Sila hoped the student wouldn’t be tetchy, wouldn’t say what with disgust, wouldn’t feel ill if a textbook wasn’t on the table when they arrived, and
most of all
wouldn’t laugh at every word he said.
he just prayed Joanna could keep Søren distracted for the next ninety minutes, stop her from coming over and rubbing against his arm.
There was a decent chance – they’d discovered that morning that she liked sketching, or liked observing Joanna sketching, yet there was no way to tell how long the fascination would last.
And sitting in a non-Starbucks cafe, with about fifty people around them, some of them low-tolerance tourists, it would be impossible to cover up the mess if she did start biting again. Ja, he had mitigated things slightly by parking them in the corner, with only the table to the left occupied, but still…
‘Your student is late,’ said Joanna, looking up from her Mega Man sketch, and then diving straight back down again as a tall bearded guy appeared with unsure-signal hand and asked Sila if he was Sila.
‘Yup, that’s me. Eros?’
The guy, Eros, nodded, said hi and sat down, pulled out a One Piece notebook and said hi again. Then looked left at Joanna and the girl.
‘They’re with me,’ explained Sila, deciding honesty was the less awkward way forward. ‘They don’t speak much English though. The girl, zero…doesn’t speak any.’
Eros clearly had reflex questions – how do you communicate? Is she your daughter? Why does she look not at all Chinese? Could you tell her to stop staring at me? – but wasn’t equipped or blunt enough to ask any of them, so he opened his notebook and waited for Sila to start his opening spiel
which was instantly nixed,
as Sila went with, ‘what exactly do you want to learn in these lessons?’ instead.
‘Err…it is not so normal, but…my new girlfriend, she is from Sweden. I want to communicate to her, but…it is not so easy. She cannot learn Spanish now, I do not speak Swedish. So…we are speaking English together, but…I cannot speak everything to her, that I want to say.’
Sila gave out an ‘ahhh’ and shot Joanna a warning look as he nudged the little blonde head back towards her Heat Man sketch.
‘We should focus on things you have in common then.’
‘Si…yes. I think so.’
‘Topics you can actually talk about.’
‘Maybe Spain, Swedish culture, movies, other cultures.’ Sila flinched as the blonde hair came back to his arm, settling in. ‘Rules of a relationship…’
‘…taking care of a pet, stuff like that.’
‘Yes,’ said Eros, yet again, but
nothing from Joanna
not even a smirk or a muttered fuck off in Cantonese.
‘Okay. Shall we start with Spain?’
The rest of the lesson was scattershot, in terms of the number of times Sila had to glare across the table and silently wring out another sketch from Joanna
who seemed to be strapped to a cosmic string attached to her phone, constantly dropping the pencil and swiping the screen and muttering things in Cantonese.
Gods, if she wasn’t gonna draw, then she could at least pick up the Danish-Spanish dictionary and try to talk to their daughter.
Luckily, Eros was too entrenched in trying to understand British film slang to notice the other side of the table, and, even luckier, was the fact that ninety minutes passed without the girl taking offence at anything or feeling protective of her makeshift parents.
‘One down, two to go,’ Sila said, pulling out the lesson material on Stereotypes that he’d printed at the hostel the night before. ‘You got any replies yet?’
‘None asexual,’ replied Joanna, eyes on her phone again, completely unbothered that Søren was slumped on Sila’s shoulder again.
‘You can guess.’
‘Yeah, or you could just speak like a normal person. I assume you mean you got more messages from perverts. Ah, maybe it’s better if you don’t use a pic, renew your ad…’
She put down her phone and stood up, telling Sila that she was gonna walk around outside.
‘You can’t…my next student…’
‘Back in an hour.’
‘…will be here soon. Jo? Wait, you have to-…’
Sila held the rest of his line under the water, realising quickly that her back wasn’t listening to him, and his next student, a girl called Renee, was probably the same person advancing toward the table, half her body tilted diagonally as she mouthed, ‘Sila.’
