A hollow voice echos under your bed, shaking you to your core, “You’re hired.”
You wake in the night with your arm hanging over the side of your bed. It is still dark, and your bedroom is shrouded in deep shadow. Something unseen seizes your hand.
You grasp it tightly, knowing that first impressions are important and a firm, confident handshake will establish dominance.
my dad has been riding me for, like ever. get a job, ash. like, okay but. have you even heard of summer. plus i’m tired. plus i literally don’t want to do anything but wear a rainbow bikini and bake on beaches.
“i’m serious,” he says, in Serious Voice, his hand on the door handle with white knuckles. “you can’t waste your time like this.”
“ugh,” i say, because, like ugh. he slams the door. i bury my face in pillows and like, “ugh” for a solid thirty second, limbs spread akimbo all over the place. without meaning to, i fall asleep. i told you i was tired, dad.
i don’t know what happens. maybe it’s all those times i had to stand in his office pretending to be official in white shoes and a pink skirt but when somebody grasps my hand, i grasp back. like lizard-brain response, i’m still half-asleep when i’m full-on up-and-down single-pump professional-style handshaking a demon. by the time i have bolted upright in bed and retracted my now-sticky (yet somehow also soggy?) hand, the voice is already speaking.
excuse me? “I’m what now?” my voice in comparison is weak, slippery with sleep and fear, dancing all over the place.
i hear something shift under me. my heart is caught in my throat while there’s chuckles from the owner of the handshake equivalent of squeezing a taco bell meal. i’m having flashbacks to french kissing h.p. lovecraft in a bathroom in high school grade and i’ve never even done that.
“i’ll have to look at your references, obviously, but that’s a hell of a handshake. i like you, kid.”
like but. for some reason, a giggle rises in my throat.
like okay. like. this is normal. i’m like. it figures there’d be something under my bed. like, with how much time i spent in the closet? who am i to even, like, judge.
“of course, orientation will be difficult,” the taco bell meal tentacle continues, “but you wouldn’t be the first we’ve hired like you.”
“like me?” like a woman or a gay woman or like a gay woman who’s really good at making hot cocoa or like
“a human,” taco bell says.
i’m actually almost awake now. like i’m pretty sure i’m awake and i’m talking to the CEO of creepy, incorporated. certified possible demon. sock eating friend of cerberus.
for a second i’m about to call for my dad but then i remember those white knuckles around the door handle and my white shoes and how much gas money is and how he once made me shake hands for an hour but didn’t give me a hug for the next four years.
i clear my throat. like, abuela told us about devils since she was old enough to threaten me with them and like technically i can’t “commune with spirits” but i also know enough not to upset a creature like this so i figure it’s in my best interests to take this in stride and maybe tomorrow throw a little bit more salt over my shoulder than usual. and like, i mean, at this point it’s just negotiating right. and if there’s something i understand from dad it’s negotiating business.
“hours?” i ask, sitting up straighter. i can’t see more than a writhing something that barely extends beyond the edges of my bedframe.
“night shift, obviously.”
“competitive.” a pause. “lucrative, even.”
well like. what else is there. “i’m in.”
“wonderful,” says taco bell, expressing with an accent i’m unfamiliar with and a form of joy that i’m uncomfortable with, “i’ll go get the contract. be back in a jiffy.”
like, the sound of hell opening up isn’t exactly a slurp-pop, but it does sound a lot like the way my seventh grade math teacher’s tongue used to sound when she was about to make a harsh comment about my homework. and like, for a second there i’m like. wait what the fuck did i just agree to am i in a horror movie is chucky gonna be my roommate now like does dracula sign my contract as a witness like am i really doing this. like? i’m a smart girl (don’t look at my love life) how am i even considering this.
it’s also when my dad opens my door. “ash?” even when he’s just woken up, he looks tidy. he’s wearing his wingtip shoes. never slippers on this man.
i’m like. coming around to my senses at this point. i hallucinated all that. i ate too many crackers with cream cheese and guava before bed. i listened to too many of abuela’s supernatural sightings. and like, i told you, i’m tired.
“dad,” i say, blinking in the light from the hallway.
“you were talking in your sleep, ” he says.
“oh,” i say.
“it is keeping me awake,” he says.
“sorry,” i say.
