Chapter One

WANTED: Junior Demon Buster; Flexible hrs., shift diff. avail. Must be open minded and able to think on your feet, able to work outside, lift min. 40 lbs. Faith is a must. Apply to Andrew James, 216 S. Main St., Urbana, Ohio. 937-555-2613. Serious inquiries only.


I hated my current job, but what the heck was a Demon Buster? How could anyone be serious about that kind of job? Then again, it wasn’t like I had a dream career, standing in front of a fry vat. I guess it could be worse. They could be calling them Demon Buster-ettes. Or Ms. Demon Busters. As long as I didn’t have to wear a short skirt or a low cut top, I might as well apply. It had to be better than what I was doing at the moment, and there just weren’t a whole lot of jobs that I could qualify for here in small town Urbana, Ohio. Even if I did qualify, there were probably twenty applicants for each job, and none of them paid more than minimum wage.

I folded up the want ads and shoved them in my back pocket, determined to get through the rest of the afternoon without getting in trouble yet again. I adjusted my paper hat over my brown ponytail, lank with grease in the air, and pulled my Burger Bomb uniform shirt down over my waistband to hide the Urbana Daily Citizen classifieds in the pack pocket, and to hide that the pants were just this size of too tight from too many half price fast food employee meals. I don’t know why I cared about my appearance. Not that anyone was going to notice anything about me in those pants. They were more likely to notice the smear of ketchup on my “Double Decker Belly Bomb Special with Fries” t-shirt than notice any indication of whatever girlish figure I might have.

I poured frozen fries into the basket and lowered the basket into the deep fryer. I didn’t forget to set the timer this time. I keep getting in trouble for forgetting to set the timer and trying to do too many things at once. If my boss at Burger Bomb would just hire more people, it wouldn’t be an issue. I’d come close to quitting too many times to count, but I needed this job to pay the rent.

And it was only Tuesday.

Tuesday morning.

It was going to be a long week.

I heard the screaming of a jerk-tastic customer at the front counter, and stuck my head around the corner to check on Lily, the sixteen year old girl at the register. “Is everything okay?” I asked. She was shaking as the middle aged man ranted at her for counting his change incorrectly.

Instead of going to help her, the manager came over to me. “Leslie, your job isn’t at the front counter. Your job is the fry basket. That’s it. When the shift’s over, your job is to mop the floor.” I saw Lily nod at me, white-faced and embarrassed as the customer finally moved away from her. I turned back to my boss.

“If you want me to just work the fry basket, then you need to hire enough people to do all the things that need doing around here and keep an eye out for trouble when you have an irate customer. Lily shouldn’t be yelled at if it’s not her fault. If it is her fault, then someone should be trying to see what we can do to fix it before we lose a customer. What if a customer gets violent? Is there anyone watching to make sure she’s okay?”

The assistant manager was almost three years younger than I was (twenty two) and at least five inches shorter (I was about five foot eight). I could smell the zit cream on his nose when he tried to get close enough to yell at me, as if I was presuming to tell him how to organize his restaurant. The way he said it made me wonder if he thought himself a four-star chef, instead of a manager of a chain restaurant burger joint. I’m sure his biggest ambition in life was to be district manager of Burger Bomb, but I wasn’t going to kowtow to his insane power trips unless I had to. Then again, I did kind of have to. He had the power to fire me from my fast food hell, and I didn’t have another job lined up. Yet.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Horstweiner.” I still had to fight the urge to giggle at his name. He was barely eighteen, and made us call him Mister, with the worst last name I’d heard of in a long time. “I really need this job.” I’d been filling out applications all over town, but until I found something else, I couldn’t afford to quit. I could still hear the customer yelling from his table at Lily for giving him the wrong change and about how she was required to set it right or he was going to sue her for giving him the change from a five instead of a ten-dollar bill.

The manager finally sauntered away. He was secure in his small power base of hamburger superiority, and I rolled my eyes at him. Lily convinced the angry customer to shut up by giving him change out of her own pocket, before she came back to thank me for looking out for her.

“Leslie, you can’t keep sticking up for me. I live with my parents, and they’re doing okay. You have your own bills. You can’t afford to take a risk for me.” She hung her head. “I’m just not a very good employee. Sooner or later, I’ll get fired. You can’t.”

