The long route back to the beach did not pass through any panda fields or council estates or industrial ambush sites or forbidden zones of alien junk and beyond those four types what danger was there, really?
It took them a while to find the spot they’d left as it was a few hundred metres from the road, and, as they trudged like geriatrics across the sand to kill a little bit more time, Sila talked about what to do next, and when the best time would be to ditch the demon killing weirdo cos, although he hadn’t done anything explicit to them yet, he had passively forced them to hold his hand in Barcelona the whole day and never explained why, just said it was smoother if they all stuck together, and he hadn’t even talked to them most of the time
every time they’d stopped somewhere, like Burger King or the zine place, he’d simply opened his Spanish textbook and started studying
not even a request for one of them to test him on his vocab.
‘Only time he does speak is when he’s trying to talk us into something. Like that stowaway train debacle.’
‘I think he’s useful,’ replied Joanna, picking up a lump of wet sand and throwing it into the sea.
‘Your cabinet mission. Demon killing. In other places.’
‘Places like three metres outside Ljubljana castle?’
‘One day, maybe. Why not?’
Sila picked up sand of his own, moulding it into a disc and trying to skim it along the surface of the tide.
It didn’t work.
just sank diagonally.
‘Look, I don’t mind the guy most of the time, when he’s not telling me to fuck off…but he’s too unstable. See what he did to that guy in Burger King?’
‘Yes, you did. He walked in and came back out with blood dripping down his nose. Must’ve beaten the guy up. Maybe worse.’
‘Okay. We’ll avoid Burger King.’
‘Don’t be glib, this is serious.’
‘Avoid Spanish people too.’
‘He lied about the free train ride, beats up random guys in Burger King, thought you were a demon on the ferry over here, was weird when he first came in the cabin, is weird generally. You can’t tell me you feel completely comfortable around him.’
‘I feel okay.’
‘Yeah, cos you’ve been asleep half the time, terrified of going slo-mo.’
‘And you seemed okay too, hugging him before.’
‘Huh? You mean on the beach? That was for warmth, so we wouldn’t freeze to death.’
‘Would you hug someone you didn’t like?’
‘For warmth, yeah. Maybe. I don’t know. As long as they weren’t a complete twat, or a tory, yeah.’
‘So he’s not a complete twat?’
‘Complete? Nah, I said I half liked him. You’re misdirecting me, I’m not talking about liking, I’m talking about safety. All we know about the guy is he kills demons, with no remorse. Won’t tell us his job. And he beat up a stranger in Burger King. That’s it, three things.’
Joanna picked up another lump of wet sand, looked back the way they’d come then buffered.
‘Am I wrong?’
Joanna dropped the sand and went for her jacket pocket, searching for the knife she’d left in Sila’s bag.
‘What are you doing?’
‘You what?’ Even as he said the words, some part of his brain kicked in and pulled up the only possible SHE Joanna could be talking about. ‘Fuck…’
He turned expecting the demon Urdu teacher to be a hundred metres away at least, but it wasn’t her, or the male version, it was something a lot smaller, a lot blonder. Somehow, it had sneaked up on them and was standing on the wet sand, about ten yards back, like a normal little girl in jeans and a Cool Spot jumper.
‘How the hell did she get here?’ asked Sila, half-heartedly moving his hand towards the inside of his jacket.
‘Or took the train. Car. Bus. Kindness of strangers.’
Sila took his hands away from his jacket, settling into an awkward cyborg pose. ‘Fuck, she’s staring at us. What do we do?’
‘Back to the sociopath?’
‘Don’t be dense.’
Joanna reprocessed then nodded, too anxious to tell him she’d misheard sociopath as social path.
They edged backwards a few steps then turned and continued walking towards Tak, staying almost side-on so they could keep tabs on the girl
or the demon as Sila kept reminding himself
a demon, not a girl
girl humanises the thing and ends in petty death
Demon demonises it and
Ends in Tak slitting its throat?
‘How far away is he?’
‘We should be there by now.’
Sila scanned the sand ahead with stuttered head movements. ‘Can’t see him.’
‘What’s the girl doing?’
