you will, but you have only this one opportunity.”
“Oh, just one?” John’s voice dripped sarcasm.
“At least in this millennium. You’re not the only demon in Hell who deserves a second chance.”
“Then give one of them my turn. I don’t want it.”
“I understand why you don’t believe me, but keep my offer in mind during your return to the world of the living. If I’m lying, then you’ll be no worse off than you are now, but if I’m telling the truth…”
The voice faded. Moments later, Bee appeared beside John. He was nothing more than a dark cloud, loosely resembling the shape of a man. Bee shuddered. “Glad she’s gone. Now. Are you ready to get to work?”
“Who am I after this time?”
“As usual, I can’t give you too many details. After all, I’m not supposed to be catching the soul. That’s your job.”
“It’s a serial killer. Here’s his scent.” Bee’s cloudy black hand swept beneath John’s nose. The faint aroma was all a demon required to track his prey. “While you’re there, why don’t you break your own rules and hack apart some humans? The master loves it when his demons terrorize the living.”
“Just send me out of here so I can get this over with.”
Blackness enveloped John, and in those dark moments between Hell and Earth, he absorbed the details of his new identity and a crash course on life in the twenty-first century.
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