All in a Day’s Work: Chapter 2
Zeru is back! I’ve been really busy and without a lot of creative/inspiration time, so I returned to this story to help me continue working on something even in the face of mild writer’s block. As I said in the first one, this is not a formal project with a clear trajectory and plan, but something fun to return to and play around with. I think of it like a sitcom in one sense, just little glimpses of Zeru’s (self-inflicted) drama-filled life. This one is more of a connector section, but I thought it was fun nonetheless. I’m a little irritated that more does not happen here, but it was getting really long, and this felt like the logical breaking point. It also felt rushed to move to any other portion too quickly, and a wasted opportunity to skip exploring some of the fine skills required of humans. Again, this story follows Zeru, the bumbling demon who is trying to grow used to his new human host, and to navigate the complexities that can be easily overlooked by a native human.
Here’s Chapter 1 for anyone curious/intrigued/enraged!
Zeru woke, stretching his newly stiff arms. His neck was killing him after collapsing in a notably uncomfortable position. But oh, what a wonder sleep was! Never had he experienced the exhilaration of just shutting down and letting his thoughts wander and explore. Michael had all sorts of wonderful thoughts clashing around inside, and Zeru felt like he could drown in all the possibilities. Speaking of, Zeru checked on Michael. He was still there, still hesitant, terrified of what might happen next. And scheming. Zeru sighed. Humans.
Standing from bed sent darts of pain shooting through his legs, but it was a blessed feeling. To actually feel his body rise, to step away from a beautiful sleep, it was the greatest thing he had ever experienced. Of course, Michael couldn’t appreciate the joy of morning aches and pains; he was so focused on chasing every happiness that he was unaware of the miracle of his own senses and body. Never having had a body to call his own, Zeru reveled in the rhythmic pops of his joints as he stretched and began to walk. He tested the feeling of his slightly stiff joints and tendons, feeling them strain as they warmed up to the slightly chill morning air of the apartment. As his jaw stretched itself wide, releasing a completely instinctual yawn, Zeru vowed to never let go of his appreciation for this marvelous moving human machine.
His exploration o f the complexities of human movement had only just begun for the day, after all. First things first, he reasoned. He needed to be able to talk, because he could explain away any other oddities if only he could speak. Zeru posted himself by the bathroom mirror and began to try to force his face to contort into all kinds of strange shapes, but he caught his own dark eyes in the mirror. In one fell swoop, he understood the allure and danger of narcissism. His face was ruggedly handsome, even with slightly bloodshot eyes. Michael’s stress would be the death of him, Zeru chided. But still, there was the chiseled jaw, the day’s worth of stubble, and a single row of dull but shining teeth. What a face. Zeru liked this body, he liked it very much.
How much time had passed in wanton admiration of his suitably handsome human face, Zeru was not sure. Somewhere in this large and labyrinthine building, another human slammed a door and stomped down the hall, snapping him from his idle reverie. He had a job to accomplish, he chided himself, and began to focus once again on his exercises. He tried to recall the notes from human studies, practicing basic phonics and lingual movements. Tongue behind the teeth, breath softly. Lips puckered, plus a low hum. Grit the teeth, breath through them, now a quick tap of his tongue against his teeth. Slowly, with rehearsed patience, Zeru felt the brain and muscles begin to cooperate, producing a gentle baritone recitation of various letters and nonsense sounds. Humans were awfully complicated with their whole “speech” thing.
The light behind the faded blue curtains drifted across the apartment floor, now disappearing as the sun made its way to its apex. “Hello,” stated Zeru, savoring the feeling of words flowing off his tongue, “my name is Michael, and I make bad decisions.” He laughed; Michael raged. It was not nice to taunt him, Zeru knew, but Michael had been entirely unhelpful throughout the entire process, so he had to admit his frustration was showing. Now that he had conquered language, Zeru wondered what new challenge would face him in this human form. The tiny muscles were beginning to get easier to control, and he was even able to brush his teeth with only limited jabbing. The tooth brushing was again a bit of a challenge, what with that handsome face staring back at him.