“you know i am a light sleeper,” he says.
“yeah,” i say, “sorry.”
“please control yourself,” he says.
“yeah … i… okay.” i say. “sorry again.”
“goodnight, ash,” he says, and he turns to go. he looks back at me and says “and ash?” and for a second, because i always have this moment, because i never learn, because i’m not a good learner, for a second i’m thinking - oh, he’s gonna say something nice, “in the morning, please get a job.”
“yeah,” i say, and my voice cracks and the door closes, “sorry again.”
i sit there, staring at the wall, saying nothing for a long time, or maybe no time at all. thinking about nothing. like the feeling you get when you’re thinking too much so it all just sounds like white noise.
then i hear it again. the crack-slurp of hell. i jump about like twelve feet. when i return from the space station my soul ascended to, i see the barely-defined outline of something, like the leg of an insect outside of a tentacle inside of a crab leg outside of the right back support beam of the eiffel tower. and like, a sphere of dull green light radiates directly above it, which, like, isn’t even the weirdest part of my night.
“howdy!” taco bell nacho supreme is back, “sorry for the delay, i was checking with management.”
“uh,” i say.
“just insert your hand into this here contract and you’ll be employed part-time, pending references.”
“hang on,” i say. i swallow. “you said the rate is… competitive?”
“we got wishes, monkey’s paws, souls, video game cheats… you name it, we pay it.”
“666 an hour to start. we do love tradition.”
i choke. “like six dollars and sixty-six cents?”
taco bell laughs. “you know what i meant. and we do direct deposit!”
i swallow. i think of my dad.
words tumbling out of me. “do i have to hurt anyone? is my soul forfeit? can i ever get out of this? am i gonna turn colors how many days a week do i work is there a retirement plan can i readjust the terms after signing is it permanent will it harm me in any way how many people die doing this when do i start what’s orientation who writes the checks and” i take a breath “is the boss nice?”
“no, no, yes! but two weeks notice. no, usually five, if you sign up for it, yes, no, probably not, not many people are doing it mostly we’re non-physical or extra-corporeal so you’d have to ask H.R? tomorrow if you want, loads of fun and free sushi, H.R again, and” taco bell takes a breath, “usually but particularly on wednesdays.”
i sit there and curl my knees to my chest.
“all this… because of a handshake?”
taco bell is silent for a moment. well, like, kind of. if eerie silence had a twin brother, or like the silence of a fast food restaurant exactly four minutes before the lights are shut off.
“usually, we come if we’re called by darkness. we deal in darker things than needs. i don’t tend to show up when someone needs something. but sometimes… the lines get crossed, that’s all. instead of your need heading on upwards, it called me instead.”
“uh,” i say, “are you admitting to the existence of like… angels?”
“anyway,” says taco bell, “yesterday Georurng self-terminated.”
“oh my gosh,” i say, “is he okay?”
“oh yeah, no, he retired to live with his six hivenests in west Berlin. we need new blood,” taco bell says. “of course, metaphorically.”
okay. okay. like. i could say i was bartending? in a few weeks i could buy a used car. out of pocket. like. if i needed to i could always quit. and like. honestly, again, how many chances to make closet jokes. plus, time at the beach. plus like. okay like how cool would it be.
“okay,” i whisper, “okay.” i try not to shake as i reach my hand out to the contract. it feels like dipping my hand into the inside of a cold turkey. i repress the shudder that runs up me.
in an instant, the specifics of my job write themselves over my eyes. they burn into the back of my brain. everything is spinning.
“see you tomorrow!” taco bell is saying. i want to puke. my ears are ringing. i barely hear the portal to hell open again.
the fire of the contract’s words fade slowly until i am staring into the dark again. it’s not what i expected. it actually appeals to my sense of justice. taco bell was right about being called by something. i’ve just agreed to be the thing that goes bump in the night. the one thing left against the people nobody else can fight. i’m gay dracula. i’m both a lesbian dementor and the boggart. i’m a rainbow-flag-flying boogeyman and i have a long list of people who i got a bone to pick with.
it takes me a moment to realize i’m smiling. sorry, dad, i’m gonna be like. ultra mega tired. but i got a job. doing what? oh, nothing.
just being the creature that lives under your bed. when bad men have darkness, we come haunting.