Cheetoh

NYC Midnight Short Story Submission

Elti Meshau

This piece was written as a submission to the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest. It didn’t advance on to round two, so better luck next year. ❤

I was placed into heat 108 with a 2500 word limit and these stipulations: Action/Adventure / A secret mission / A bank manager


Tis a fine day for a bag of Cheetos, Cheeto,” Zophiel said, strolling out of the deep shadows of the empty alley, a giant bag of Cheese Puffs in his hands.

“Really?” Chii asked. “That’s the best you can come up with? You can do better.” He didn’t turn around as the angel walked up behind him, but rather kept his eyes forward, his body still and quiet, because lurking in those quiet shadows of the alley was another being. It had been watching Chii for quite a while, uncertain of what to do.

Chii had hoped it would slink out of the shadows and go home with his aid, but that plan was ruined at the appearance of his uncle.

The ghoul burst from the shadows behind the garbage bins and launched itself at Zophiel, its claws outstretched and reaching, its teeth gnashing.

Chii slid his dagger from its sheath under his arm and spun around in a quick, practised movement. The dagger left his fingers and sank into the creatures head, all the way to the hilt.

It dropped from the air and crumpled on the ground with a shriek and a thud.

Hunting them down when they slipped out of Hell was time-consuming, but it was a job that needed to be done. He didn’t enjoy it. For him, he felt it was similar to a human hunting down dogs and killing them when they simply ran away and got lost. It wasn’t the ghoul’s fault, and he liked the ghouls, but they couldn’t be allowed to interact with humans on the mortal plane.

Zophiel didn’t even turn to look at the crumpled creature.

“Come on,” Zophiel taunted, shaking his bag of food. “You know you want some. For all of their faults, you must admit that these humans do come up with some delicious snicks.”

“Snacks,” Chii corrected, pulling his dagger from the ghoul’s body. It really did look a bit like a dog…

“Excuse me?”

“The word you’re looking for is snacks. Not snicks,” Chii said. He waved his hand over the corpse and it dissolved into ash and dust.

He mumbled under his breath. “You would know that if you spent more time down here doing your damn job.”

A gust of cool, early morning wind blew the creature’s remains away into the gutters.

No trace left behind.

He didn’t really care one way or the other if the angel heard him. Instead, he darted across the dark street, narrowly missing the trams rolling by, as he headed towards the brightly lit cafe.

The early risers were just starting to creep out of their homes. Some were on their way to work, others on the way to gyms. Some were just taking their canines out to piss.

The human he was looking for, however, was nowhere to be seen.

Dammit.

The ghoul had distracted him from his mission, but nonetheless the human should have made it to the cafe by now, which is what he’d been waiting for.

“Ooh coffees,” Zophiel said, spotting the cafe. “I do love coffees. Come on, Little Demon, coffees are on me today.”

The angel grabbed his sleeve and pulled him into the cafe before he could protest.

The sweet aromas of ground coffee beans and whipped cream filled his nostrils.

It was temptation at it’s finest.

He had to admit that Zophiel was right about the human’s cuisines.

But he had other things to do today.

“Thanks but no thanks, Uncle,” Chii said and tried to leave, but the angel clamped one abnormally strong hand down on his shoulder and squeezed, hard.

“Now, now,” he said, steering him towards the counter. “I said I was going to get us coffees, Little Demon.”

The words came out in his graceful, ever-soft, sing-song sounding voice that made Chii want to stick firecrackers in his own ears and set them off. But even as the words were soft and cheerful, the threat behind them was very real.

Angels got what they wanted when they wanted.

Chii quickly weighed the pros and cons in his head as they approached the sleepy worker behind the counter. He could try and weasel out now, which could potentially anger his uncle and blow up his mission entirely, or he could take a few minutes and play along in the hopes that he would quickly grow bored and leave, and that the human would arrive.

Coffee it was.

He didn’t have time for a full-blown brawl with the blonde, angelic shit-head.

“Good Sunrise, Madame,” Zophiel said to the cashier. “May I please have a triple, venti, half-sweet caramel macchiato with a shot of vanilla and some whipped cream on top?” He flashed a dazzling smile to the woman.

Fucking angels.

“What are you having, Little Demon?” Zophiel asked.

