From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

My Best Friend’s Girl

He:

Listen. It’s not like she honored her part of the deal. Nothing happened when I summoned her. It was almost a week later, two weeks after John’s funeral, when I heard someone knocking on my front door. I must have just got home from work, because I remember I was still wearing a suit and tie as I went to the door.

It was rainy out. I mean, shit. Vancouver in late October. Of course it was rainy. Of course it was dark even though it wasn’t even six in the evening. I was renting this old house in east Vancouver, already twice broken into, so I went to the door with my phone in one hand, ready to call the police. I opened the door with the chain still on.

And there she was. A woman wearing a yellow Mountain Equipment Coop biking jacket waiting on the front porch. “Um hi,” she said. “My bike got a flat. I saw your bike on the porch and was wondering if you had a bike pump.”

She

There. You summoned me and I came. No one twisted your arm. No one made you take your friend’s equipment. No one made you sign the contract with your blood.

He:

Sure I took some of John’s witchcraft crap. What else was I going to take—his six-foot-tall water pipe? His construction work clothes? His mother was begging me to take something.

And, sure, I ended up summoning you—her. She had killed my oldest friend. Someone had to try. But it wasn’t like I thought it was going to work. It was just a whim. A few nights after the funeral, I had a few drinks and looked through John’s gear. A few more drinks, and I drew the pentagram, lit the candles, and spilled the tiniest drop of my own blood. You know what happened? Nothing. God fucking forbid anything is that straightforward with her.

The point is, I wasn’t summoning her for myself. I wanted answers for John’s death. He was my best friend for a long time. And I was just curious if anything would happen.

She:

Such a lawyer with your multiple defenses. You were just curious. You didn’t think it would really work. Insofar as you did think it would work, you weren’t interested in it for yourself, but were doing it for your dead best friend. You summoned me and I came. What could be more clear?

He

If there’s a contract, there must be a way to contest it, right? There must be a judge. Wherever you are, your honor, your worship, your however-you-want-to-be-addressed, I’m counting on you being fair. On you paying attention.

Listen. When I came back with the pump, I noticed she was shivering. “You want some dry clothes?” I said.

“I’m fine,” she said, taking the pump from me. “I just need to get home and get dry.”

“One second. I’ll grab you a dry sweatshirt,” I said. She shook her head, but I went back inside anyway.

When I got back, she was crouched next to her bike, head bent over her rear tire. “I think it’s a slow leak,” she said. “Now that I’ve inflated it, it should get me back to my place.”

I handed her my sweatshirt. “Here,” I said.

After a second, she took off her goretex jacket. Under her jacket she was wearing a striped tank top. She quickly pulled the sweatshirt on, but I had the impression of a hint of cleavage, a flat stomach beneath the shirt when she raised her arms to slip on the sweatshirt. “Thanks, I’ll bring it back next week after I wash it.”

“Don’t worry about washing it. I have a washer and drier in the basement.”

“Okay,” she said. “Thanks.” She put out her hand. “My name’s Zora.”

I took her hand. It was cold and damp, but she had a good grip. She looked at me for a second and smiled. Then she carried her bike down the patio stairs.

She:

You knew right then. You even gave me a gift, just like your little books told you.

A pause. Long, thoughtful.

He:

Look. I didn’t give her a sweatshirt because I was agreeing to worship and love her, in return for which she was entitled to suck my life from me. I did it because I’m not a jerk. She was cold and wet.

I remember wondering if she had taken the sweatshirt to hell with her.

She:

You’re a liar. You remember wishing that I had stayed the night with you.

He:

I was surprised that she didn’t spend the night. John said it had started immediately. But then you could never really trust John’s stories about his girlfriends.

She was surprising in all sorts of ways. She didn’t look at all like John had described. She wasn’t that pretty. She had a slim quizzical face, with a strong jaw. Her body was average—athletic without being angular, small shapely breasts.

