Tessa glared at the computer screen, the screen cheerfully beamed back in engaging colors and smart fonts. ‘Now repeat!’ it said, in bright blue. Tessa hated bright blue. She hated that specific font and absolutely detested repeating things, especially in Hungarian.
She totally loathed Hungarian.
“It’s just a few sentences,” her boss, whom she also despised, had said. “You can learn them in one afternoon, and we can impress our clients when they arrive tomorrow.
It was now three hours to tomorrow, and the afternoon hadn’t brought anything but regret.
For instance, Tessa deeply regretted the one adjective she’d added in her resumè: ‘quick-learning’, a year earlier, and which had led her to be hired by Assist Insurance Inc. and promptly set to work. Officially as secretary, and unofficially as the company’s multi-tool. If anything new turned up, all her boss had to do was deploy the quick learner, she’d get things done. So now the new thing was a hefty contract with a Hungarian bridge construction company whose name alone would make your gums bleed, and which, for some reason, had decided to send a few members of its board all the way to Chicago, for a tour of Assist Insurance headquarters, which was stupid, Tessa thought, since there were no plans to build a bridge inside the building.
The sentence looked like what a cat would write on a keyboard, if it were tied up and slammed repeatedly over the keys. Tessa clicked the “listen again” button to hear the expert Hungarian speaker say the sentence again. It sounded like what the cat would say.
Tessa tried to repeat the ugly sounds. ‘Wrong!’ the screen flashed back at her, but still in cheerful colors.
She repeated the sentence again in a slightly louder tone. It was supposed to mean “Welcome to Chicago, We hope you had a pleasant flight from Hungary.” Not even ‘Hungary’ sounded like ‘Hungary’ in Hungarian, it was ‘Magyarországra’.
She listened to the sample again, it didn’t even sound like something a human mouth could pronounce. She did her best to replicate it, in an even louder voice.
Furious, she grabbed the laptop screen by the sides, drew it close to her face and screamed the sentence once more, then grabbed the power chord and yanked it from the wall socket.
It ripped, there was a bright electric arc and all the room went dark. There was a sharp smell. Ozone, she thought, although she had imagined it to smell differently. This was more of a rotten egg smell.
‘Wrong!’ said the screen of the laptop with battery-powered smugness.
Tessa felt her way to the socket. She pulled out what was left of the plug from the wall, to make sure there was no short-circuit.
Then, begrudgingly assisted by the light coming from the screen, she made it to the the electrical cabinet down the corridor near the entrance to her apartment. She flipped the circuit breaker back up and saw the light return to her living room.
Another thing she saw, as soon as she had taken a few steps, was the large, steaming, horned creature on her sofa.
“You know, I heard you the first time, no need to shout like that,” it said.
Tessa was so surprised she simply forgot to scream. Her legs went from under her and she found herself sitting on the floor.
Now, don’t act so shocked,” it said as it rose from its seat, “you summoned me by my name. What were you expecting?” The creature’s horns were an inch away from scratching her ceiling.
“Wha… how… name?” Tessa stuttered.
“Jaar-Athoth, Fifth level demon. What is wrong with you? Did the summon backfire and send your brains off somewhere?”
“Su-summon?” Tessa realized she was hyperventilating and held her breath for a few seconds. The monster stared at her quizzically with its black eyes and red irises. It looked down, as if to inspect her carpet.
Tessa exhaled slowly and took another, slower breath. “Summon?” she repeated, “I most certainly did not summon you. A Demon?”
Jaar-Athoth raised a clawed finger, which then turned downwards as he pointed to the floor.
“Excuse me,” he complained, “where is my pentacle?”
Tessa blinked her eyes at the sudden change of tone. “Pentacle?” “Yes! Pentacle! Would you stop repeating what I say and start providing some answers? Because I’m beginning to question our current arrangement.”
Tessa did not like that sort of treatment, not from her boss, not from Hungarian clients, and most certainly not from a seven-foot tall, red-skinned horned beast.
“What?” she said, “What? You show up all of a sudden, whatever you are, steam up my living room, not to mention the rotten eggs, scare me half to death and you have demands?”
“Demands?” the demon thundered, “I have existential doubts! For example how did you manage to get me across without a pentacle of protection?”
“Well listen here!” Tessa shouted back, “I’m wondering too what sort of beast you are, if you need to be protected!”
Jaar-Athoth blinked at her in disbelief. “The pentacle should be there to protect your world, to enclose the portal so your reality doesn’t pour down into hell like hot cheese and especially to protect you from me, you nitwit!” His voice had become hoarse with all the shouting.
“Well I didn’t summon you, so no pentacle. Ha!”
The demon plopped back down on the sofa, which almost folded onto itself under his weight. “You have no idea of what’s going on…” he muttered, “…no pentacle…I don’t know how you pulled that trick.”
He looked back at her, as if he was considering grounding her with no TV. “I could devour your soul, and then consume your body, you know that?”
That was hardly the type of conversation one was expected to have around a coffee table.
“Oh?” Tessa said. The idea of her sharing the same room with a red-skinned beast from hell, now that she’d gotten over the initial surprise and anger, was starting to gnaw at her. She began to feel the urge to escape.
“…but I won’t,” said Jaar-Athoth.
“Oh! Oh well, thanks…”
“At least not yet. I’m free, you see, unconstrained. And I suppose quite famous back where I’m from. Nobody’s had a summoning in, oh, at least three thousand years. You can imagine how bored we all were when, all of a sudden, I hear my name being called,” Jaar-Athoth grinned with the memory and Tessa could see the gleam of his white fangs. “You should have heard the cheers, and also the insults!”
“Jealous?” Tessa said.
“Livid green jealous. Hah!” The demon slapped his knee and stood up. “Well, off I go. I might be back, or not. Don’t know.”
“Wait, where are you going?”
“Outside. No pentacle remember? I am free to wreak havoc and bring hell back on earth. Oh the songs they’ll sing in my name down below. All off tune, of course.” He unfurled a pair of ridiculously small wings. “Mind if I use your window?”
“Ah, no problem…do you really have to do all those things?” Tessa said, but he had already leapt outside.
The room felt strangely empty now, but that’s how rooms probably feel after a horned giant moved out. Tessa had a strange feeling at the back of her head, something about unleashing a demon from hell, which may or may not be all her fault. She shrugged it off. There were more pressing matters at hand. She grabbed her laptop and shut off the stupid language learning program. It had turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. A quick search pointed her in the right direction. She grabbed her phone, navigated the app store to the correct download, paid the $4.99 and a few seconds later a new icon had appeared on her phone. ‘GlobalVoice’ it said. She tapped it, and a menu appeared. She selected input and output languages. Now the screen showed a microphone symbol.
“Welcome to Chicago, We hope you had a pleasant flight from Hungary,” she said.
“Üdvözöljük Chicagóban, reméljük, kellemes járatot kapott Magyarországról“ the phone spoke back.
“Nifty!” Tessa said, and went to sleep.
Twelve stories below, an increasingly bewildered Jaar-Athoth squealed as a high-speed car grazed him, the horn blaring haughtily. Fumes from the exhaust gases choked him, neon lights from the many street signs hurt his eyes. The demonic creature stood, wondering which other demon had preceded him, and had successfully turned earth into a living hell.