“Long black,” he said reluctantly. “Tall.”

“That sounds positively dreadful.” He laughed and turned back to the woman. “He’ll have the same as me.

“Why are you here, Uncle?” Chii asked. “Shouldn’t you be in New Orleans having beignets or something?”

“As lovely as that sounds,” Zophiel said, “does an angel really need a reason to come visit his favourite little demon?”

“You do actually, yeah.”

Zophiel ignored him then in lieu of watching the barista prepare his drink. He was practically hopping in place, his face in awe as the woman put together his ridiculous concoction.

Chii checked his watch and glanced at the door.

Still nothing.

Something was off.

The angel finally got his hands on the two coffees and led them to a table by the window.

Thank Devil for that, Chii thought. At least now he could keep an eye out for the human.

What he didn’t expect to see slinking out there in the darkness however was more ghouls, and another angel slipping through the darkness outside. Salien? Borien? He couldn’t tell. It could have even been a figment of his imagination.

He wanted it to be, but the goosebumps sliding up his spine said otherwise.

“Ooh Cheetoh, how I love the human realm,” he said, cooing over his coffee.

“It’s Chii,” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“My name is Chii,” he said.

Zophiel waved his hand. “Oh, toe-mae-toe, toe-mah-toe. Tell me how you’ve been Little Demon. I haven’t seen you in what seems like centuries.”

“It’s actually only been about a month,” Chii said watching the street outside. The tingle up his spine was growing more pronounced. His fingers twitched and his blade vibrated in its sheath with anticipation.

Something was coming.

Really? I’m so sorry then. Sometimes I get you guys all mixed up in my head.”

“Yeah,” Chii said, “because we all look the same, right?”

“Exactly!” He didn’t even pick up on the sarcasm. “But I do remember that you, my little Cheetoh, are my favourite little demon.”

There he was.

Across the road, a man in a black suit and balding grey hair was hurrying down the street with his briefcase in hand.

It was the human he’d been looking for.

Chii sighed in relief and checked his watch.

He had a bit of time.

“Are you listening to me, Little Demon?” Zophiel asked, poking him.

Chii nodded, absently. “Mmhmm.”

“Good. Aren’t we friends?”

“Yeah, Uncle Zof, we’re friends,” he said blankly.

The human was about to disappear out of view.

He needed to move. He wanted the man in his sight at all times until this morning was over.

“Ooh good. So since we’re friends I was hoping you could actually help me with something,” Zophiel said.

“Can you tell me about it while we walk?” Chii asked, pushing himself from the table and walking outside. He kept his stroll quiet and even. Casual. Boring.

“Hey!” Zophiel shouted behind him and ran to catch up. He shoved a coffee in Chii’s hands. “You forgot this. I got that special for you, you haven’t even tried it.”

“If you wanted my help with something uncle, you could just ask upfront. You don’t need to buy me coffee,” Chii snapped.

“Well, it happens to be something rather important that I need your help with, so the least I can do is get you some delicious breakfast.”

“Coffee isn’t breakfast.”

About a hundred meters ahead the human was still hurrying, but he’d slowed a bit.

He was almost to his workplace.

“Ha. Of course it is, silly boy.”

“Tell me what you need uncle. I have more ghouls to track down before more humans come out.”

“They’ll go away as soon as the sun comes up,” he said.

“No. They’ll just hide in the shadows until the clouds cover the sun,” Chii said. “They’re a danger to humans all throughout the day. What did you need?”

“Oh right! Well,” he grabbed Chii’s shoulder and stopped him. The threat was back. Chii could feel the raw strength reverberating through the man’s long slender fingers. “You could help me by telling me what exactly you think you’re doing.”

Chii pushed his hand away. “I’m not sure what you mean,” he said smoothly and started walking again.

Zophiel stopped him, again, digging his fingers into Chii’s skin this time. He could crush his bones if he wanted to in this form.

“I think you know exactly what I mean. Why are you following the bank manager?”

Shit.

Chii shook his head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he lied. He had strict instructions not to tell anyone what he was doing, especially his uncles.

Zophiel could be scary, and dangerous, and could probably kill him without even breaking a sweat, but Chii’s father was a lot scarier, and a lot stronger. He’d take death by Zophiel before the wrath of his father any day.