She turned out to have a great sense of humor. I wasn’t expecting that. How could a demon have a sense of humor?

Other things. She had all these old expression that I never heard anyone use. Outside of a book, I mean. Not like demon expressions but stupid things like, ‘Good things come in threes.’ She always tried to say “Rabbit, Rabbit” when she woke up on the first day of the month. What kind of demoness says “Rabbit Rabbit”?

It was hard to remember how much I should hate her for what she did to John.

She:

When was the last time you even saw him? How many months before this ‘best’ friend of yours threw himself off a bridge?

He:

Not that long. Three. Maybe four months. That winter was a real busy time at the office.

I guess the last time was when we had lunch at this little hole-in-the wall sushi place in downtown Vancouver. That was when he told me about her. At first, I wasn’t paying that much attention to what he said. John had been so crazy for so long, I had learned to just zone out most of the crap he spouted.

I mostly remember how wet my socks were. The sushi place is just a block or two from my firm’s offices so I hadn’t brought my umbrella, and my shoes and the bottom of my pants got soaked. All of John’s clothes were wet. He hadn’t even worn a rain coat, and his old hooded sweatshirt was drenched. He didn’t seem to notice. Just clenched his little styrofoam mug of green tea with two hands and talked.

Later my mother told me he was probably on the manic side of the bipolar swing. She still sees John’s mother pretty regularly so that’s how I knew John had already tried to kill himself once.

Anyway, so I’m just listening to John rant, his eyes red-rimmed and face unshaven, and he starts to ask me questions about contract law. Then he told me he signed a contract that he wanted to get out of. That got my attention.

“You signed a contract with a what?”

“A succubus,” John said. “A female demon.”

“What did the contract say?”

“Shit,” John said. He had fumbled his chopsticks and dropped a piece of sushi to the ground. He bent down to pick it up, and I noticed his hands were shaking. Probably from being so cold and wet. “I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

“Really?”

John put the piece of sushi on the table and straightened. He met my eyes, and in voice so quiet I could barely hear, said, “I get true love and she gets to prey on me. Until I’m done.”

“Until you’re done.”

“As in dead. As in until she decides she’s given me enough happiness and kills me.”

“Right,” I said. “There’s no problem getting out of that. It’s illegal to buy or sell something like your own life. Some things are just illegal—murder, slavery, etc. You can’t give away your right to live.”

“Really?” he looked relieved for a second. Then he shook his head. “I don’t think those rules apply. I mean, she’s not really human, you know.”

“What does she look like?” It was the wrong question. He went on and on about how beautiful she was. Like I said, it sounded like his succubus looked nothing like mine. To hear him tell it, she was a blonde porn star. He went on and on, until I had to get back to work. Like I said, John had been crazy for years. I didn’t think much about it afterwards. Until my mom called me to tell me he had thrown himself off the Port Mann bridge.

She:

You felt guilty for neglecting your friend. Fine. No one made you summon me. No one made you court me.

He:

The morning after I met her, I’m up early. I try to pretend that I’m not waiting for her, but every time I hear a bike outside, I’m halfway to the front door before I know it. Finally I eat breakfast on the porch, watching the kids get dropped off at the school across the street. The rain had tapered off for a few minutes and the air smelled good. I waited as long as I could, until I started to get cold. I went back inside to change into my suit, leaving the front door open.

I was knotting my tie, when I heard a knock and a tentative, “Hello?”

I went to the door and there she was, again wearing her bike helmet and bright yellow biking rain jacket. She dropped my sweat shirt in my hands. “Thanks,” she said. “I gotta run. I’m working an 8:30 to 4:30 shift, so I’m late.”

“You want a ride?”

She looked at me for a moment. “Um—you may notice that I’m wearing a bicycle helmet and cycling pants. And look,” she looked over her shoulder. “There’s my bicycle. It all adds up, right?” She grinned, laughing a little at her own joke.