Without warning, a sudden pain roiled across his abdomen. He felt as if his intestines were coiling and rolling over one another, tangling into knots and releasing in rhythmic waves. Zeru grasped the bathroom vanity (how apt a name!), his nails digging into the soft ply wood underside. Had he done something wrong? Was he dying? Was the body dying? Was Michael pregnant? Was he a woman? The world reeled for Zeru in this few moments before the pain subsided, a dull growl still echoing through his stomach. He turned to Michael, panic rising as he queried the frantic man, terrified that he was killing the relatively likable host.
No, came the response. No, you hell spawn. I’m hungry.
The reality clicked for Zeru, and he thanked Michael for his willing cooperation in this endeavor. He had known humans had to eat, and had planned on it eventually, but he did not realize what pain was associated with avoiding food. What a terribly parasitic relationship.
Zeru glided to the kitchen, admiring his grace and ease with these cumbersome limbs. Food was kept in the refrigerator, he recalled from his lessons. Refrigerators were large, cold, metal boxes. He reached out, grasping the slender handle, and pulled open the surprisingly heavy door. Inside, flies buzzed as a wave of putridity wafted from the open door. It did not take Michael to explain to Zeru that such food was not worth eating, as the green, fuzzy appearance and smell of death was warning enough. He sighed heavily. Of course he knew that food spoiling could happen around demons, but he had hoped to avoid that particularly nasty side effect. Hopeful, but doubting, Zeru reached up to open the nearby cabinets, but saw boxes filled with desiccated foodstuffs. Opening one can revealed ample mold and a distinctly gelatinous quality that made Zeru’s hunger shrink in fear.
There was no food.
The reality settled in with a firm and heavy hand. There was no food in the house, and he probably needed to torch the refrigerator before something sentient waltzed out. There was no food in the house, and he was likely going to starve to death, because acquiring food meant leaving the house, overcoming the stairs, findings a store, and managing to pass as suitably human to buy something to sate the gnawing ache building once again in his gut. There was no food.
This is silly, Zeru chided himself. You are a demon of the Sixth Legion, born and raised to take the world by force. You might not be good at your job, but by Satan you will not be defeated by a flight of stairs.
Zeru seized the brief moment of courage and confidence provided by his pep talk, grabbed the apartment keys from the table near the door, and ushered himself into the hallway. It was somewhat quiet, with the soft hum of human activity bustling behind the many doors. He paused for a moment in front of the beautiful woman’s door, his eyes wishing to peel back the heavy door and see her bright face once again. Oh, she was a beauty!
Distracted again, he reminded himself. It was time to descend the stairs. One at a time, and use the railings. It would not do to tumble down them and crack his skull wide open. He was, true to his word, trying to keep Michael’s body in pristine condition during his trial period. It was surprisingly easier to descend the stairs that it had been to climb them, and his slightly improved motor control made it even better. Down one, shift weight a bit, judge the distance down, move down another step. Before long, he had it down to a relatively smooth rhythm, though still somewhat unstable on the transfer.
Zeru remembered seeing a Dale’s Grocer on his walk home the previous night. Surely they would have food. He set off down the sidewalk, noting a surprising number of pedestrians milling about on the sidewalk. Glancing at a brightly glowing sign, even in the noon day sun, he noticed that it was officially Saturday. Ah, so this is what a Sabbath was like! This realization added a slight levity to his steps, sending him swinging happily down the street towards the tiny shop he had seen the night before. His progress was slowed as he walked past an open door, smelling something tantalizing drifting out and enticing him towards the opening as his mouth watered ravenously. Take out, he purred, the word rolling around ecstatically in his thoughts. He felt the subtle draw, felt his body begin to ache for the cheap but greasy food. Zeru steeled his resolve against the temptation; food like that would make your body sluggish, and a sluggish body was no good for the cause. He felt himself strain against his body’s inertia as it drifted fatefully towards the doorway, finally tearing himself at the last moment to proceed down the road.
Fortunately, he soon saw the tiny grocery rise into view, and he directed his feet towards its dingy glass door. Inside, there was a hodgepodge of strange foods with bright to muddy colors, all demanding his attention. Zeru suddenly felt very overwhelmed, and Michael had little interest in helping him. Having heard Zeru’s panic regarding hunger, the man had decided that he could probably starve the demon out. But Zeru was not going to be so easily derailed.