We’d had this conversation. Over lunch breaks and after-work bad coffees, we’d both commiserated about how bad things had gotten. She knew I’d been scouring the want ads, and she knew why I couldn’t walk away until I had everything lined up. She was right that she’d weather it better than I would. But that didn’t mean that she needed to take it so personally.

“Lily, don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re not doing a bad job. But you don’t have to take that kind of abuse from anyone. The cash register would back you up if you were right.” Lily was a good kid. Her confidence was taking a beating that I couldn’t stand to watch.

I tried to reassure her, but before I could say much of anything, I saw something odd out the front windows. “What was that?” I saw it again, craning my neck around the lunch line, trying to see what it was.

I didn’t wait for a response. Instead, I left my station and went to the restaurant side door. Mr. Horstweiner yelled at me to return to my station. I ignored him.

Outside the window, I saw an army of angry ankle-high beings with blue skin. I rubbed my eyes, to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. They were still there, and there were a lot of them. I was guessing at least fifty.

I watched as three men, wearing paper face masks, work overalls, and heavy boots, chased after them, yelling and spraying garden sprayers, pumping the handles vigorously to keep the spray going, as if the blue being were weeds to be eradicated. Steam was rising from the blue bodies where the liquid landed on them, and some of the fallen creatures were being squished under the men’s boots. I heard a high pitched sound, a sound that I’d have imagined my nine year old cousin’s Barbie dolls making if they were able to scream when her brother melted them with the curling iron last year, the voice small but high pitched and piercing.

How long had I been standing over a hot deep fryer? Had it addled my brain? What were these things? Customers were staring out the window, and none of them made a move toward the door. I didn’t blame them.

I saw them coming at me, after they saw me at the glass door. I flipped the switch to lock the door without thinking. They switched direction running towards the other door. I ran to it, throwing that lock as well. How long would the glass hold out if they tried to break it? I didn’t know, but somehow I just knew that letting them inside would be Bad. Capital “B” bad.

There was still a door in the back that we sued for carrying out garbage.

I ignored Mr. Horstweiner, yelling that he was going to fire me. Didn’t he see those, well, imps, for lack of a better word? I couldn’t think of anything better to call them, and it didn’t look like they were friendly. In fact, I saw one of them chewing on the rear view mirror of a car in our drive-thru lane as I ran past the window. “Keep that window shut,” I yelled, and the pimply faced teenager with the headset at the window slammer it shut, holding it closed with one hand. I could see cars speeding off, trying to avoid the angry blue things as they went, and hoped the manager would realize I had nothing to do with it, even as I tried to protect my co-workers from an invasion of blue ankle-biters.

Mr. Horstweiner tried to stop me, saying something about ruining his lunch business, when I grabbed him by the collar. “Those things out there aren’t going to help your business. They could hurt your customers. And then, the customers will sue. How would that look on your damn quarterly report?”

Before he could come up with a snide retort, I shoved him aside, and grabbed the hot fry basket out of the bubbling grease, fries and all. Something banged hard on the back door, and I saw it begin to open. It was unlocked and unlatched; one of the other kids had likely taken out the trash in the last hour, and the door was rarely locked when the restaurant was open. I tried to hold it shut, but I just wasn’t strong enough. I started whacking little blue arms coming around the edge of the door with the hot metal basket. Shrill, tinny screams echoed through the back of the grill area as half cooked fries flew through the air. The arms kept coming, so I kept swinging, beating them back and trying to get the door shut. It didn’t work. Every time I thought I’d be able to get the door shut, another arm came through.

We wouldn’t get the door shut until we chased them back far enough to get it closed. I took a deep breath and opened the door, swinging and screaming like a banshee. I flattened arms in my swing radius and cleared an area in front of the door. It took a while to beat back the blue bodies that had tried to come in, getting an area open in front of the door so I could protect my co-workers inside.

I stood guard just outside the door, trying to get enough room for me to dive back inside. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best idea, but hey, I had to do something. It wasn’t like the kids I worked with would have come up with a plan themselves. The door slammed shut behind me, and I heard the lock click shut.


