The Demon's Lexicon (Sarah Rees Brennan)

As I have assumed the position of Court Colonel -- none of the other members of the court seem to have minded, perhaps because I never told them/perhaps because there's no such thing as a Court Colonel -- I feel it is my duty to keep an eye on the goings-on in the vicinity of the superblock that forms our court of homes. I think it is particularly important to watch out for the imaginary kids who haunt the area.

Yesterday was a great example of the need for such vigilance. Two of the figments of my imagination were stalking the Square, a quadratic expanse of grass bounded by three of the co-operative's row-home courts. The smaller of the two boys was called Pratik. As usual, he wore a dark tie and khakis, but yesterday he also carried with him a backback and some sort of blossoms. The other boy was also once given a name, at least, I assume he was, but I have never been able to put my finger on it. He wore the more standard issue jeans and t-shirt. He carried some sort of digging implement, either a spade or a shovel. Who can tell the difference these days?

Our cat Tubby and I stood at the garden-side window watching for a bit, trying to figure out what they were up to, but the holly tree blocked my view. So I wandered out the door and down the walk to the edge of the Square. The two boys were playing with string. Pratik stood in the center of the Square holding one end of white twine while the other boy held it taut and walked widdershins around Pratik. He paused every step or so to drop a rock.

"What are you doing, young lads?" I asked cheerfully and calmly enough. The boys jumped anyway.

"Oh, it's only you." The boy who failed to have a name that I could remember picked up the rock that he had dropped outside the regular circle and placed it in its proper position. Pratik adjusted his glasses and tie in a single swipe.

"Well, we read this book..."

"I'm not surprised you read a book," I said after Pratik's voice trailed off. "You're always reading books. And look at what it gets you. Which book did you read this time?"

The boys looked at each other and then at the ground. They looked at the houses surrounding the Square. They looked at the sky and at the tree in the corner of the Square. In short, they looked everywhere but at me. That could only mean one thing.

"You read a YA book, didn't you?" They nodded somewhat sheepishly. They always make fun of me for reading the things. "I thought you were too mature for shiny vampires."

"There are no sparkling vampires in The Demon's Lexicon." Pratik stood a little straighter now that the truth was out. "There are only magicians and demons."

"And there's not much mushy stuff," the other put in.

"A little," Pratik admitted, blushing.

"But not so much as to make you gag your anything."

"So it's OK if it's a boy being all emo instead of a girl?" I asked.

"I assume that you refer to Nick," Pratik responded. "In point of fact, he is totally un-emotional."

"He is emo without emotions. The second half of that book was a roller-coaster hoot," I declared. "So are you two playing at being brothers then?"

They both laughed at me.

"We are preparing for the Dance." Pratik surveyed the circle of stones. I noticed that there were odd squiggles carved into the ground. "You may observe if you remain quiet."

"Do you think this is a good--"

"Sh."

"Demons are danger--"

"Sh."

I looked around for some iron. Or was that only for magicians? It seemed to me one of the lessons of the book was not to play around with this stuff. (The other lesson, of course, was that things are never so dire as to restrict one from making cheeky comments.) Pratik started playing his stomach like a drum. The kid with no name took a honeysuckle blossom and slurped its nectar. Then he started twitching around the circle. He tried at first to keep his hands still at his side like some pint-sized Lord of the Dance, but he was soon flailing about randomly.

"I don't think you're going to summon a demon by doing the Cabbage Patch," I commented.

"Sh!"

I waved my hands in acknowledgment of my transgression. The boys continued their "dance." Nothing happened for a while and I started wondering whether I had remembered to check the mail that day and if I'd made sure that Tubby hadn't gotten out of the house. Then the air around the circle started to shimmer. This was quickly followed by a shammer, a definite waviness, and finally by a sudden whirl of pollen and grass cuttings forming a cylinder around the boys.

I would have shouted, but the air was just as suddenly still and clear. I could see Pratik and his playmate standing still as statues inside their circle. They had been joined by the thing they had summoned. The three of us stared in astonished silence at the result of their incantations. It stood menacingly in the center of the circle. It had sharp teeth and claws and was covered with fur.

It was a squirrel.

"It's a squirrel," I said.

"Yes, imagine that," the squirrel demon replied. "And you're a human, I expect."

"And it talks!" I exclaimed.

"Is there someone smarter here I can speak with?" The squirrel looked up at the two boys. "I know a place that would take great care of your father."

"He's not our father."

"I only created them." I laughed at my own joke. As usual, I was the only person amused.

"It actually worked," Pratik said.

"Did you mean to get a squirrel?" I asked. "I mean, a beaver could at least make you a dam. What can a squirrel do for you?"

"I can tell stories," the squirrel said. "I'm known for my stories. Why, I used to keep Cat Woman in stitches for hours on end."

"The Cat Woman? You knew her?"

"Oh, we used to date, don't you know."

"You did not."

"Sure and we did. But I'm afraid I had to break her heart."

"You did not."

"Sure and I did. I couldn't take it any more, I tell you. One too many times she gave into that sudden and desperate need to be in another room. Zip! She'd be gone, right in the middle of a good story, too."

"You're making that up."

"She could sit and stare at a spot on the wall for hours, though. Hours." The squirrel shook his wee head. The tufts of fur at the ends of his ears waggled in the wind.

"Are you quite done?"

The squirrel assumed a wistful air. "Ah, but how she purred..."

"Oh, geez," I said.

"Don't mind him," Pratik soothed the squirrel. "He likes to be the only one who makes things up."

"You're also good at hiding stuff, I imagine," put in the other lad.

"Oh, yes. I'm a champion burrier. I can hide stuff from the best of 'em. Usually in a hole. I like holes." He looked at his paws bashfully. "Not so good at finding though."

"That's fine. I have something for you to hide." The boy whose name I cannot remember pulled out of his pocket the severed head of a Barbie doll. He handed it to the squirrel. "It's my sister's."

The squirrel turned the head about in his paws. "Hmm, about the size of a chestnut, I'd say. This'll be --"

The squirrel stopped speaking, stopped moving. His tail had gone straight and stiff and it's possible that his eyes bulged a bit. But then he opened his mouth to let loose a loud screech. He tried to run, but he was trapped by the circle. Before we could react, Tubby came bounding down the walk and into the circle with the squirrel. Tubby slowed to a saunter and approached the squirrel with what would have been stealth if he wasn't 10 pounds overweight, if we weren't all standing there watching him the whole time, and if he hadn't made a great galloping sound along the walkway. The squirrel froze again, except for his paw, which was nervously stroking Barbie's hair. Tubby lowered his head into the squirrel's face and headbutted it.

"Hey!" the squirrel said indignantly. Tubby purred and headbutted the squirrel again, knocking him back. I called Tubby. He actually responded and walked in my general direction for a few feet away from the squirrel until a blade of grass caught his attention. When Tubby crossed the circle of stones, the squirrel realized that the circle had been broken and scampered off with the head of Barbie clutched in his teeth.

"I'd have thought Cat Woman would have taught him how to deal with cats. You should gather these stones," I told the kids. I picked the cat up to return him to the house. "I don't know what I'm going to do when you two get your hands on Lord of the Flies or something."

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