Uncertain of the offerings, annoyed by the tinny sounding music playing over hidden speakers, and struggling to see in the dim and flickering fluorescent lights, Zeru made his way through the meager aisles, gathering a few “fresh” offerings (though they looked barely more edible than the food in his unfortunate freezer—the smell was however an improvement), a few things from the frozen section, and a smattering of cans and jars. The cashier did not raise a single disinterested eyebrow, and Zeru considered this a success. He was not sure what these things were or what to do with them, but many of the items had plentiful writing on the front and back; surely that would explain its use.
Feeling triumphant, Zeru plodded back towards his apartment. The giddy Saturday was suddenly humid and hot. At least hell was a dry heat, Zeru mused. Sweat trickled down his back, an uncomfortable sensations that reminded him of his initial formation way back in the days of old. An involuntary shiver ran through his body, rustling the paper bag noisily and drawing a few startled looks from passersby. He continued walking, his eyes forward as his stomach grumbled again.
Back at his building, Zeru felt his confidence begin to wane as he considered the sharp incline of stairs greeting him. They smiled like crooked teeth in a sideways giant, and Zeru hated how they mocked him. Deep breath, he coached. You can do this. Nevertheless, he felt himself pause, almost froze on the landing s he remembered his awkward shambling ascent the night before. He could just see his hard earned food skittering down the stairs and along the hallways. Repositioning the bag so that it was even more firmly in his grip, Zeru took a step, placing his foot gently on the first step. He slowly shifted his weight, feeling a discomforting sense of unbalance as his second foot swung forward toward the next step up. It was a success, he cheered as he straddled the two steps. One down, and only a mountain left to go.
Up was slower than down, but far more successful than the previous night. He steadied himself, breathing deeply with each step, and made slow progress. Slow and steady wins the race, yes? The door to his hallway appeared on the horizon, steadily building to fill his view until Zeru had succeeded. He valiantly swung the door open and marched triumphantly to his own abode.
As he fumbled with his key, trying to determine which key it was and how to properly manipulate such a tiny device, he heard another door open before hearing a comforting laugh.
“I thought I heard you out here. Seems like last night got a bit out of h—are those groceries?”
Her shock froze him in place. Did humans not buy groceries? Was there something deviant about his bag? Had he somehow offended this beautiful sculpture of a woman? She walked over, peering into the bags.
“I’ve never seen you cook more than a can of soup,” she chided, pulling out a round green item he had purchased under the guise of its freshness. “So you’ve got lettuce, canned corn, pasta sauce, bacon, and apples? Please tell me what you’ve got planned for these.”
“I was hungry?” Zeru felt off balance and uncertain. What if she realized something was wrong with him? Would she know the man she called Michael was being possessed by a rather incompetent demon?
“Oh, Mikey, I can see that. Have you ever cooked a meal in your life, though? I mean, one not in a box?” Zeru shook his head, feeling a sense of resonance with his internal Michael. She sighed.”Here,” she handed him the item she had called an apple, and then pulled the rest of the bag from his hands. “You munch on that, and then knock on my door about six. I’ll teach you how to make something delicious.” She smiled, her eyes flashing at him. Zeru might not know much about human behavior, but he knew what desire looked like. And right now, she was clearly a human gazing upon her desire. Zeru felt his confidence swell again.
“I’m sure everything with you is delicious,” he stated, leaning in what he suspected was an alluring way against the door frame. “Guess I’ll see you at six, then.” With that, he crunched into the apple, the dastardly fruit shooting a spray of juice across his face and causing him to briefly recoil. She laughed, turning back toward her apartment.
“You’re hopeless, Mikey, but at least you’ve got me to look out for you.” Following her final parting quip, she disappeared into the warm glow of her apartment, leaving Zeru standing in the hallway, watching her enchanting departure with ample appreciation. Distracted again, he reminded himself, and then went back to unraveling the complex secrets of these minuscule keys.
Thanks for reading!
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.