I should have known better. Mr. Horstweiner had probably ordered them to lock me out. I’d deal with that later; at the moment, I had a small horde of angry blue things heading my way.

They were muttering some kind of language I couldn’t understand, and as they got closer, I started swinging again. Tiger Woods had nothing on me as I swung the still-warm metal basket and connected with the first blue head to bare its teeth at me. The force of my swing lifted him off the ground, sending him screaming past the drive-thru lanes, into the Pizza Craze parking lot behind the Burger Bomb. He didn’t get up; instead, he seemed to have melted into the pavement, green goo oozing all over the blacktop. Why was it green, when they had blue skin?

I didn’t have much time to think about that. A few more were getting closer and I swung again, the last fries in the basket spilling all over the ground around me. Swing after swing sent blue bodies into the next parking lot, and the three men in overalls that I’d seen chasing them earlier came around the corner. They began pumping and spraying their garden sprayers again, stomping on the blue beings as fast as they could.

I kept up my own assault, even as my shoulders and arms got sore. I wasn’t used to doing this over and over again, and finally, I followed the example of the men and began stomping. My feet were soaked within seconds. Cheap canvas tennis shoes must not be up to the task of smashing beings without feeling mushy and squishy. What were they? I had no idea; I just knew that stopping wasn’t an option.

I counted at least fifteen dead from my fry basket and another four that I’d killed by stomping before the men caught up enough to spray everything down with their garden sprayers. I noticed that there was green goo at the hem of my pants, and hoped it would come out in the laundry. Otherwise, they were ruined and I didn’t have the money to replace them. I was already budgeting in my head for a shoe shopping expedition; hopefully Goodwill had something in my size that would work.

The little blue beings melted into the pavement. I finally stopped moving, trying to catch my breath as the men kept spraying until all the bodies were gone and we were surrounded by green goo in a school bus sized puddle. “What the hell was that?” I panted, the fry basket dropping from one hand as I tried to support the stitch in my side with the other.

All of them wore safety glasses and ball caps, but the one that seemed to be in charge stepped forward, lowered his paper face mask, and held out one hand. “Miss, you handled yourself quite well, there. Did you know those were imps? How did you know to hit them with something made of metal?” He looked like he was a few years older than my dad, who was in his late fifties, maybe early sixties, but he projected confidence and an in-charge attitude.

I didn’t know anything about using metal for this. I said so, as I shook his hand. “Someone had to do something, and I work with people that are generally too scared of their own shadow to do what’s right.” Yup, that about summed up my manager and the timid teenagers that worked for him. “I just figured that I couldn’t let them inside. I’m Leslie Johnson, by the way. Who the heck are you?”

“Andrew James,” he said, lowering the paper mask over his face to speak clearly. “This is George Westlake and Chip Dyson.” George looked like he was in his late twenties, with a dark military style haircut when he took off his hat to wipe his forehead, and nodded at me. Chip looked closer to me in age, and I saw blue and green dyed hair sticking out from under his ball cap, with several ear piercings and a nose ring completing the punk look.

Andrew handed me his card. “And if you ever get tired of slinging burgers and fries, come talk to me about a job. We can always use someone who’s not afraid to do the right thing. Sorry about your shoes and your pants. Imp goo doesn’t wash out. If I were you, I wouldn’t throw that in your washing machine. That goo could ruin your bearings. And I’d throw the shoes away completely.”

My first thought was that I didn’t have another pair of pants clean for work tomorrow.

My second thought was more practical. “What were you spraying, and should I go to the hospital because of it? You guys were wearing face masks. I wasn’t. Do I need to be decontaminated or something?”

Andrew smiled. “No, you don’t. It’s just holy water. Unless you’re part demon, it shouldn’t hurt you at all. The masks are about the goo and the smell, not about protecting us from hazardous materials. For imps and small infestations, it’s not a big deal. For something bigger, it could be, but you’re fine. And it’s a good question; you’re smart and you think on your feet. You’d be a good candidate to work with us. Come talk to me about a job.”

I looked at the business card he’d handed me, and did a double take.

Oh my. They were the Demon Busters guys from the classified ad from the paper. I wondered if they had dental.