A Little Madness by O. Nanymous

(Written by my brother, Matthew MacKenzie, and originally published in Tesseract Magazine in the early 1980s)

The figure tripped on a ridge in the cobbled street, stumbled, and toppled like a sack of collard greens. A whiff of smoke issued from around Nup’s final arrow, and it thickened into a solid plume. A scream, like a dying tiger who had thought he had won the battle, the final scream of a demon vanquished filled the air, right up to the top. The demon’s body tensed, then momentarily relaxed, and it slowly began to be engulfed in flame, charred by the passage of an evil spirit back to some shadowy universe. As the heat passed over the demon’s face, its true nature was revealed; rather than the features of a second-rate medium, a horrible, green, fanged curse of a visage briefly withstood the heat of the flames, before it was consumed. The boiling smoke engulfed the creature’s form, and brief glimpses through it revealed that the demon’s clothes were deflating, until at last all that remained was a cheap cloak saturated with ash, partially charred, and resting in a heap on a black spot on the ground. One final fold, just now recognizing that it was no longer held up, collapsed limply. Then stillness.

Commendable shot, boy!” cried the old adventurer, slapping his young archer a healthy clap on the back.

Nup lowered his bow and slung it over his back. “That’s the first time I ever finished one off, Diputs. I didn’t know they went out with such a bang.”

“Always, boy. I wanted to prove to you that it was a demon, not just a stupid fake medium like it said. I know, you know, you said you took my word for it, but you still weren’t sure, I could tell. I have to admit, the sucker was pretty well disguised.”

“I’m sure now, that’s for sure.” They approached the imploded corpse at a regular pace, but Diputs was permitted a conspicuous lead.

Nup’s voice was not as strong as he imagined an adventurer’s should be under these conditions. “Is there…any danger, now that he’s dead?”

“I keep telling you these things are dead to begin with! Got that? You can’t kill demons, because they start out that way!

“All right, I was just saying, I mean, now that he’s banished.”

“Better. No, there’s no danger at all. And a demon’s an it, not a he or a she.” Diputs drew his sword and poked tentatively at the remains. “At least, not much…I just want to be sure it didn’t leave us any little surprises.” His sword tip knocked a charred, blackened object from the heap with a little cloud of black dust and a few floating cinders. “Pick that up, boy, and open it.”

Nup reached down and gingerly took the object from the blackened street. He brushed some of the ash off of it, and nearly opened it, but stopped. “It looks like a book. You’re sure I should open it? An incantation tome might be booby trapped.” It occurred to him too late that he was not the veteran here, and probably shouldn’t presume to be.

“Naaah. It’s just a stupid billfold. Open it.”

Bits of ash dribbled out of the edges of the wallet as it opened. Nup carefully–like a man reaching through a spider web for something–explored the pockets with his fingers. He extracted a few burnt orange discs. “What’re these?”

“You don’t know too much about demons, do you, boy. Those are carrot slices.”

“Tarot?” cried Nup, in a desperate attempt to misinterpret the statement. “Demons can predict the future?”

“I said carrot, boy. Carrot. You know, like the things you eat.”

Nup took a second to digest this information. “Why would a demon be carrying carrots around in his wallet?” A thought struck him. “Wait! I bet I know! They’re poisoned! He, I mean it, puts these in peoples’ food, to–”

“No such luck,” Diputs interrupted. “You should learn more about demons, boy, if you ever intend to become an adventurer. This was probably just our friend’s cross-Hades bus fare or something. You see, carrots are legal tender in Hell.”

“You mean–” Nup had absolutely no idea how he might have ended this sentence.

“Roots are the money of all evil.”

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