“Oh. Right.” I said. I couldn’t help but smile back, even though she was laughing at me. Something about it—it was the kind of smile you wanted to see more of. Probably part of her magic.

“Thanks anyway though. For everything. It was really nice of you to lend me the sweatshirt last night.” She paused just for a moment and turned away from me. “Anyway. See you around.”

“Wait,” I said. She paused on the stairs. “I was—um . . . Could we have coffee sometime?”

She looked back at me and laughed. “Any time during working hours. I work at a coffee shop—The Beancounter—on Georgia and Thurlow. Stop by.”

And so I did.

Things went well. I almost forgot that I was pretty sure I had summoned her. That we had a deal that she was going to kill me. She liked me. She told me her last few boy friends had all been rock stars. Well, Vancouver style—grunge rock kids who thought they’d be the next A.C. Newman. She told me one of the things that had got her interested in me, was the fact that I didn’t have any guitars around my house. “No musical instruments are a beautiful thing,” she said.

Then one morning, after I had spent the night at her place, I was just coming into the kitchen when I saw her put some grey powder in my coffee, kind of furtively. I took the mug and pretended to drop it, letting it fall on the floor. The mug was a plastic travel mug, but still the coffee went everywhere.

“Why’d you do that?”

I got up and grabbed the paper towels off the counter. “Sorry. It was an accident.”

“Really? It looked like you deliberately dropped it.” She had this way of asking questions like she really wanted the answer, even when she was mad. “If you don’t like my coffee, you don’t have to pretend to drop the cup.”

I started mopping up the coffee with the paper towels, got up and squeezed most of it down the sink.

“Answer me. Why’d you pour your coffee onto the floor?”

“Fine,” I said. “What was that gray stuff?”

She hesitated, then blushed. “It’s called Stevia—it’s a sugar substitute. It’s made from some South American plant. My mom got me started on it last week, because sugar is bad for you. I didn’t want to tell you about it, because I was afraid you’d think it was stupid.”

“Really?” I said.

“What did you think it was?”

Now I felt stupid. “Nothing.”

“You poured out your coffee on the floor.” She said slowly. Then she grinned and started to laugh. “Did you think I was poisoning you? That’s crazy.” She was laughing so hard now, she could barely speak. “I’d never poison you. I’d hire someone else to shoot you. Poison is too unreliable.”

I kissed her. Not that I believed her, not necessarily, but her laughter was just too hard to resist. Then I told her the truth. “Sometimes, I think you’re too perfect. I think I summoned you. That you’ll give me a certain amount of love, in return for which you’ll eventually kill me.”

She pulled back. “Really? That’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard. I mean from someone who’s not actively on mushrooms or something. You seriously thought I was trying to kill you?”

“Forget it,” I said. I turned back to cleaning up the coffee. “Sorry.”

I thought about her a lot that day. That afternoon I left work early for the first time in months, and I bought her a bouquet of pale yellow tulips—a couple dozen of them. Then I waited on my porch for her to bike past.

She braked when she saw me. Her face looked flushed when I handed her the flowers. “How did you know?” she said.

“Know what?”

“These are my favorite.”

I shrugged. “Just lucky, I guess.” I’d found the suggestion on some guy’s web page to his succubus. A page his parents maintained three years after he died in a car accident.

“I thought I’d grill Portobello mushrooms for dinner, tonight,” she said. “You want to come over?”

I did.

She:

There you have it. You had every opportunity to walk away. You chose to stay.

He:

It became a joke between us. That she was going to kill me. At least, she pretended it was a joke, and I pretended to believe it was a joke.

“What if I kill you first?” I asked her one night as we were falling asleep in my bed.

She shrugged and nestled closer. “Hard to imagine, to be honest. I’m pretty hot.”

“Seriously.”

“Then I’m dead. That’s how it goes, you know.”

I looked at her face, resting on my chest. It struck me that she could tear out my jugular with her teeth where she lay.

She looked back at me. “What?”