One guy, one girl and a demon child caught up in an English lesson shouldn’t have worked, but somehow it did, with Renee either not caring or finding it mundane that a private English teacher would bring a mute daughter to work, and Søren herself content to sit still and trace over Joanna’s already drawn pics
for two hours
no strops or rogue biting
no glances at the door to see if Joanna was coming back, perhaps even deciding on some pragmatic level that the new woman was an adequate replacement, that
as long as Sila was the constant
things were acceptable
in whatever passed for Danish demon protocol
old Danish, not new.
Even when Renee got up and left, and it was just the two of them, she seemed pacified
no, more than that
not even looking up from the sketch book.
Does she know I’m not going anywhere, wondered Sila, taking out his phone and typing a where the fuck are you? message to the Chinese adventurer.
How would she though?
We can’t communicate, her body language compass seems way off, she’s bitten people, why would she think I wouldn’t try to run away from her?
In a cue perhaps fed to her by a hidden Prince Taob, Søren stopped her sketch and looked up, first at Sila, then at the door as it opened and Joanna walked back in.
‘… … … … …’ the demon said, pointing at the sketch pad.
‘What did she say?’ asked Joanna, putting a plastic bag of what looked like herbal tea packets on her previous seat, then picking them up almost immediately and handing them over to Sila.
‘Looks like she’s been busy drawing. Messing up my pictures.’
‘Where have you been?’
‘Ah, doesn’t matter, they weren’t that good anyway. And it means she’s not biting anyone. Right?’
‘She’s been good.’
‘No weirdness at all?’
‘Actually, she got on quite well with the student I just had. Probably cos she smiled at her.’
‘You should’ve asked her to adopt then.’
Joanna sat down a few inches to the side of the table, not too close to Søren, then shifted closer when the girl failed to look up at her. ‘Her sketches are pretty bad.’
‘Kept her busy for two hours.’
‘When’s your next student?’
‘About ten minutes.’ Sila checked the door, and corrected when he saw a woman with incredibly short yellow hotpants holding a hand up at him. ‘Or zero minutes. Miriam?’
Joanna followed the sound to the local woman who looked like she’d just come from a porn set, then edited to Mong Kok or Kwai Fong as the pants weren’t that short and her top didn’t hang down as she took her seat and asked Sila if she was in the right place.
Ah, Kwai Fong, Mong Kok
with a bit of luck and tactical engineering, she could be back there in a week or so, maybe less than that based on what Sila said about the demon getting lost in the sketch pad.
If they could give her a big enough picture to trace, and perhaps make some dummies to sit nearby then
‘… … … … … …’ interrupted Søren, putting her teeth lightly into Joanna’s shoulder.
No force behind it, but enough to make her flinch
push her off
scold in Cantonese
then take her hand fast when she saw the purple eyes flare up with a nova motif.
‘You want me to draw another pic?’
The girl’s pupils dimmed, the colour fading.
‘Okay. Give me the pencil. See if I can do a decent Dr Wily.’
‘… … …’
‘Mega Man bad guy. Secret alien.’
‘… … …’
Two hours and ten minutes later, the hotpants got up and told Sila she’d be free the next day at the same time, and if he could come up with some poker-related things for her boss to say to Jungle Man Cates at the Cyprus Tournament, that would be great.
Then she was gone, and Sila was left to google the boss and laugh when he saw that it was the Spanish Games that he’d won a bronze medal at, not the Olympics, and
when Joanna asked if that woman was insane
he laughed again and said, ‘not her, but her boss definitely is.’
‘You believe her?’
‘Of course. The story was way too detailed.’
‘The best liars use the broadest, obscurest tapestry.’
‘Is that a Chinese quote?’
‘Pakistani. My high school friend told it to me. Said the poet threw themselves off a fertility totem.’
Joanna yawned, closing the sketch pad. ‘It’s evening already. We should get out of here, find dinner.’
‘The three of us…’
‘I’m not a psychopath.’
She picked up the bag of herbal tea and offered her other hand to Søren. ‘Come on, before she gets bored and bites someone.’
As with most of Spain around dinner time, Sevilla was akin to a haunted giallo set, and didn’t perk up until eight-thirty, nine, when the locals came out to do what their ancestors had done, what all ancestors should’ve done to be fair as night was by far the best time,
beyond a simple witching hour
more a witching that a real witch pined after but failed to actualise
the echo-drift between the two doors
of this realm and death
perhaps the same crack their blonde child had emerged from
In fact, remembering the Copenhagen box origin of Søren, Joanna theorised out loud at the first tapas bar they stopped at, which had half its tables stocked with expats who got tired of saying beer in Spanish after one go, that perhaps the mythologies they’d looked at were inaccurate and
the one they had among them
was something else
a heterodox entity without text citations
something more generic.
