Mr. and Mrs. Hopper’s dream home was a nice two story, out in the country, away from the loud city life they grew up in. After years of working 40, 50, 60-hour weeks at their respective jobs, they finally saved enough to live where they wanted. 3 acres. A field of trees between them and their neighbors. Nice and quiet. Close enough to the city to enjoy metro amenities like shopping and events, and far enough to escape the crazy when they chose. Driving against the rush was also a definite selling point. This was where they would raise their daughters, in clean air and peace.
Then a few weeks ago, things changed. Their young daughter began complaining about monsters. They blew it off at first, but she was genuinely terrified to go into certain rooms at times. She would cry and scream if they tried to force her. Their baby girl would scream until her throat hurt for seemingly no reason. The cat and dog would no longer go inside and they were indoor pets.
Aside from all that, the couple no longer felt safe. There were noises, scratching, or shifting. The air moved around them, alternating in temperatures, not a breeze, a chill. And there was always a feeling of being watched. They were testy all the time and found themselves doing mean-spirited and petty things to each other for no reason. It all came to a head when their little four-year-old attacked her father with a pair of scissors and the strength of ten men.
He was cleaning the kitchen when she walked in. Her sweet little angelic face was twisted with hate and anger. With a running leap, she knocked him down then slashed and stabbed his arms and abdomen. Mrs. Hopper returned from a night with her friends to see blood spatters all over the lower cabinets and her husband screaming. Had she not seen it herself, she’d never believe it. In a panic, she grabbed the broom and whacked the child, breaking the handle and sending her across the kitchen floor. They locked themselves in the nursery, but didn’t know what to do beyond that. There’s was no way to explain this to 911. Their little princess pulled and beat the door. A foreign language flowed from her tongue with ease and a growl! Mr. Hopper grabbed a thick book of Grimms’ fairy tales to swing in case she broke in. Mrs. Hopper held the baby, trying to comfort her though she, herself, was shaking.
Suddenly, everything stopped. The baby laughed. Their daughter called, “Mommy? Mommy, what’s happening?” No words could describe the relief the Hoppers felt hearing their little girl’s voice. It brought them to tears.
It was a ridiculous idea and probably wouldn’t work, but as Mr. Hopper sat in the ER, covered in bandages and stitches, they decided they had no choice. They had to call a priest. They had to call an exorcist. They had to call someone to come and find out what the hell was going on. After visiting their home, the priest and exorcist agreed they needed to call someone far stronger than them and have the young couple some names, with a strong recommendation for one in particular. To protect the children, Mrs. Hopper took them to her mother’s. She would be back at the end of the week, leaving Mr. Hopper to handle things on his own.
And alone he now stood, outside in the dark, watching helplessly as his home was assaulted by the very person he called to help.
Lillas Mehkinnan was known by many names, among them were “The Charcoal Maker” and “The Daughter of Guild City”, but “Mik” and “Mikki” were the only nicknames she recognized for the obvious fact that they were derivatives of her name. Everything else was meant to merely exalt or condemn her. She had no need for either. She was a cleaner. Whatever power she held was used in service of wherever she lived. Scarred, almond-brown skin covered the elemental human’s lean five-foot six frame. Her black hair normally fell around her face in small twists, but tonight her locks hung in loose, rotini-like curls. Her stature and appearance were far less threatening than one would expect given her power and reputation. At 18, she was also far younger than expected.
Mr. Hopper stood in the driveway. Any cleaner could see why. The problem was evident before she even pulled up. Tens of demons just wandering the yard, no control, no direction, looking for something to destroy. His home was overrun with them, inside and out. He must’ve been terrified. He was under attack, had been for some time from the looks of it. Didn’t say anything until the last damn minute. This was why she couldn’t stand people most of the time. Always waiting until shit got way the fuck out of hand before getting help.
