Read an Excerpt
By Jana Oliver
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Jana Oliver
All rights reserved.
The Proud to Be Retro decal on the house's front door should have been Riley Blackthorne's first clue. But then every day was bizarre when you were an apprentice Demon Trapper. She double-checked the address on the trapping order clutched in her left hand. This was the place.
Just my luck.
Retro was gaining favor in Atlanta, what with the economy fizzling like a damp firecracker and the city bankrupt. When today sucked, why not "live" in a simpler, more perfect time? Even if that time had actually sucked as bad as this one. Some Retros preferred the 1980's, some the 40s. Exactly which era this client had chosen remained to be seen.
"Please, not the 50s again," Riley murmured. A couple weeks back, she and her demon trapper dad had encountered a Retro lady with her head firmly in 1955. She'd been clad in a pink and white floral dress, a white starched apron, heels and a single strand of pearls. She had a picture of Dwight D. Eisenhower on her wall and her kitchen was all white metal cabinets, chrome chairs and linoleum. She'd been one very mad Retro lady by the time they'd fished a swearing, peeing and biting demon from amidst her prized cookbook collection. Though the mess on her pristine cabinets and floor wasn't anything major, Ms. 50s acted like it was the end of the world. And told them so ... repeatedly.
As Riley's father had said after the incident. "Sometimes I like the demons more than the clients."
With a silent prayer heavenward, Riley rapped on the weathered door. Fidgeting, she straightened her jeans jacket and flipped her long brown hair behind her shoulders. Up to this point her father had watched over her on each trapping run, preventing her from making seriously dumb moves. Today there was no dad backup and that made her off-the-scale nervous. No, she couldn't expect special treatment just because her father was Paul Blackthorne, legendary master trapper.
That was the way it was done–the master took the newbie on trapping runs until he deemed the apprentice was ready to handle the smaller demons on his (or in Riley's case) her own. Once she'd passed that test, they'd tackle the next grade level of Hellspawn, on and on until she took down a Grade Five Geo-Fiend. But that would be at least six months away. Once she'd completed her training, she took the test and became a journeyman trapper. A lot was riding on this gig, if nothing more than to prove to the other trappers in the Atlanta Guild she wasn't some silly wannabe.
The door creaked open and a woman peered out at her. She looked about forty, but was trying to look younger. She had a blonde Afro, hip hugger bell bottoms, a bunch of beads and a black Peace Now tee shirt. More troubling: her eyes didn't focus right.
Oh crap. She's into the 60s. Her dad had warned her about these folks. Another face appeared–this belonged to a stick thin guy with shoulder-length brown hair held back by a black bandana across his forehead. A busy beard, tee shirt advocating free love and ratty jeans left no doubt he was way into the 1960s. Both of them wore sandals with no socks. In January.
"Peace," the woman said, then made the appropriate sign with her two fingers. The guy did the same.
Clearly Riley was going to have to be the adult in this conversation.
"I'm here to take care of your ..." She hesitated at this point. Her dad had taught her to never say the "d" word in public until the client was willing to acknowledge that they had a fiendish issue. Demons in your home rated right up there with declaring your place a plague pit. Some people wouldn't buy a house if there'd even been a demon inside. "I'm here to take care of your problem."
The pair just stared at her.
"You know. The problem?" Nothing. So much for subtlety. "I'm a Demon Trapper."
"Oh, groovy," the woman said and smiled. Riley decided she was probably called Sunflower or something like that given her oversize hairstyle. "The Man at the Guild said you'd like have this piece of paper."
Maybe she means my license. Riley dug in her messenger bag and produced the apprentice Demon Trapper license, laminated proof that she was allowed to capture Hellspawn. Well, at least the small ones. Mini demons loved to steal jewelry, destroy books, burn out circuit boards and stick dead roaches inside denture cups. It was all annoying stuff. Unless you were a denture wearer. Or a librarian.
As Riley offered up the license the photograph mocked her. Back when it'd been taken her hair had been this amazing blend of brown and black with bright teal highlights. Now it was her natural brown because her dad had insisted on it. "People judge by appearances," he'd said. "You need to look like a pro. Blue hair doesn't cut it."
Neither does dull brown.
"You're only seventeen?" Sunflower asked, raising a blonde eyebrow.
"Yes, but I'm fully trained to handle Grade One demons," Riley replied, just like her dad had taught her when the age issue arose.
"He's a majorly wacked out," Bandana announced. "He crossed the line."
"What line?" Riley asked, puzzled.
"He went after Jim's albums," the guy said, shaking his head in disgust. "That's so not cool."
"We tried to get him to split, check out someone's pad, but he won't go," the woman added. "So we called The Man."
Don't try to make sense of this. Just get it done.
