The Lab

experimental sci-fi humor, horror, and prose.

The Covid Blues

“Ugh. I can’t stand being in this apartment anymore.” Alice said, shaking her fists in the air.

Alice had enjoyed her first two years of project management at Magical Maestro’s Sourcery Supply, the state’s premier wizardry firm. However, once the coronavirus crisis hit and she tried to work from the sofa her frustration had slowly grown.

“I just can’t work anymore. Not right now.” Alice closed her laptop and stood up. “I need to get out and do something!”

“Oh, what could you possibly do if you left the house anyway.” Bob hollered from his open bedroom door. “They closed the bars back up last week. The only place open now is the grocery store.” Bob shot two more people in Fortnite then triggered a victory dance.

“What if we summoned a demon?” Alice shouted back to Bob.

“What?” Bob got a power up then fragged two more players. “Why would you do that? Demons smell like rotten eggs.”

“Oh, just to have someone new to talk too. Besides, a demon couldn’t possibly be carrying covid-19. By definition anyone who had died from the virus would no longer be contagious, right?“

Alice looked around the apartment for her summoning kit while Bob finished his game. “Come on, let’s do this.” Alice said once she found the kit under the bathroom sink.

“Fine fine.” Bob paused his game then walked into the living room. “What do we have to do?”

“I’ve got it all set up. I sprinkled powder in a pentagram on the floor. Now we just have to recite this spell together.” She handed him a small piece of paper.

“This looks like Latin. I don’t speak Latinish.”

“It doesn’t matter. I wrote it for you phonetically. Just follow along with me.”

As Alice and Bob spoke in unison the lights in their living room grew dim and flickered. Upon finishing the last syllable they heard a crash of thunder and the room filled with smoke.

The smoke pulsed red and they could see the bottom of wide hoofed legs step slowly towards them. Enormous curled horns, each the size of a trumpet, poked through the smoke cloud. The horns themselves poured additional smoke from holes at their ends.

As the room finally cleared they could see the demon’s face; gnarled and spiked with metal jutting from all angles. Deep lacerations covered its skin and two huge eyes, larger than billiards balls, sat below flaming eyebrows. The beast stood nearly eight feet tall, its head bent slightly as the horns scraped the popcorn ceiling of their little apartment.

The creature opened its mouth to speak in a voice that seemed to come from all directions and bellowed in three octaves at once. “Who has summoned me!” the demon demanded.

Bob stepped back. “Jeez. He seems angry! I thought he’d be happy to just hang out and chill.”

The beast saw Bob and Alice clearly for the first time and called again. “Why have you summoned me? Answer me quickly mortals or your death will be unimaginably painful.“

Alice stiffened her spine. “I have summoned you demon. And I have no task for you. We just want to talk.”

“Yeah, we’re just bored right now.“ Bob added unhelpfully.

“What?!” the creature yelled. “You just want to talk? Do you have any idea how much spiritual energy it requires to travel between realms?!”

“It requires no energy at all.” said Alice firmly.

The creature’s features began to glow and shift and blur. Alice and Bob’s human eyes were unable to fully process what they saw as the beast flickered and condensed. When the form returned to focus it looked like a reasonable human with no spikes or scars anywhere, just a middle-aged guy in a Hawaiian t-shirt and shorts; and two tiny lambs horns poking through the wrinkled skin above his brows.

“Well, okay. You got me there.” The demon said. “But you did interrupt my day. I was just about to start my second round of golf.”

“We really didn’t mean to make you angry. It’s just that we’ve been trapped in our apartment for so long.” Bob said.

“Ah, and you need my powers to blast open the doors and destroy the sorcerers who have confined you here.”

“Oh No, no. We’re here by choice.“ Alice said.

“What? You remain in this dismal place by choice?!”

“Hey! This dismal place is our apartment that I decorated myself, thank you very much.” Bob said.

The demon looked around at the cheap Ikea furniture and dated carpeting. “Fine fine. It’s a reasonable 20th century apartment.”

“You mean 21st century.” Alice said. “The year is 2020.”

“Really? Already?! Well, I gotta be honest with you; since I got promoted I haven’t traveled that much. It’s probably been thirty years since I last came to Earth. So, um, what’s new with you humans these days? Why are you all hanging around indoors -- global warming shouldn’t fully kick in for another few decades.”

“You really have no idea about the Covid-19 crisis, do you?” Alice said.

“Covi-what now?”

“Oooh. You’ve got a lot of catching up to do, mister. Bob can tell you everything, but let me get you a drink first.”

For the next fifteen minutes Bob explained the pandemic to the demon, bringing out charts and slides, and finally an animated info-graphic describing how the software his team was developing would help researchers discover potential vaccines.

When Bob finished his presentation the demon took a big swig from his whisky sour then leaned back on the couch and thought carefully. The humans waited patiently.

The demon shook his head then finally spoke. “Wow. So you’re telling me everyone has to say inside, and if they go outside they have to wear a mask, and some people hate the masks so much that they risk death, and then other people hate *them* for not wearing masks?”

“Yes.” Bob said.

“And everyone else is staying inside going crazy and hating their families.”

“Yeah. It’s pretty bad.” Alice said.

“Not to help the other side, but… Holy Shit! Wow. This is amazing! I gotta tell my boss.” The demon whipped out what appeared to be a bright red blackberry phone from the late 90s and started to type on the chiclet keys.

“What?” Bob said. “No, it’s not amazing. It’s awful.”

“For humanity maybe, but not for us. This is incredible. This virus has achieved in months what we’ve been trying to do for centuries.”

“What are you talking about?” Alice asked.

The demon got that same expression Bob gets when he’s excited to bore you with incredibly esoteric details of a complex system that no one else in the universe would ever care about, but that means the world to him.

“You see..” the demon explained as his eyes brightened, ”every time someone swears or expresses hate against their fellow man it darkens their soul just a tiny bit. By the time this pandemic is over billions of people will have damned their souls for eternity. And when they die, well let’s just say we’re gonna have to really expand our operation to handle the influx.”

Alice and Bob turned to look at each other in shock.

“This is so exciting!” the demon continued. “I should get some of the boys down in research cooking up our own viruses to release on Earth.”

The demon stood up and began pacing back and forth. “What do you think about a disease that made you itch all the time. Ooh. Or maybe it also made you smell like rotten onions. Do you think that would get people mad at each other?”

“Um. I suppose…. So, you want to hang out and tell us some stories? I could mix up some more drinks.” Alice said.

“Actually, I’m trying to cut back. You know what they say: a drunk demon is a sloppy demon. Besides, I need to get back to the office. We’ve got a lot of planning to do. Thanks for the heads up you guys!”

And with that the demon disappeared in a tidy puff of smoke, leaving a thimbleful of ash on the couch. While Alice went to look for a hand vac, Bob sat down and shook his head.

“I feel like that could have gone better.” he said.

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