‘Yeah, what’s she doing?’
‘It, not she.’
‘Wait, is that…’ Sila squinted and saw three figures moving up ahead, close to the tide. ‘What the fuck is he doing?’
‘Looks like dancing. Over there, by the water.’
They rushed closer, and the girl moved with them in solidarity, not running exactly, more like gliding, but they forgot about her soon as they realised it wasn’t three people dancing, it was three people fighting, which meant, two versus Tak and
by the time they’d reached him he was
sitting on top of one attacker
punching the guy in the
no, not punching
stabbing him in the arm, both arms
and the other guy was already down, laid out flat on the sand like a moon-bathing gingerbread man.
‘Tak, stop,’ yelled Sila, getting close enough to grab Tak’s arm, but not following through.
‘He’s mot moving’ said Joanna, eyes on the gingerbread man.
‘Stop, you fucking nut.’
Tak dropped the knife on the sand, grabbed the guy’s hair and punched down on his temple. It didn’t knock him out, but it did stop the squirming.
‘He’s not moving,’ repeated Joanna, shifting eyes to the fresher victim.
Tak stayed on top of the guy for another ten seconds then said quietly, ‘yeah.’ He stood up, a line of blood running from the top of his head, turned to the three people watching him and said, ‘where the fuck did she come from?’
Sila was still staring at the guy who’d been stabbed, trying to push back the Prague memories spilling over the edges, but he heard the question and was about to say what when he felt someone clutching his hand
a little hand, not Joanna’s
and when he turned and looked down he saw the little girl staring back up at him, his very own Newt from LV-442.
‘What happened?’ asked Joanna, pulling her sleeve away from the girl’s other hand.
Tak wiped some of the blood off his head, then groaned and started jabbing his temple. ‘Fucker glassed me…’
‘I mean, why were you fighting?’
‘No idea. Woke up and they were lurking. Fuck, my head, like a fucking drill. Who’s the girl?’
‘Straggler,’ answered Sila.
‘Don’t give me that shit, mate. Who is she?’
‘I’m serious. We found her wandering up there, on the street. No sign of any adults or guardian.’
‘You kidnapped her?’
‘No, we-…I just said, no parents. And she followed us.’
‘Are they demons?’ asked Joanna, putting herself between Tak and Sila.
‘Them.’ She pointed at the two Spanish bodies on the sand. ‘The bleeding ones.’
‘Dunno, human maybe.’
‘You stabbed him.’
‘Course I did. Guy can’t punch with a hole in his arm.’ Tak jabbed his head again, muttering fuck to go with it.
‘You okay?’ asked Sila, flinching as the girl’s grip tightened.
‘That bottle must’ve done more damage than you thought.’
‘Like a tribal drum…’
‘Delayed reaction. I saw it in a film, some kid got hit by a car, seemed fine, died from a blood clot two days later.’
‘I don’t mean you’re gonna die, but that’s probably why it’s hurting.’
‘It’s not the fucking bottle,’ he shouted, opening one eye to look at the girl again. ‘She’s staring at me.’
‘You’re staring at her too.’
‘Confidence. Staring at me.’ He looked at the girl’s jumper, the little red cartoon circle with dark shades. ‘That top, it’s not right. The jeans…’
‘You’re scaring her,’ said Sila, trying to edge the girl behind him and meeting resistance. Then forcing out the word demon from his brain as the reality of what was holding his hand attempted a comeback. Then letting it in and saying, demon, so what? She’s wearing a Cool Spot jumper. And came all the way from Denmark. Can’t just leave her now.
Following the trail of thoughts, he looked at Joanna and wondered if she was going the same way.
Her face was blank, hand empty.
What about inside?
Muttering fuck louder than before, Tak turned the jabbing into grinding and let out a noise that wasn’t quite a shriek but was pretty close.
‘Hey, you need some Panadol?’
‘Or we can take you to the hospital.’
‘Doesn’t fit…that jumper, this beach…she shouldn’t be here.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘She’s not right. In that jumper, on this beach.’
‘He’s delirious,’ said Sila, turning to Joanna. ‘Say something calming.’