‘You mean a genuine human child with behavioural problems?’ asked Sila, stabbing two slices of ham.
‘It would explain the sketching thing.’
‘And nothing else. She came all the way to Barcelona, to find us. That’s not very human. Or even possible…without some kind of preternatural radar in her head.’
The Brit couple on the next table glanced over, the man briefly flashing David Icke eyes before his wife told him it was most likely a movie they were talking about, not lizard people.
‘Besides, it doesn’t change anything. She’s attached to us now, and if you’re trying to find an excuse for dumping her at some mental hospital somewhere…’
‘Normal hospital would do.’
‘… … … … …’ the girl said, cutting off a fucking Jesus from Sila and pointing across the narrow street.
Both parents looked across, seeing nothing except a book shop and a South-East Asian woman in a green wig propped up against the window, staring back at them.
‘That’s a bit creepy,’ said Sila, focusing on the bookshop window.
‘Yeah, Indonesian cosplayer.’
The green wig woman continued staring at them, without any kind of mask, her fingers stroking a presumed necklace, until something broke in her brain and she moved abruptly right, walking in an odd snaking path down the slowly curving street.
Both Sila and Joanna returned to the ham, trying and failing to pronounce the name of it when they prepped to order more, and then asking at pretty much the exact same time where Søren was.
Of course, Sila used her actual name
Joanna used girl
which was an improvement on IT and Demon
But the confusion was equal as they looked around the bar and the nearby street and half-panicked, half-rejoiced
when they saw no sign of a little blonde thing.
‘Fuck…’ said Sila, going all in on frantic, getting up on his stool and scanning the distance, shouting at the bar staff to back off, then jumping down onto the tiling and screaming fuuuuuck when he caught sight of her about fifty metres down the street.
‘You see her?’
‘Down there, she’s stopped…waiting for us.’ Sila started off, then darted back and slapped down a twenty Euro note on the table. ‘Come on, we can’t let her get away.’
Get up, turn the other way, walk, Joanna commanded herself. Check out of the hostel, find somewhere near the airport, lock the doors, leave.
But her legs clearly didn’t share such clarity as they were off after Sila, following his trail past the tourists loudly complaining about the heat and how narrow the streets were, past a small, out-of-place church, past a local fanning her dog, each step a retreat to their inevitable doom at the hands of something that would give no warning, no sympathy when it finally turned on them
though it was weird how she’d suddenly walked off
without any attempt at dragging them too
fourteen streets later, in a less touristy part of the city, Joanna caught up to Sila outside a restaurant-stroke-bar called Mate De Neptuno, and asked him direct if they should take the chance and just get out of there.
‘Train or flight, either one is okay.’
‘The green wig woman, she’s in there too.’ He pointed into the dimly-lit bar, at the green wig woman swinging a necklace back and forth, not quite in front of Søren’s face, but not far from it. ‘Some kind of hypnotism maybe.’
‘Good, then she’s done us a favour. Let’s get out of here before it wears off.’
‘You’d really allow this? Some cosplay nut to just kidnap her?’
‘From right in front of us, as if we wouldn’t do anything.’
Joanna pushed back against the wall, covering up graffiti that said WHY PERSIST SO PERSISTENTLY? in block Spanish. If she opened her mouth, she knew how the next ten minutes would go. What else could happen when you had a guy with a bizarro adoption fantasy? Seemingly from out of nothing, but logically from something
a film perhaps, Kramer vs Kramer
or he was adopted himself?
Or more perverse than that, a need to be close to something demonic, something more than this world was able to bleed out, a conduit that could lead him to the glowing green cabinet and his imaginary dark professor.
She had no idea, but probably the latter.
‘I’m going in,’ said Sila, putting up his hood and stepping towards the entrance, then dropping it back down when he saw a patron at the bar staring in bemusement. ‘You do what you want.’
‘Ho mo liu…’
‘Yeah, you too.’
