Published in Water Under the Bridge (Hawkeye Publishing, 2023)

I, like most people, do not enjoy the company of demons.
               Creatures that find joy in the downfall of others are never to be trusted. Creatures that torture and kill and suck the souls out of your very body are creatures you should look out for. Creatures that think it’s funny when your landlord, Steven, comes knocking on your door because you still haven’t paid rent and have no money to pay the rent, are certainly creatures you should avoid entirely.
               But how can I avoid a demon if he is my well-loved neighbour who pays his bills on time and smiles so charmingly?
               ‘Morning, Tom,’ Lucas, said demon, says to me as I suffer the unfortunate coincidence of stepping out of my apartment at the same time as him.
               I stumble forward from my spot bent over, trying to pick up the morning newspapers. My door, that I had been propping open with my arse, clicks shut. I close my eyes and count to ten. 
               ‘Hope you’ve got your keys on ya.’
               ‘No, Lucas. I do not.’
               Lucas throws his head back and laughs, his full set of white teeth on display. Even at seven in the morning he looks like an American TV show host, with his black hair jelled back and his face smoothly shaven. The work of the devil.
               ‘Ah well. Steven should be awake in an hour or so. Why don’t you come in and I’ll make you some tea.’
               I eye the door being held out to be wide and ready, like a promise—a contract made by the devil. I’ll give you the best tea you’ve ever had and in return you’ll give me your soul in five years.
               ‘I think I’ll just sit out here.’ Then again, I’ve been avoiding the landlord for a week now. Maybe he won’t let me back in my apartment until I pay the due rent.
               Better leave while I have the chance.
I step out of the apartment building and am immediately hit in the face with a flying plastic bag. Windy weather? No. The work of the devil. 
               Damn him, I think as I trudge forward and keep my head down as to not get assaulted by anymore flying shopping bags. If it was a resuable bag, I might have dismissed it as bad luck. But no, there was nothing that screamed evil like a single-use plastic bag.
               Up ahead a flock of pigeons fly over my head. I duck but it’s too late. Bird poo. On the back of my neck. Not even the lucky spot to land.
               This is Lucas’s work. 
               At the café my card declines. Lucas’s work. I had at least five dollars in my account the last time I checked. People groan and mutter under their breaths as I say ‘one minute,’ and transfer money into my account with my phone.
               Eager to take the first sip of my almond milk latte, I burn my tongue. This has nothing to do with me being impatient and everything to do with whatever curse Lucas lay upon me.
               Better to chance confrontation with Steven about unpaid rent then to chance whatever more torture Lucas has cooked up for me.
               I go back to my apartment and narrowly miss getting hit by a bus as I cross the road to the building.
                I should have just stayed in this hallway and never left the building. I should have stayed right here and—
               Steven is standing in front of my apartment.
               I turn to leave.
               ‘Tom. Can I talk to you?’
               I do a slow turn on my heels and walk with my head hung low.
               ‘I know you haven’t paid rent this month. But, if money’s tight at the moment. Just let me know. I’m happy to give you some more time to pay.’
               I look up. ‘Really?’
               ‘Of course. Just last week I was talking to your neighbours and they all said how sorry they’d be if they lost you.’
               ‘Oh.’ Oh.
               Just as Steven is leaving, I catch Lucas’s eyes in the hall and call out to him before he has a chance to scramble away.
               ‘How about that tea?’ I have a lot of explaining to do.
               In the apartment, Lucas busies his hands with putting the kettle on.
               ‘I’m absolutely desperate for a tea now.’
               Lucas snaps his head around to look at me. His wide-eyed surprise turns into guilt as he bites his lip. ‘So, erm, earlier this morning, when you didn’t take up my offer for tea. . . that was, just because you didn’t want any at the time?’
               ‘I suppose there was a lot going on in my mind. Sorry.’ And I thought you were a demon trying to butter me up.
               Lucas’s cheeks go a bright red—redder than I knew it was possible for a person to blush. 
The silence is uncomfortable as Lucas turns and puts tea bags into cups and sugar onto spoons.
               When he’s done, he takes the two cups over to where I’m seated at the little dining table by the window. He sits across from me.
               There must be something very interesting in his lap because Lucas doesn’t tear his eyes from that spot.
               ‘What?’ I don’t think I’ve heard him right.
               ‘Sorry,’ he says and finally looks up at me. That bravery lasts a whole of two minutes before he moves on to looking at his spoon as he stirs in his sugar. ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’
               ‘Done what?’
               ‘Made all those bad things happen to you. I shouldn’t have let such a silly thing such as rejected hospitality make me lash out, but I guess I’ve got a lot on my mind too.’
               He holds out a hand. An offering. A contract.
               I hesitate but reach out and shake. Electricity buzzes between us.
               I think I’ve just sold my soul and, at this point, I can’t even be mad about it.

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