DEMON FIGHTER SUCKS

June 8, 2021

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Katherine Crighton is a genre writer with over twenty years of experience in SF/F publishing. They have, among other things, read slush for Tor Books, written reviews for Publishers Weekly, and worked as a production editor of environmental nonfiction and STEM textbooks. They’ve been published by Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and a variety of other markets, and are one of the sibling presenters on the No Story Is Sacred podcast, taking apart and putting stories back together again. They spend their days working for Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Robotics Engineering program (with very many robots). Follow them on Twitter at @c_katherine or visit their website at katherinecrighton.com.
Content Warning(s):
Blood/Gore, Child in peril

“Okay, so, livestream is up.” 

The girl grins at the screen. Her hair is loose around her bare shoulders, brushing over her three-wolves-moon tank top. Her eyes are black-winged and electric. “Hello, internet. Time for another episode of Fun with Public Domain Magic. You know me: I’m youbetterrunkid, and I hate asshole fans who think the quote-unquote magic they see on TV is ‘just, like, totally the real thing, oh my god.’”

Run leans in so just her mouth, red and bright, is visible. “It’s not,” she whisper-drawls into the mic. Pulls back. Thumbs up for the camera. 

Behind her, visible on the wall beside her bed, is an enormous poster showing two handsome white men looking soulfully outward, mystical symbols swirling in the background. The words DEMON FIGHTER are in a blood-drip font.

Someone has decorated the poster with pony stickers. The ponies are pink.

“So yeah,” Run says. “Questions, comments, your whiny complaints about me ruining your fandom, I don’t care, there’s a chatroom for a reason. Sit the fuck down, it’s time for science.”

She plucks a small pile of printer paper and shoves it forward, holding it for a moment and humming. The paper has writing on it.

TODAY’S ““““SPELL””””: SUMMON AN OMG IRL *FAIRY*

Run’s face fills the screen, half a nose and a brown eye with gold glitter stitched over the lid. “Spoiler alert, kids. Tinkerbell is coming in February to visit our supernatural vigilante duo, and she’s got murder on her mind.”

Run pulls back. She looks down and to the left. “Yes, DemonFightress. Yes, it was totally worth spending time looking that up just to spoil real fans.” She kisses her fingers and waves at the camera. “You’re welcome, boo.”

STEP 1 ASSHOLES: FIND A MOTHERFUCKING MIRROR

Run rummages around off-camera and holds up what’s presumably the mirror. It looks like a flashing light in her palm. “I’ll post a link to the book when we’re all done here, but, so, this spell is from 1875. A time of trains and telegraphs and the Industrial Age. For whatever reason, though, the guy who wrote this spell decided that the clearest description for a mirror he could give was Venus glass. I call bullshit, though; I think he just wanted to sound,” she crosses her eyes, sighs dramatically, “magical.”

Run flicks the mirror toward herself and sticks her tongue out at the reflection. “This isn’t the mirror I’ll be using for this shindig, but whatever. We’re pulling a Rachel Ray and filming the weirdest-ass cooking show you’ve ever seen. This, friends, is a pre-baked mirror.”

STEP 2: BECOME THE PERSON YOUR MOM WARNED YOU ABOUT

Run didn’t always hate Demon Fighter. She used to love it. But she also used to have a mother. Lots of things change.

“If I was hardcore,” Run says, picking up a covered plastic container of something brown and clumpy, “I would smear this on my cheeks right now. Nothing says happy fairy magic like chicken blood, right?” She pauses, gasps. “Oh, what’s that, internet? What’s that? Do I hear your screams of ‘animal cruelty’ and ‘the Fighters would never’ actually coming through the computer?” Run presses the container up to the camera and jiggles it. The view is blurred and sluggish. 

“This is another reason why anybody who thinks the magic from Demon Fighter is legit needs to find a new hobby. Real magic has messy shit like chicken blood and numerology and, like, Hebrew. For reasons.

“Oh my god, FightersLove, your attempt at rhyming exorcisms is fucking adorable. You’re clogging up the chat, though, sweetie. The other assholes can’t get through.” Run cracks open the container and wrinkles her nose. “Everybody else: Get some chicken blood. I just went to the grocery store, bought some chicken hearts that were still soaking, and then got rid of the hearts. Voila. Take your mirror and toss that bitch into the container. Then wait three weeks. Try not to gag when you get it out again. Consider it a test of worthiness or something.”

Run picks up a large glass mixing bowl and balances it on her lap. She dribbles the blood out of the container to keep it from splashing up onto her clothes. As the blood drains, a short, square object begins to emerge. She tilts the container, and it slides down. She shakes the plastic gently to urge the last drops out; the object rattles, one side of it reflecting the light wetly through a brownish-red film.

STEP 3: BECOME THE PERSON GOD WARNED YOU ABOUT TOO

Run’s hair is a blonde-brown color that brightens into streaks in the summer. She used to be all blonde as a child. Corn silk.

“Clean your mirror with holy water,” she says. “Don’t have holy water? Fucker, that stuff is just hanging out in every Catholic church in town. Get a paper towel, for Christ’s sake.”

Run doesn’t use a soaked paper towel. She still has the small plastic jug her mother filled at Lourdes, back when Mom was well enough to travel but sick enough to be looking for miracles. 

“The point of the mirror,” Run says, plucking it out from its container, “is that you’re going to need someplace to, idk, bind your fairy, or control it, or something. The text wasn’t real clear on that, which, surprise-surprise, can I remind everyone again of Venus glass.” She holds the mirror above the bowl in her lap and slowly rinses it off with her jug of holy water. 

