"Have a good evening!" the cashier says in a chipper voice that confirms Devon's suspicion that she's new here.
"Thanks," he says absent-mindedly, grabbing his bag from the counter. He isn't really having a good evening so far. He'd been planning to get real groceries, not convenience store junk, but his boss had asked him to stay overtime and he arrived fifteen minutes after the grocery store closed. He missed sunset, too, which meant that the only time he'd seen the sun that day was before work. His back and wrists are sore from working at a computer for twelve consecutive hours.
As he lights a cigarette in the parking lot, he thinks to himself that he deserves a break. He does have vacation time saved up. There's nothing stopping him from using it, really. He could go farther inland and go hiking--work on his photography for once. It's tempting, but he knows he won't go through with it. His coworkers need him there.
And it feels good to be needed.
He isn't really paying attention as he walks through the back alleys to get home. The streetlights are intermittent back here, which his headache is thankful for. They cast their yellow light on walls covered in graffiti, a set of tags that keep popping up no matter how many times they're covered up. The back doors of various businesses face the alleyway, some propped open to get some air into the kitchens. Devon is tempted to circle around and get himself some proper food, but he's eaten out three nights this week already and his wallet is starting to feel it.
Passing by a set of fire escape stairs and turning a corner, he sees a strange figure. It's hunched over by a pile of garbage. He can't help but stop and stare for a moment. The person is wearing what seems to be a jester's outfit in bright orange and green, except half of it is missing. While a number of ribbons and bells hang from their torso, they aren’t wearing a shirt. Their pants, too, are incomplete, exposing rather more of their ass than Devon particularly wanted to see. And- Devon has to rub his eyes to make sure he's not seeing things- they have four arms.
It's at this moment that Devon remembers the urban legend that his coworkers were discussing a couple weeks ago: a demon haunting the downtown core, lurking in the alleyways and hunting down anyone who dares disturb it.
He takes a step backwards.
The figure turns its head to look at him, its neck twisting almost all the way around. It has four eyes, all of them radiating a strange light. Its mouth is far too wide, even accounting for the exaggerated makeup it seems to be wearing.
As it begins to stand up, Devon decides he's not waiting around to say hello. He turns around and books it, not paying attention to where he's going so long as he gets away.
He can hear it giving chase, its footsteps echoing his, but he doesn't dare look at it again.
Devon scrambles around a corner, and runs down a narrow alleyway with a single garage door. The figure chasing him is laughing now. A harsh, inhuman laugh; a real laugh played in reverse. He glances around, but doesn’t see a way back to the main road.
He reaches a T-intersection, and he has to push off against the concrete wall in order to make the turn without losing speed.
Except that he does lose speed. Enough, anyway, for the creature chasing him to overtake him. It digs its claws into his shoulder, pressing him against the wall with its entire body. It's too warm, too big.
Devon tries to get away, twisting in its grasp and ducking. Its grip on his shoulder loosens, replaced by its hand in his hair. The creature yanks his head back just enough to get the momentum to slam his face into the wall.
His vision blacks out for a brief moment. His ears ring, almost but not quite loud enough to drown out the laughter of his assailant. He tastes blood.
The figure- creature- forcibly turns him around. He sinks to the ground, dazed. He needs to get away. It's going to kill him.
The creature crouches down to be at eye level, one of its hands still tight in Devon's hair. Its eyes glow blue, but one of them is golden. The texture of its skin, up close, reminds Devon of butterfly scales. It opens its mouth to speak, and the inside of its maw a sickly green colour, but the sounds it makes are far more unnatural. Like human speech, almost, warped into something unrecognizable.
It's still hard to think through the ringing in his ears. He feels a bit sluggish, but he still needs to get away.
The brings its other claw-tipped hands up to Devon's face. It pushes back his hair, pulls on his ears, pries his eyes open until they sting with the need to blink. He isn’t sure what he expected, but it wasn’t this.
The creature tilts its head and pries his mouth open, and it seems startled when the blood inside drips down his jaw. It laughs again, and leans in closer, closer.
It licks his chin, and then licks the inside of his mouth. Its tongue is too long, the touch too intimate, and Devon jerks his head back, accidentally hitting it against the wall again. He tries to bite it, tries to scramble down out of its grip and away, but its still holding him by the hair, still using its claws to hold his mouth open. He feels a rising wave of nausea.
Finally, it pulls back slightly. One of its hands lets go of Devon's mouth, and he closes it immediately.
Then its claws rake down his chest, shredding his shirt and his flesh. He stares, the horror of the visual hitting him before the pain does. He can see just a flash of bone. He feels himself start to hyperventilate. When the pain registers, it’s a sharp and angry pain, aggravated by each short breath he takes.
The creature leans down to lick the blood--and god there's too much blood--bubbling from his chest. Its tongue feels just as slimy and invasive there as it did in his mouth. He writhes, still trying to get away, but too disoriented to make any headway.
The tip of its tongue manages to slide between the layers of tissue. Every muscle in his body tenses in horror. Its tongue squirms like a maggot inside the gash on his chest, and his vision goes blurry around the edges. It’s the most painful thing he has ever experienced.
He's going to die.
The creature pulls its tongue out of his body and before he can feel the relief wash over him, it bites into his shoulder hard enough to rip small pieces of his flesh out. The blood coming out of his body feels torrential, too much, too hot, has his blood always been this hot? The creature licks at it with an inappropriate eagerness.
It pulls back momentarily. His blood is all over the creature's face now, streaming down its chin and chest. A distant streetlight lines up with its head, becoming a mockery of a halo.
Its claws curl against his stomach, then into his stomach. The pain is blinding. Devon's vision doubles and blurs, and this time, it doesn't slide back into focus. The faint golden light coming from behind the creature seems to become brighter, all-encompassing.
Like the glow of heaven.
Like the fires of hell.
The ringing in his ears gets louder, and louder, and louder, until it is the only thing that he can hear, taste, see, feel. He is distantly aware of his fingers twitching.
And then he isn't aware of anything.