Tak gripped his knife, blood still sliding off its edge, and moved forward.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Need to check.’
Sila stepped in front of the girl while Joanna swerved to the side, clearing the way, but it didn’t matter as the sleeping guy on the sand, the one who hadn’t been stabbed, was awake and just as Tak was putting his arm out to shove Sila aside, the guy clambered up and whacked Tak on the back of the head with
a piece of wood
fuck knows where he got that from
then screamed something in Spanish
probably piece of shit or psycho motherfucker.
Tak fell down face first onto the sand, right next to the girl’s feet, yet, even half-dazed, he was still trying to grab the girl’s ankles instead of turning to the guy with the giant piece of wood.
‘… … … … … …’ said the guy in Spanish, looking down at Tak then switching his attention to Sila and the girl. ‘… … … … … …’
‘Money,’ the guy said, pointing the wood at the girl’s head.
Sila pulled the girl away then looked for his bag
the green knife inside
but it was too far, and who was he supposed to attack anyway? The wood guy first, probably, but what about Tak?
Two and half hours ago they’d been hugging each other to sleep and now he was trying to stab a child
a demon child
but he didn’t know that
how could he
she didn’t look like a demon, not even a little bit, she had a Cool Spot jumper on for fuck’s sake.
‘Wait, careful…’ said Sila, breaking his thoughts and seeing Joanna out of the corner of his eye, heading towards the guy, her own knife raised and
somehow her foot got stuck on something, he couldn’t see what, and she tripped, falling right in front of the guy and burying the blade into the top of his foot.
The guy dropped the wood and wailed like a burnt penguin, reaching down for his foot and using his spare arm to swat Joanna away, but she was too fast, rolling to the side and
doing nothing else
there was no need
she’d stuck him in the foot, he was done.
‘You stabbed him,’ said Sila, looking at the guy’s shoe, not her.
She didn’t answer. Just bent down and took out the knife, dragging out another scream from her victim.
‘What do we do now?’
Tak made a moaning sound and lifted up his head. He put his palms flat on the sand and tried to lift the rest of himself up, but it was no good, he was too weak. Or concussed. It was hard to tell.
He rolled onto his back and looked up at his attacker, the coward with the wood. It was an odd picture. The wood was gone, on the sand maybe, and the little girl who wasn’t right, who had to be a demon, was holding the man’s hand, bringing him down onto his knees, then pushing her face into the side of his neck.
‘Otius…’ Tak mumbled, rubbing his head, trying to reconfigure what he was seeing into something less surreal.
The little girl came back out of the wound and turned towards him, catching herself in the moonlight, and
there was blood and there was flesh
bits of it meshed together
dripping down from the edges of her mouth.
‘No,’ said Sila, trying to say the girl’s name, but coming up blank.
He didn’t even know what he was saying no to.
‘She’s one of his…’ Tak said, getting back to his feet, grabbing his knife and almost falling down again when he remembered he’d just been hit on the back of the head.
‘Demon from him, the Otius horde. One of his.’
‘She’s not bad, she’s just-…who? Otius?’
‘She followed me here, from Szolnok. Should’ve known, sensed it. No, I did know, the headaches, it was right there, not the Dahli, but…’
‘Tak, stop. You’re talking weird. She didn’t follow you, she’s from Denmark.’
‘Otius sent her, here…’
‘And she just saved you.’
‘…to this beach.’
‘What are you talking about? No one sent her.’
‘She. Is. From. Denmark. Not Hungary.’
‘Off map…and still keeping tabs. Fuck, my head. Can’t do it. Too much, heavy. Hit by a fucking truck. Move, you clown. Get out of here. Go.’
Sila moved back in front of the girl, his zombie-looking Newt from LV-666 with blood sliding down her chin, and told Tak to stay back, put the knife down, calm down and leave the girl alone
but Tak wasn’t there anymore
he was somewhere else
and it wasn’t the girl’s name he was calling out, it was someone else, someone called Jemba.
Sila looked at Joanna for help, but all she could say was, ‘wait, don’t go, we need you,’ which wasn’t very useful.
Need him to do what?