Joanna shifted left but stayed stuck to the graffiti, using her position to spy on Sila’s progress. It wasn’t a completely deserted bar, or street, so there was unlikely to be any direct violence, but
looking in at the scene, the way the green wig woman was dangling that necklace
it didn’t seem like diplomacy would do much either.
Or perhaps she was wrong?
As soon as Sila appeared next to the girl, she straightened up and jerked her head right, a kind of ballerina spasm, and then reached for his hand,
so desperate that she missed the first time and
almost the second time too.
Not a psychopath, Joanna repeated to herself, pushing off the graffiti and sliding in through the open-door entrance with hands dug into her jacket pockets.
Same as from the outside, the bar was dim and mostly desolate, until she passed the first table, at which point, the lights brightened to a slightly warmer shade, tribal rugs revealed themselves on the walls, and a couple more staff came out from the back, carrying plates of vegetables and snacks.
‘Are you the mother?’ asked the green wig woman, sat with an arm on the back of her own personal couch, a giant matte painting of a castle with shock-blue Neptune backdrop on the wall behind her.
‘Yes,’ replied Sila, patting the stool next to him, hand turning pale from the grip of their demon child.
‘Please, sit down,’ the green wig woman said, gesturing to the same spot as Sila. ‘Let us eat and talk about your little daughter here.’
‘We’re leaving,’ said Joanna, clamping a firm hand on Sila’s shoulder.
‘Yes, later. If you like.’
The staff put the plates down on the low table and stepped back, the light hitting their faces and showing an odd greenish pallor, as well as masonic-looking icons tattooed on their necks.
Grinning at the selection, the green wig woman formed a triangle with her thumbs and index fingers and again told Joanna to sit down.
‘One drink only,’ she said, giving in and shivering slightly as Søren’s fingers slid through the gaps of her own.
‘That is more than enough. Yet may not be. I am Celia, owner of this place, the front and the back.’
‘And that necklace,’ added Sila, breaking away from the triangle hands and focusing instead on the top of Søren’s head.
‘A family heirloom.’
‘To hypnotise people?’
‘Ah, directness…very good.’
‘Why did you lead Søren here?’ said Joanna, eyes on uncle Neptune in the background.
‘That is what you call her?’
‘But not you?’
Joanna dipped eyes down to the castle, her brain telling her to dip no lower, but her face vetoing and dipping anyway. The face of Celia absorbed her, like a black hole tired of waiting for matter to fuck up, and the eyes morphed purple.
It was a brief effect, punctured by a small hand covering Joanna’s mouth and her nose and
forcing her to look right
down at a smaller set of lilac eyes, these ones sterilising, soothing, whispering to stay in the bar, stay anchored, do not drift into her castle
‘I feel I can be honest with you,’ came from the green wig woman, her hands reaching for a glass of red liquid and her pupils returning to their masked state. ‘As the parents of this treasure, you are protected. In fact, I would go as far as to say you are honoured guests. Which is not a typical thing for my kind to say to any human.’
‘You’re a demon?’ asked Sila, putting his free hand on the glass of blue liquid nearby, stroking round its edges.
‘In general terms, yes. Aswang, if you wish to be specific, though you might not know this name.’
‘From the Philippines.’
‘Ah, Buzzfeed and its many lists. I assume that’s where you know me from?’
Sila cleared his throat, swirling the blue liquid. ‘We’ve had experience with demons…all kinds.’
‘Including this one here.’
‘She’s our daughter.’
‘Yes…I can see that.’
‘Not for kidnap.’
Celia interrupted a sip of her blood wine to laugh, but stopped quickly when she saw Joanna’s lack of reaction.
‘You seem quite Hungarian.’
‘Though you are clearly Chinese. And not possessed either, I don’t think.’
‘Why did you lead us here?’
‘Please, no more interrogations. Let us eat and drink and enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps talk about futurism. It is a topic I am very interested in. Especially the Italian iteration. Do you know of it?’
Joanna opened her mouth to repeat her question, and perhaps add fuck Italian futurism, what about the new robber barons, but her hand was gripped tighter and
For the first time since they’d taken her from the box
Søren spoke in English
whispering one wraith-like word.