The license was returned, then she was led through a house populated with garish orange and green bean bag chairs, bead curtains and a Che Guevara poster. Some sort of East Indian music played in the background. Worse, the place reeked of patchouli. Riley sneezed. Twice. Then dug for a tissue.
I just have to snag the demon and make a break for it. Then run her clothes through the washer a few times so they didn't smell like she lived in a Buddhist monastery.
They entered a room at the back of the house that looked like a shrine. Probably because it was. One full wall was covered in posters, all of this particular band. In the middle of them was a huge picture of this cute guy with shaggy brown hair, clothed in a leather jacket, and holding a microphone. Beneath the picture was a plaque that said Light My Fire 1943-1971. Then there were the rows and rows of candles that sent pinpoints of light onto the remaining tapestry-covered walls.
This has to be a setup. My dad must have talked a couple of his buddies into messing with my head. Yeah, it's a hazing.
She waited for the "Gotcha" moment from the pair of hippies. It didn't come.
"See?" Sunflower asked.
All Riley saw was serious obsession with Jim Morrison and The Doors. Her father had been a fan, but this was way more than that.
"Neat room," Riley said, figuring that was a safe response.
"No, not that," Sunflower exclaimed. "See?"
Following the woman's pointed finger, Riley finally spied the demon on the altar, perched next to a small statue of the Jim guy.
"Can you dig it?" Sunflower asked in a jangle of beads.
"Yeah, I got it," Riley said.
Trappers had a rating scale for demons based on how dangerous they were: Grade One to Grade Five. This was a One, a Biblio-Fiend. It might be small, but it could rip through a library like a chainsaw when it was in the proper mood. Which was pretty much all the time.
As Riley slowly moved forward to study the fiend, it cut loose a string of swear words. It was about three inches tall, had pointed ears and was mocha in color. The most unnerving feature was its two brilliant red eyes. They glowered at her menacingly.
"Trappperr ..." it hissed, then swore again.
The little demon did have two other weapons besides its foul personality: sharp teeth and ... She backed off just in time to avoid a tiny stream of green urine that came her way. That was why trappers called them Little Pissers. No way did she want it to wreck her jeans.
This kind hated books. That didn't explain why it was here. This wasn't a library or a bookstore, but something had attracted it. There was a topped pile of New Age books on the floor near the altar, but nothing that compelling unless you wanted to read about composting or aligning your chakras.
As she watched, the thing tugged a book from underneath its butt and began to rip out the pages. She caught a glimpse of the spine. The book was by John Milton.
"Ah, that's your problem," Riley said, relieved to be on familiar ground. "You've got a copy of Paradise Lost in your house. Biblios hate Milton. Same with Dante, C.S. Lewis and most holy books. They'll go after those every time."
"So, like, how do we get the dude to bug out?" Bandana asked.
Riley turned toward the pair. They couldn't be like this all the time, could they? "I have a secret weapon," she replied, trying hard to sound confident. That's not how she felt. Wish my dad was here.
There was the sound of another page ripping free. This time the demon made it into a spit ball and launched the missile at her. It plonked off her forehead
Glowering at the little fiend, she tried to think this through. That was paramount–the trapper must retain control of the trapping.
Warnings. I haven't done those yet. She hadn't memorized those completely, so she pulled the Unintended Consequences and Perils sheet out of her messenger bag and began to run down the list. As she read off the potential hazards, the clients clustered around her.
"They steal souls? Now that's gnarly," Bandana said, pointing to one of the listed perils. Most of which didn't apply to the demon on the altar.
"Talk about a drag," the woman replied.
Riley finished the list and then sighed in relief as Sunflower and her noisy beads signed the paperwork. Now she was free to get on with the trapping. She'd just opened her mouth to suggest that the pair take a hike, when Bandana guy said, "We'll just hang loose, stay out of your way."
"Yeah, we've got brownies in the oven," And then they were gone, shutting the door behind them.
Riley sighed in relief. Then she turned to eye her foe. The demon flipped her off in response. "What are you doing here with these people? Are you nuts?" she demanded.
It grinned, showing its teeth. And tore another page out of Milton.
"That does it."
Biblio-Fiends had a weakness: books. It's why they hated them. If a trapper read the right text to a Biblio, they went comatose and were easier to capture. Her father had told her that dense prose worked better than a hot romance novel. Riley didn't buy that, so she tried a steamy scene from The Virgin Bride's Secret Greek Lover, despite her dad's dire warnings. The results hadn't been pretty. It'd taken them over an hour to catch the enraged Biblio as it'd rampaged through the stacks of police procedurals and true crimes in a local bookstore.
Having learned her lesson, Riley extracted her weapon of choice: Moby Dick. She took a deep breath, opened the book to the first page and began to read.