It was a pointless question, and his brain was better than that. He knew what she was saying, and there was no way he was gonna let either of them hurt her, even though the little girl did look like a pocket version of Angela Queen of the Demons with all the blood streaming down.
‘No-one’s touching her,’ he declared to both of them, but it only registered with Joanna as Tak was already ten metres past them, walking backwards up to the main road, waving his knife like a wild man, shouting over and over that she was Hungarian, she’d followed him, he didn’t do anything wrong, and before they could even begin to formulate questions like, ‘what are you on about, what didn’t you do wrong, in what way was she Hungarian?’ he was off the sand and back on the concrete and
two minutes later, gone, no sign of him, not even an angry silhouette.
‘He can’t go,’ muttered Joanna, kicking sand at the guy bleeding out from the neck.
‘Can and has.’
‘We need him.’
‘Do we fuck…he just tried to stab a little girl.’
Joanna looked at the little girl, blood now dripping down onto her Cool Spot top. ‘You don’t understand, we need him.’
‘He can do things.’
‘Yeah, sure, tell it to this guy.’ Sila nudged the bitten guy’s legs with his shoe, getting a splutter of blood in return. ‘Tell it to Hungary.’
‘I’m going after him.’
‘Change his mind.’
‘He’s already gone.’
Joanna followed Tak’s trail for about twenty metres, but it was half-hearted, if she’d really wanted to stop him she would’ve gone sooner.
Or put herself in his way.
Grabbed onto his ankles.
But instead she stopped, stood like a horse statue, counting the lamp posts back round to the beach.
Sila watched her for the first minute then, convinced she was gonna come back without the psycho, looked down at the other two guys, probably locals, and tried to figure out a way to hide the bodies, at least long enough for them to make it to the train station.
The best he could come up with was drag them into the sea, but there was a good chance they weren’t fully dead yet, and even if they were, they’d just wash back up again in the morning and, just as he was moving onto the idea of rock-weighting their jackets, one of the guys, the one who’d been stabbed in the arms, made a moaning sound, which meant the sea was out of the question, and it didn’t really matter cos it wasn’t them the thug would remember, it was Tak, and Tak was black so there’s no way the description would fit them by mistake.
He felt the girl’s hand squeezing his and turned to face her, told her it was going to be okay now, but she was looking past him.
Sila rotated and saw Joanna walking back, slumped, eyes on the girl, and when she reached their spot she kept walking, into the baby waves of the sea. Crouching down, she washed her hands, some of her neck then stood up and came back over.
‘You clean?’ Sila asked, unable to think of anything better.
She ignored him and sat down on the sand, stretching out the sleeves of her jacket while looking at the bite mark on the Spanish guy’s neck.
Probably dead, she thought. Or on the way to it. By something not that different from a Krsnik. Who kept trying to hold her fucking hand. Who’d killed both of them at some point. And feel nothing.
The other guy moaned again, making her jump a little and impulsively throw sand grains at his face.
‘We better get out of here,’ said Sila, offering his hand.
Joanna hesitated, noticing the girl clinging on tight to his other side.
‘She’s coming too,’ he added, flinching when he saw the blood on her chin again.
‘And if the vampire turns on us?’
‘It will, Sila.’ Joanna pulled herself up, grabbing both their bags and putting them on her shoulders. ‘And it’ll go for you first.’
‘She, not it.’
‘It doesn’t care. You can see it in the eyes.’
‘Just…give me my bag.’
Joanna threw it over, stated something clearly and sternly in Cantonese, then started walking up the sand slope to the road. Sila let go of the girl’s hand to put the bag on his shoulder, telling her that the Chinese woman wasn’t really mad, she was just tired and unused to spontaneously appearing children.
‘… … … … …’ replied the girl, pulling at the King Matjaž hoodie under his jacket.
‘Okay, okay, relax.’ Sila gave his hand back and flinched a little when she squeezed it again. ‘Happy now?’
‘… … … … … …’
‘At least you can talk. That’s a good thing.’
‘… … … …’
‘Just hope it’s not a dead language.’
‘… … … … … …’
‘… … …’
‘It’s not Hungarian…is it?’