I told her, and she shook her head, nuzzling my chin as she did so. “It’s not my style, babe. Nothing so physical. Not with you.” She leaned back and considered me, her eyes a darker blue than usual in the darkness. “I would probably kill you with some kind of mental trap. You couldn’t love someone with a potential for physical violence.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” I said. “How would I know what kind of potential you have? I mean, I wouldn’t think I was the kind of person who would love someone who had the potential to kill me at all.”

She tilted her head, still considering me. “Maybe you aren’t. Maybe I won’t.”

“And what’s a mental trap?”

“You know. A trap that’s mental,” she said.

“Like what?”

“I guess you’ll have to wait to find out.” I thought I would stay up that night thinking about her killing me, but I fell right asleep. The truth is, the only time I slept well in the whole year that I was renting that house was when Zora was sleeping over. Maybe because of the sex.

I am not a man who particularly needs sex. I was never like John, spending 90% of his waking time fantasizing about one woman or another. So sex with Zora was good, but I wasn’t as crazy about it as I’m sure John was. As I imagine most men who summon a demoness are. Which is one of the things which let me go a long time. Or at least, I think I went longer than most men make it with a succubus.

We usually stayed at my house, but we usually had dinner at her place—a crappy third floor walk up on the other side of Commercial. She had to go home every day after work, to feed her cat—this stray cat which she fed every day. She didn’t let it inside, because she was allergic, but the first thing she did every day when she came home was go outside and pet it.

“Maybe it’s a succubus thing,” she explained, reaching for the tissues one day after coming in from the fire escape. She sneezed twice. “Keeping a cat I mean. Aren’t they supposed to be a sign of the devil? It’s just that I’m allergic, so I don’t let it inside.”

“A witch with an outdoor cat,” I said.

She put her arm around my shoulders. “I’m not a witch, honey. Witches are married to Satan. Or maybe they’re priestesses of non patriarchal religions. Anyway, neither would be particularly interested in you, right?”

“I guess,” I said.

She gave her head this little amused shake she used to do. “Whoa—don’t give up so easy. I bet a druid priestess would be really into you.”

“You’re sort of witchy,” I said. It’s funny. I realize as I talk about all this, how I never held up my end of the banter. That’s just how it is with you. I mean her. She’s had thousands of years to get it right. I kissed the side of her neck.

“I’m sort of divine.” She told me seriously, leaning her head on my shoulder. “That’s why you’re sacrificing yourself to me.”

“I’m not sacrificing myself,” I said. “I’m seducing you with the complexity of my love.”

“Really?” she laughed and put her hand on the crotch of my pants. “That’s doesn’t feel that complex.”

I took all the precautions I could. Except, of course, for refusing to see her again. When we went out to eat, I never let her out of my sight, until after the food had arrived. I stayed away from ledges when she was around, and we never wrestled in the water. I wouldn’t even stand on a chair to change a light bulb when she was in the room.

There were still ways she could have killed me of course. One night we were falling asleep on my loft bed, and I became sure that as soon as I drifted off she was going to tiptoe to the kitchen, pick up my favorite cutting knife, and kill me in my sleep. I lay there, just picturing it, getting more and more paranoid, until finally she rolled over to look at me. “What’s wrong?” she said. “Every time I start falling asleep you move and wake me up.”

I told her. She sighed. Then she gave me a tired smile. “I would never use your good knife,” she said. “It would totally fuck up the blade.”

I tried to return her smile but I couldn’t. She put her arms around me and kissed my face several times. “Enough. Go to sleep.”

And once again, I did.

I’d like to tell you that throughout these months, I was biding my time, waiting until the moment was right to strike. But the truth is the whole thought of vengeance for John sort of slipped away. It’s hard to be vengeful and happy at the same time, and I was happy.

She convinced me to get my bike fixed up and buy some raingear. We started biking around the city together. For some reason the rain is less oppressive when you’re out biking in it. Strange, but true.

