Exile on Main Street

Chapter One

(Hurry up will you? We're going to be late!)

Lalitchandra sighed and continued picking through his earrings, slowly.

"You run ahead and stake out a table then and I'll be along presently."

(You're mean in the morning, meaner than usual this morning. Someone must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.)

"And you're nervous in the morning, is it possible to get up on the wrong side of the grave? And you look like hell, no offense. You should rest more; you've been overdoing it again, haven't you?"

Kaushal scuffled his feet soundlessly and attempted a nod.

(I got carried away; I don't feel too bad, if that matters.)

"Not really, it's the look that throws me off. And it gives me a crick in the neck trying to hold a conversation with you when you're like this."

(Sorry, although you have only yourself to blame. I wouldn't be in this shape if…)

"Nonsense, I had nothing to do with it. And I'm tired of rehashing it, how does this look?"

Kaushal examined the effect of the blood red scarf and jet earrings.

(It looks okay.)

"Try to restrain your urge to overwhelm me with flattery, it's so embarrassing."

Kaushal shrugged at the comment and Lali bent to the side, the better to meet his eyes.

"Perhaps you should stay here today, get some rest. You don't seem at all well."

(Will you be home tonight?)

"Of course I will, and if you lie down like a good little ghost I'll even bring you a treat. Unless I forget."

Kaushal obediently drifted to the couch and reclined, closing his eyes. He opened them a crack when he sensed the blanket being tucked in around him. Lali didn't meet his gaze.

"Get some sleep, or what ever it is you do in lieu of sleep and I'll see you tonight."

(Bye Lali. Be good.)

The warm brown eyes glinted gold for a second.

"Perish the thought."

Kaushal smiled and let his eyes close. He didn't sleep, as he'd told Lali time and again, though he did dream, in a way.

The old tales of your life passing before your eyes turned out to be true, not just once but over and over, memories you could walk into, live again. The images reeled past his inner eye, his infancy, no, he'd no real wish to deal with teething again, his youth? Ah, no, not today. Ah, there was one, he liked that one. He slid into the past like a fish into water.

"Blueberries? You can't be serious."

Kaushal drew himself up to his full height and glared at the recalcitrant demon.

"You have to do as I say, I command you to get me some berries."

"Do you really? Command? My, note the fear and trembling. What do you want them for anyway?"

Kaushal sighed and let his shoulders slump again. He was a mage, a scholar of the occult, a demon tamer! Not one of renown but still, Lali could at least fake some respect, his attitude was disheartening.

"I want them for muffins. I thought there were some left on the bush but the birds got there first."

"So you want me to scour the countryside for blueberries? That's your request? I have to give you this, you're original. Let me think about it."

Kaushal let the 'request' slip by and waited.

"I'll do it for a price, half the muffins."

"A third."

"No deal, half or no blueberries."

"You're heartless."

"Thank you."

"Half."

"Back in a tick then."

And he was, or close enough. Hands full of berries and suspicious blue stains around his lips.

They'd shared the muffins sitting in the sunny garden, Kaushal discretely adjusting his robes to let the sun bake away as many aches and pains as he could while preserving some modesty. Lali had no modesty, but then demons, especially those of his persuasion, had little use for it. He let his thin robe fall about his waist and basked with abandon, wolfing down muffins and sipping cool tea.

Kaushal slipped from that memory to others, dipping into his favorite warm pools at random.

Ah, that one, the first time.

"You hardly ever see that anymore, the Mantic runes went out ages ago."

Kaushal held the candle higher, trying to make out the figure in the circle. A demon, of course, but what kind? Slim, young, male. Deceptively harmless and slight.

"Address me not, vile creature of darkness but await my commands in silence."

"Vile? Nice, I guess you must be inundated with visitors, what with your charming manner and all. Love what you've done with the hovel by the way; old Sarnus tended more toward the 'bits of crystal over all flat surfaces' style. The skulls are a very nice touch."

"Thank you, ah, you're trying to distract me! Stop it!"

"I can't help being distracting, maybe you should have gone for a more boring type?"

"You're an incubus!"

"Aww, you noticed. I'm touched."

"Be silent!"

"Don't push it grandpa, I'm trying to be civilized, why don't you try too, before you know it it'll catch on all over."

"Grandpa? You, you…"

He sputtered into silence and the demon reclined in the circle, tail at a jaunty angle. His claws slid out and he idly worried a splinter in the floor.

"You might want to check that left quadrant, by the way. The chalk is smudged."

"You insolent, arrogant…"

"You're one to talk; I don't go trying to ensnare the odd supernatural being. I mean, be fair, talk about arrogant."

"It's my calling. And stop picking at the floor. And there is nothing wrong with the left quadrant, if there were you wouldn't be here."

"Actually I was passing by, heard the chanting and just wanted to check it out. Where is Sarnus by the way?"

"She passed in the spring."

The demon frowned and Kaushal continued rapidly.

"She was very old, it was a peaceful passing."

"Wonder I haven't seen her, I'll have to check incoming. She made a lovely cinnamon tea, just a hint of cardamom to it, nice on a cold night."

"You knew her? But she never mentioned a demon in her thrall."

"Well, I'm hardly the enthrallable type. Still, nice old bat in her way. I don't suppose she gave you her recipes? I could kill for a nice cup of tea."

"Stay in the circle! You can't…"

"Oh calm down, I'm just looking for the tea canister. Have a seat, you look all in. A nice cup will see you right in no time flat."