She hadn’t left her vehicle before cleaning the yard. The rims of her eyes turned red. Her skin tingled as if stepping into a warm shower after being in the cold. All normal phenomenon that happened whenever she connected with the element fire. What she did next was so natural and practiced that it took no effort. Massive tufts of fire engulfed the demons. Their bodies little more than stencils shaping the flames.
The demons’ screams were a cringe-worthy, chill-causing wail that only knights and cleaners could hear. It was like an off-key chorus. It was like if someone kidnapped Miss Piggy, Mariah, the whale from “Finding Nemo”, and Groban and made them sing together at gunpoint while an accomplice dragged a rake across a chalkboard. With all of her abilities, Lillas shouldn’t have been envious of monos, yet, every time she had to deal with this noise, the jealousy was real.
Mr. Hopper was oblivious to all of this. He had no idea how close danger was. He was minding his business, staring at the place that once was his home, waiting for Lillas. Suddenly, fiery figures surrounded him. Their wide open mouths emitted no noise. Their arms swung every which way and faces contorted until they disappeared like a mirage, taking the fire with them. Hopper’s deep brown skin turned pale and he hit the ground.
Typical. Lillas said nothing as she got out of the silver Honda and walked to the trunk. The monos were always surprised by how close they were to death. “Good evening, Mr. Hopper,” Lillas said, lifting the trunk.
He stumbled over his words as he struggled to his feet. “What… what was that?”
“Demons on fire.”
“There were that many here?”
“Sir, those were just the ones outside. There are far more inside. You are under attack and have been for weeks. Looks like a demon knight’s been having fun with you.” She removed two large blades and a document, then slammed the trunk shut. “You can’t tell me you didn’t know that. Sign this.”
“Yes, a waiver. Cleaning is a very physical occupation. Cleaners could not afford to be responsible for damage to property, or pets, or unauthorized humans. We do the best we can Mr. Hopper, but we’re not gods and miracle workers. We’re cleaners and protectors and we can’t protect people we don’t know are there. This document protects us in case anyone in your home is harmed. You see this part?” She pointed to a specific paragraph. “That says you acknowledge what I’m saying to you and that there’s no one in the house.”
“There’s no one in the house,” he assured. “My wife took the kids to her mother’s. The place is empty.”
“Prized possessions, anything that can’t be replaced, needs to be out of the house. Once you confirm that the house is clear, I’ll throw up a shield so that no living creature can get in or out. Out is very important. Do you understand? Not through windows, not through secret passages, not through floorboards, once that shield is up, you are in. Do you understand?”
“I understand. I’m not going back in that house for shit though.” And he had no reason to. The wife and kids were gone; the pets refused to go in, choosing to stay glued to his side; he was good to go. He quickly signed the waiver and gave it back to her with a request to try to spare the TV. “Just, you know, if we’re not gonna have anything after this, it’d be nice to have something to keep us entertained.”
She thought for a moment, initially surprised at the priorities. Then again, if it were her family… “You know what, I can respect that. I make no promises, but I will do everything I can.”
Now that the formality was done, time to get down to business. First things first, Hopper needed protection. She turned to him. “Proenna oba.”
He coughed a bit and gagged a little. Tried to clear the sudden itching in his throat. Then took a deep breath. “What did you do to me?”
“I protected you. It’s amazing you haven’t been possessed, yet, given your living conditions, but there’s no need to dwell on small favors. I threw a shield around you so you’ll never be possessed.” Next was the house. Demons peered at her. No two were the same. Big. Small. With a wing or few. Wingless. Mutilated human bodies in various stages of decay or assimilation by a djinn or hell spawn. None of their faces were intact. Melee weapons were the standard. From axes and maces to claws and teeth. Demons loved few things more than slashing and tearing cleaners apart. And no cleaner was more sought after than Lillas. “Proenna fie.”
“OK, Mr. Hopper,” she handed him a card. “If anything happens to me, call this number. He’s my team leader. He can get me out.”
“Not an ambulance?”
“Oh, please do call them, too, but call him first. If he doesn’t get me out, they can’t get in.” And off she went into the familiar void.