One Sunday, about four months after I summoned her, we biked down to Stanley Park. We locked up our bikes just as the sun came out for the first time in days. The trees looked incredibly green, in the tentative sunshine, and she took my hand and kissed it.

I asked her, “Do you always take this long with a guy?”

She dropped my hand and just looked at me for a second. “What do you mean? To do what?”

“You know. To finish them off.”

She didn’t smile, and I noticed how brilliantly blue her eyes looked in the sunlight. Much more so than human eyes. After a second she said, “I don’t think this succubus game is so fun anymore. I get that you feel guilty about your friend killing himself. But you have to let go. He threw himself off a bridge. It had nothing to do with some kind of magical girlfriend he had or didn’t have.”

“I wasn’t asking about John. I was asking about you and me.” I tried to put my arm around her, but she shrugged it off.

“What, are you like an emotional idiot savant? I want you to stop with the demon thing. Jesus.”

“I didn’t think you were allowed to say that.” She just looked at me and neither of us said anything.

She wiped her eyes. “Fuck this.” She reached into her pocket and threw my house keys at me. They hit my chest and fell to the pavement. When I bent to pick them up I saw there was something red and slick on the blade of one of the keys. Maybe she had grabbed the keys so tightly she cut herself. Maybe she was returning the blood I sacrificed to bring her here.

She walked back to where we had locked our bikes. I followed her, thinking this was just some part of the game. I was pretty sure she wasn’t allowed to break the contract any more than I was. “Come on,” I said.

She didn’t answer or look at me, just unlocking her bike in abrupt, savage motions. I unlocked my own bike, and followed her as she biked away from the park. Usually we biked back home along the seawall, but today she took the main streets—Beach to Pacific, Pacific all the way out of downtown. She biked fast, taking up a whole lane of traffic, the way cyclists are supposed to cycle on the road. I tried to keep up with her, but she was a much faster cyclist than me. Around the Burrard bridge I lost sight of her, and got off the busy road. I wondered if that was how she was planning to finish me off—have me biking frantically after her and get hit by some SUV turning off the Burrard bridge.

I called her that night five times, but kept getting her answering machine. The next day I went by The Bean Counter, and they told me she had called in sick. I thought about going to her house, but that felt a little too close to stalking. Maybe that was her strategy—get me stalking her and then killed while resisting arrest or something.

For the same reason I didn’t go to The Bean Counter again. Still, every night that week I rushed home from work and waited on my balcony for her to bike past. After a few days, I realized she had probably gone back to wherever she went when she wasn’t with a guy. Either that or she was taking a new bike route. It’s not hard. Vancouver’s a grid, which means there are a lot of alternate routes to the same destination.

By the time I worked up my nerve to visit her house, it turned out she had moved. Some Chinese guy who barely spoke English answered the door. “No,” he said. “No Dora live here.”

“Zora,” I said. He just smiled and shook his head.

It took me a while to realize the trick. To realize that I can’t even hope to meet the perfect woman for me, now. I’ve met her, and she’s gone. I try to remember that she was a succubus, but it’s hard to keep that in mind. I remember the details though. I remember the tank top she was wearing the first night she used my bike pump. I remember—I think I remember—the smell of her sweat, the little sounds she sometimes made when she was sleeping.

I wonder if John was happy when he died. I bet he was.

I looked for the summoning ceremony the other day, but someone had ripped out the pages where I thought it was. I know what she would say, though. These days, I always know what she would say.

She:

I left you when you asked me to. What could be fairer than that?

goelmanThis is Ari Goelman’s second appearance in Fantasy Magazine. Ari has published about a dozen short stories, most recently in Strange Horizons, Escape Clause and Talebones. Publishers Weekly has described his short fiction as “outstanding” and “lovingly constructed.” He lives in Vancouver, Canada with his wife and daughter. He is currently searching for an agent for his first two novel manuscripts, while working on his third novel.

Tagged as: ,