It doesn’t come entirely clean. When she’s done, she makes a face and ends up patting the mirror dry with a piece of dark laundry from her bed. 

She reaches forward and puts the mirror below the camera. Just out of sight.

“This is all so gross,” she murmurs before flicking her attention back to the screen. “And I’m doing it for you, loyal viewers.” She waves her bloody fingers. “Never say I’m not dedicated to my trolling.”

STEP 4: CRAFT TIME BITCHESS

“The spell I found is to summon a fairy named Mrs. Spurling, which is, like—what even?  Think about that. Her name isn’t Andromeda Fucknuckle of Pixielane Starwoods. It’s just a name.

“Anyway, I’m using this one, so you’ll need to come up with your own. Since apparently fairies aren’t named like goddamn Pony Friends, just pick something. You need a name because you’re going to want to write it with black ink onto, boom, three popsicle sticks.”

She waves three sticks in front of the camera, spread out like a full house between her thumb and fingers. The sticks blur as they move, the camera too slow to catch every movement. Not even the name is visible.

Run’s real name is Ashley. Her surname is also, coincidentally, Spurling, though she won’t say so to her online audience.

Ashley Spurling is a talented girl, and probably misses her mother.

“Beautiful,” Run says, pulling them back. “Look at that artistry. These guys aren’t what we’re using today, though, because this recipe requires our stick puppets be buried for a week under ‘a hill where fairies haunt’ and I wanted our sampler set to be pretty when I showed it off.”

Run pulls out a plastic bag. Inside are another three popsicle sticks, dirt clinging to them, each bearing the name Mrs. Spurling. She shakes the bag a little. “I buried them in my buddy Cesar’s yard.” She makes a sad face at the camera. “Sorry, Cesar. Blame 1920s slang.”

STEP 5: DO SOME MUGGLEFUCKING MAGIC

Run is sixteen. It’s a good age, an in-between age. Lots of things are possible at sixteen.

Fifteen is a terrible age. Demon Fighter went on hiatus early, and Ashley’s mother died.

“This is where it gets fuzzy,” Run says. “Because real magic, the stuff people actually tried to do, wasn’t all about pretty boys and their demonic swords of what-the-fuck. It was just what people did, and I guess they didn’t bother to put in all the steps because—I don’t know. Maybe they knew this shit didn’t really work. So leave out a couple of directions, and boom, if the fairy doesn’t show up then it’s not the magic’s fault—it’s yours.”

Run shakes her head. She used to believe in magic, right up until it didn’t save her mother’s life.

Maybe it was the spell she used. But maybe it was some flaw in Run. 

She doesn’t let herself think those things when she’s awake.

“So the next step—or last step, if you want to be specific about it—is to call up the fairy. And we’re going to do that by saying our fairy’s name, breaking our sticks, and then putting them on our Easy-bake mirror. Because, you know, obviously.

“Wow, TheRealHunters, no, I’m not going to use one of the summoning spells from the show, Jesus, did you just turn on the stream? And ElizabethB2014, what the fuck, turn this off, you’re like fucking five or something, it has to be past your bedtime.

“But no, I don’t know what’s supposed to happen then. I mean, fortunately, it doesn’t actually matter, what with it not being real and all. But if it was real, if it was anything at all, you have to understand: Magic isn’t something locked away or whatever else those stupid assholes on Demon Fighter say it is. It just is. Follow the directions, and you get the result. And if you don’t get a result—well, it’s probably not the right spell, is it?” She kisses her fingers and waves them at the camera. She’s forgotten that there’s blood on them. “Here’s the secret, sweethearts: It’s never, ever the right spell.”

STEP 6: GET EXACTLY WHAT YOU ASKED FOR

Run shakes out her shoulders, closes her eyes, and starts a low, meaningless drone. It’s the sort of sound that the characters use on the show she no longer watches. She used to think it sounded like real magic. 

She is wrong. Real magic sounds like the first crack of wood breaking between two fists. 

“Mrs. Spurling,” she says. She holds the two halves of the first popsicle stick in either hand. She opens one eye and swivels it around the room. “Shucks, guys, it looks like nothing happened. Who would’ve guessed.”

Run lays the broken halves on the mirror that’s out of view. Her hair swings forward as she does. 

Run tries to look older than she is. She shouldn’t. She is young, and she is beautiful.

She leans back and picks up another popsicle stick. “Mrs. Spurling,” she says, and breaks it. The sound of the snap is small. More quiet than the first. 

Here are some names she could have written on the wood, none of which would have worked: Mrs. Barrow; Mrs. Kurgan; Mrs. Maidam; Mrs. Grave. Fairies, it has been said, are just the dead, transformed.

But what she wrote was Mrs. Spurling.

“Only one more, guys,” Run says, balancing these new sticks out of sight. “And then we’ll have a real life fairy, because that’s totally possible and not at all completely fucknuts.”

She picks up the last stick and wags her eyebrows. Her smile is wide, her skin flushed.

“Mrs. Spurling,” Run says, and breaks the stick. It doesn’t make any sound at all.

Real magic sounds like the snap of wood. 

Real magic sounds like a silenced heart monitor.

Real magic doesn’t care what you intended.

Follow the directions, get a result.

Run’s eyes widen. She opens her mouth. She closes her mouth. She lowers the two pieces of wood out of sight. Her gaze follows her fingers, until she’s looking down at the mirror no one else can see. 

Her hair falls forward. She picks the mirror up.

“Mama?” she says, small and uncertain, before smashing the mirror with her fist, and letting the thing inside it out.

© Katherine Crighton

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