Kaushal glanced back and forth frantically between the demon puttering about the kitchen and the empty circle.

"Sugar? Milk?"

"Umm, milk please. I mean, I demand milk."

"Right, you're fearsome. Sit down and take that tatty hat off."

He eased into a seat.

"It's not tatty, it's traditional."

A warm cup, sweetly steaming, was set before him.

"I beg to differ. The thing is falling to bits before my very eyes. How's the leg?"

"What? What leg, what do you mean? Are you delving into my thoughts? I shall cast ye into…"

"You shan't cast me anywhere and no, of course not. I noticed the limp, that's all."

"It's fine, the damp and cold make it bit touchy is all."

"How'd it happen?"

"I was born like this."

"Drink the tea before it gets cold."

He did, it was good.

He moved on, a winter memory.

"What are doing? How dare you! I'll not let you drag me down to the netherworld, begone and.."

"I'm trying to drag you in front of the thrice damned fire, now stop squirming, it lacks dignity."

He gave up, only feebly struggling when his wet outer robes were peeled off.

"Oh relax will you? I'll not leave you to freeze, last thing I want is to wake up one fine evening and find you in my parlor. What exactly were you doing anyway, it is winter out there, if you hadn't noticed."

"Fishing."

The rough towels hurt at first, rubbing feeling back into chilled flesh. When he was considered dry enough Lali began to pile every piece of cloth he could find over him, and then crawled in next to him.

"I had thought that humans usually used a line, or a pole of sorts when fishing. Flinging oneself in after the slimy suckers is a method I'd not heard of."

"I slipped on the bank. My leg gave out."

"If you've an unendurable urge for halibut why not use your magic? Summon some hapless imp and send him for some. Or call me; if I wasn't busy I'd not cavil at a fish dinner."

"You must have been busy, I did try. Or the spell was wrong; I had a doubt about some of the runes."

"Ah, tricky buggers, runes. Well, get some sleep and when you're thawed I'll bring you some fish."

"Than…"

"Don't. I'm acting on purely selfish motives as you well know. As I said, if you shuffle off this mortal coil you're bound to spend some time in my neighborhood and the area is going downhill fast enough without that."

He wanted to inquire further, after all, how far downhill could hell go? And how long could he expect to spend there? And did Lali really have a parlor and how was it furnished? So many questions but it was so warm now and he was so sleepy. And Lali was so warm against him, odd how warm another body under covers can be. He'd forgotten, if he'd ever known. Time for questions later.

He came back to the present reluctantly.

"You awake?"

(Hmm, I guess. How was your day?)

"Profitable. I found this, too."

A book was flopped onto the coffee table and Kaushal sat up instantly, eager to examine it.

(Oh lovely! I had my eye on this, I was trying to read it at the shop but I was afraid of making the customers nervous. Th…it's nice.)

"I'd think our customers would find it a bonus to have books floating in mid air, I don't suppose you'd reconsider the idea? A few raps on the walls, a bit of juggling and we'd have a fortune on our hands."

(Are we out of money?)

"Well, no. Not out really, we're never really out, we're just never really in."

(There isn't trouble about the house, is there?)

"No, or not any more than usual. The late Mrs. B. has relatives that make my relatives look angelic. What a greedy bunch, it's tragic is what it is."

(Well, look at it from their point of view, out of no where you turn up and claim the house before she's even cold.)

"That's what you think; she was cold long before she parted the veil. And anyway, helping a struggling youth is an act of charity; one would think they'd honor her for it."

(Struggling with what is the question I'm sure they're asking. And I've not wanted to ask but, what exactly did she die of? She was fairly young and, well, one can't help but wonder.)

"Struggling to defend my integrity from my friends among other things. You don't think I did her in? Kaushal, killing them isn't the point, is it? I mean, for some it might be but murder is hardly my area of expertise."

(It might have been an accident.)

Lali shrugged.

"It might have been but it wasn't. She died of a long standing illness; I didn't make it any worse although one can imagine I didn't make it any better. I simply distracted her for a time, no harm in that."

(No harm.)

"And this was only her rental property in any case, it's not like the heirs didn't get the lions share. One lousy house and you'd think she'd left me the Hope Diamond. Their lawyers must be goading them on and making a fortune on this trifle."

(You have to go to court?)

"Don't sound so worried, the will is iron clad and water tight. Besides, lawyers and I get on quite well, thank you very much."

(Do you, well, have you met their lawyers?)

"Do I tell you how to haunt?"

(No, but then it's outside your realm of influence. Haunting is a human talent.)

"One of few. And put that down."

The book dropped to the table.

"Keep back a bit of energy in reserve, I'll read to you once I get some tea going."

(Tha..t would be lovely. And, could you pour me a cup? I love the scent.)

"You are the cheapest date I've ever had. Milk?"

(Please. Ah, perfect.)

"If you like I could read the leaves for you."

(One doubts things will show much sign of change, 'still dead' is about the most I can hope for.)

"Hmm, well, I don't suppose reincarnation shows up as an omen? Or transmigration?"

(I don't seem to be going anywhere.)

"Oh well, you don't take up much space anyway. Now, do you want the preface or should I dive straight in?"

(Note: Because I have an obsession with names…Lalitchandra means Beautiful Moon and Kaushal means Clever. Also, mental communication is between parenthesis, I'll try to work out something better along the way. This story is finished, will be posted in bits though, hopefully edited bits. I'll try, the chapters still are awkward. So, with thanks and apologies,sb.)