Liar.” Zophiel hissed. “You think I don’t know you’re here trying to mess with fate, at your father’s order?”

Chii shoved him away. “If you’re so worried about what your brother is up to, then maybe you should take that up with him. I hunt ghouls. That’s it.”

He took off down the road at a brisk walk. He couldn’t see the bank manager anymore.

Goddammit.

He felt a gust of wind a second before the angel grabbed him by the collar and hoisted him high into the air, his great glittering gold wings shimmering in the darkness. He struggled against the grip, but the city quickly started to shrink beneath him, its glittering lights receding until they were dots.

“Forgive me, Little Demon,” his voice sang over the wind like a melody. “You might just be following orders, but my brother doesn’t get to alter the course of things. There’s a structure in place. You and I may tempt the free will of the humans, but we don’t get to interfere.”

On the horizon, the first tendrils of light bloomed over the ocean’s edge.

He was running out of time now.

It didn’t seem right that the fate of the world could rest in the life of a single, middle-aged, unsuspecting human man, but it did.

Do whatever it takes. His father’s voice crashed through his mind like waves over rock.

He wasn’t alone.

Inside his boot was another dagger, different from the one at his belt. This one was forged by his father’s hand in the depths of hell, and unlike all of the others, it had the ability to steal celestial life. Now it grew hot against his skin.

There was only one like it in existence, and before today it had never left the nether-realm, nor had it been used against another celestial. It had only ever been a threat.

He reached up and grabbed the angel’s arm, and pulled the dagger from his booth with the other.

Chii said a prayer in his mind. This one act could start a war, but he was there to stop another war.

He steeled himself and slashed at his uncle’s arm, slicing him to the bone.

Zophiel screamed and dropped him, and Chii’s own dark wings unfurled and tore through his coat. He angled down, shooting through the darkness like a demonic bullet.

When his wings came out, his human facade started to fade. He could see the deep red and yellow markings of his skin begin to show along his arms. It was like lightning, and he felt the glow of his eyes pierce through the fading darkness.

If the human saw him like this, he’d probably die of fright, but at least then his manner of death wouldn’t set in motion a series of events that would lead to the next World War. With human’s technology today, a nuclear war would mean the end of their race.

The Angels would love that. They hated the humans. Despised them, even.

Lucifer, on the other hand, was loyal to a fault. Allowing God’s creations to destroy themselves would be heartbreaking to them both.

Not to mention the workload for Chii with hundreds of millions of new souls pouring into hell for them to deal with.

There would be no overtime pay for that.

The angel he thought he’d seen before appeared out of nowhere with a friend.

They might have been stronger, but Chii was faster when he wasn’t in his human form. He dodged their lunges and attacks. The city rushed up to him and he wove through the buildings, outmanoeuvring the three angels now behind him.

He had intended to simply trick the human into leaving the bank at the right time to avoid a terrorist attack, but now he would have to try something far more drastic, and cruel.

He spun in the air and landed hard outside the bank. The doors were closed, but that didn’t stop him from slipping through them like a ghost.

Chii shed the rest of his human form and stood within the bank as a demon. His blackened skin glowed with the marks of hell, his eyes shown with the heat of fire and brimstone. Great horns to match his father’s grew from his head.

He stood unmasked and towered behind the man and waited for the trembling figure to turn and look up at him.

Chii felt a pang of guilt as he watched the man’s sanity disappear. His eyes broke with fear and he screamed, high and wild, his hands flying up to his face and head as he collapsed to the floor.

A woman came running from another room, but she didn’t’ see the great demon standing there. She only saw her manager curled in the floor, shrieking.

Mere minutes ticked by and the wail of ambulances could be heard in the distance.

Chii looked out of the clear glass doors and saw his three uncles standing there, watching him. He realized then, by their demeanours, that they weren’t there to ensure he didn’t interfere as the laws stated, they were there to ensure what Chii had just stopped would come to pass.

He had stopped one war, but started another.


JLRose is an American fantasy writer, 3D artist and game designer living in Melbourne, Australia. She’s spent the past three years working on the first full-length book of The Galean Universe and has released the first short story of The Lockwood Series.