"Call me Ishmael." She continued the literary torture of Melville's convoluted prose. "It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation.' If she'd had an extra hand, her fingers would be crossed at this point.
There was a series of moans. '"Boon I grant you Blackthorne's daughter," the demon cried out, writhing in agony.
Riley kept reading. She knew that one boon led to another and another. The final payoff would be the Welcome to Hell lecture by none other than the Prince himself.
There was a sharp cry of anguish when she got to 'whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul ...'. Then silence. Riley looked up from the page and grinned–the fiend had passed out. Her first trapping was a success.
"Trapper scores!" she said, shooting a fist into the air. Then she heard her father's voice just like he was standing next to her. "Don't count your Hellspawn before they're secured." If this fiend woke up before she got it in a sippy cup, it would go ballistic and trash the shrine to Dead Jim. That would be a drag.
Frantically she rifled through her messenger bag, pulled out a cup and popped off the lid. Picking the unconscious demon up by a foot she carefully dropped it inside the clear plastic container. The lid went on. Then she sank to the floor, the adrenalin fading already.
Now her first solo trapping run had been a success.
Dad is going to be so proud.
The Biblo woke and threw a hellish fit as Riley was completing the paperwork with the hippies in their kitchen. It screamed and banged against the side of the cup like a crazed thing.
"Chill out, will you?" Bandana said. The demon shot him the bird and made a rude remark in Hellspeak.
"What he say?" the man asked.
"Trust me, you don't want to know."
Ten minutes later Riley was headed toward downtown Atlanta, singing along to Dead and Lovin' It on the car radio. On the seat next to her was the messenger bag, the signed paperwork and the Offending Minion of Hell. No surprise, it wasn't happy so Riley had learned a couple new fiendish swear words, ones she didn't dare use around her dad. She'd also scored a hug from Sunflower and three strands of beads that didn't go with anything she owned.
What wasn't sitting on the seat next to her was the couple's oversized brownies, though they'd offered to send some home with her. Riley had pleaded a chocolate allergy. It was more like a "I don't need to get busted for weed" issue.
As she edged her way through the intersection onto M.L. King toward downtown Atlanta, the messenger bag began to rock on the seat. She slapped her hand on it to keep it in place while the bag bounced around like a cat with its tail on fire. Tiny feet drummed against her palm as green liquid leaked onto the seat. Somehow the demon had managed to unscrew the sippy cup's lid and now it was a good bet it was trying to find a way out of the bag. If it did, it might take off. What would she tell her dad?
The bag thrashed on the seat and then the demon poked its head out.
"Oh no, you don't! Get back in there." It pulled itself completely free, grinning manically.
Distracted, Riley jerked the steering wheel and nearly collided with another car. The driver honked his horn and glared at her.
"Stop it!" she shouted at the fiend. "You'll get us killed, you idiot."
At the last minute, she looked up and gasped in horror. Ramming her foot on the brake pedal, she plastered herself against the seatbelt causing the messenger bag to careen to the floor. The demon sailed upward and landed on the dash.
There was a screech of burning rubber. "Noooo!"
The car finally halted, missing the one in front of her by inches.
"Thank God," Riley sighed, flopping against the steering wheel in relief. She didn't dare lose her driver's license. It'd taken her two tries to pass the road test.
Peals of demonic laughter came from the dashboard where the demon was doubled over, tears rolling down its eyes in mirth. She made a grab for it, but it skittered out of her reach.
"Hey, I didn't hit him," she said, retrieving her messenger bag from the floor. She had to put the thing back into the cup. The laughter grew louder causing her to hesitate. "What's so funny?"
As she looked up she spied the row of blue lights on top of the car she'd nearly rear-ended. Like you'd see on an emergency vehicle. Or a ...
The Atlanta city cop climbed out of his car and headed her way, a ticket book in hand. His frown promised someone was in deep trouble and that someone was Riley.
"Good thing I passed on the brownies," she murmured.
There was one final burst of hysterical laughter from the demon, then it dove down under the passenger seat, spreading green urine in all directions.
The moment the cop arrived at the car, Riley turned on the charm. She politely handed over her driver's license with green-stained hands and tried to ignore that the car's seats were splattered with demon pee. The smell was worse: rotting gym shoes.
When Riley explained the problem, the cop's right eye began to twitch.
"I've heard 'em all, young lady. Don't even go there."
So she handed over her apprentice license. The cop's frown deepened as he studied it.
"You're kidding me. You're really a trapper?"
"Yes. The demon is under the passenger seat," she said. Or at least she hoped it was. If not, she'd be out one fiend and get a ticket to boot.
Excerpted from Retro Demonology by Jana Oliver. Copyright © 2010 Jana Oliver. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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