The Lazy Writer

Peter Williams

Outside the burning nursery school, the staff were frantically herding toddlers away from the kerb as the first of the fire engines screeched to a halt, "Where man saved us all?" a pigtailed, three-year-old asked against the background of wailing sirens.

"
Still inside, dear," a nurse said looking worriedly at the flame-licked main entrance.

Suddenly a tall, athletic figure burst out of the smoke-filled building, cradling a baby in each arm with three children hanging onto the back of his Hugo Boss jacket. A TV news-copter buzzed low overhead. He looked up and flashed a smile that gleamed like a beacon of hope from his smoke-stained face.

"
That's the last of them," the 38-year-old said handing the children over, before heading back to his red Porsche Carrera.

"
Wait!" a beautiful nurse shouted after him. "At least tell us your name!”

He turned and smiled modestly, "It's Paul, Paul—“

"
Airlie! Are you daydreaming— again?"

His supervisor's irate question wrenched Paul Airlie wrenched back to the reality of life as a statistical clerk, buried in a cubical at the bottom of a long, beige coffin cum office. He looked like his fantasy-self, only less so, like Superman donning Clark Kent's glasses.

"
But, Gareth," he protested, "it's my break!" In his head, he was already beating-up the bigger man up with one hand whilst saving the world as we know it with the other.

"
Oh, I forgot, that's your only friend," Gareth Gant pointed at the computer, "and it's too heavy to take to the canteen! I should get you a laptop, so you can take long walks on the beach together!" Laughter came from some of his promotion-hungry neighbours.

"
And don't let your break overrun," he snarled before heading off to a meeting with the board of directors, a group whose politics lay somewhere to the right of the Ku Klux Klan. Gant was a rising star, and Paul couldn't wait for him to rise out of his department.

"
It's a disgrace," Sandra MacMillan's conversation with an unseen companion drifted from the adjoining cubical, "he should be ashamed of himself!"

The cute, thirty-something redhead was the latest in a long line of crushes he was too afraid to act upon.

"
She thinks I'm a wimp and I am!" he muttered in despair, not knowing that she was talking about Gant. Like many of the lonely, he talked to himself, especially when under stress.

Paul looked about surreptitiously then slid the top drawer half-open. Inside newspaper adverts for software engineers were circled in red. It was a job he was highly-qualified to do but lacked the courage to apply for. "Tomorrow, definitely," he muttered the lie, before burying himself in work for the next few hours.

"
That's lunch, minions!" Gant shouted (the man-management course he'd attended having been pretty-much wasted money) as he headed out to the pub with a full complement of sycophants. Sandra and the rest went to the canteen. Paul didn't move; he never went anywhere he wasn't wanted, which admittedly meant he didn't get out much.

After a few minutes of watching the subtitled, muted news on the big, ceiling-mounted plasma-screen TV whilst eating a supermarket sandwich a loud "BEEP!" dragged his attention back to the PC. "You Have New Mail!" was displayed in a dialogue box. "I have lunch!" he said, dismissing it with a mouse-click.

Back on TV, some MP who'd been caught interpreting 'doggie-style' a tad too literally with his German Shepherd was trying for a 'Man's best friend' defence.

"
A Free MP3, Just For You, p.airlie@IlliadInsurance.co.uk!" a synthesised voice proclaimed.

"
Strange, it's not setup to do that!" his interest peaked. After the computer was isolated from the network, and the file virus-scanned he double-clicked it.

There was a moment's silence then a terrible chanting began, "Timor Conventus Anuubar Vectum Poena Evinco Spiritus," thousands of anguished voices cried in unison.

"
Timor Conventus Anuubar Vectum Poena Evinco Spiritus," each word rocked the building like a force-nine earthquake.

A surreal scene was unfolding on-screen where the shaking of the TV seemed to be causing the newsreader to cling desperately to her desk. The set broke its anchors and hit the floor with a mighty crash. Bits of shattered casing and chips flew off in all directions, a shard of razor-sharp plastic ricocheted off the desk and grazed Paul's cheek before embedding itself in the wall.

"
Timor Conventus Anuubar Vectum Poena Evinco Spiritus," each word drilled into his brain. He had to make it stop but hitting the delete key made no difference. He dived over the back of the desk and ripped the power cable free.

As the quaking subsided, a cacophony of car alarms could be heard. Dogs barked, children cried, and the trapped and injured pleaded for help.

He stood there in shock, surveying the decimation. The floor had split and buckled, looking like a flea-circus roller coaster. All the cubicles had collapsed, and small fires had sprung up in half-a-dozen places. A broken pipe, sticking out of the wall at right angles, was spewing water although, sadly, nowhere near any of the flames.

After a few seconds of calm, a low rumbling started, getting rapidly louder. At the top of the office, a power cable was being torn from the ceiling by some unseen force. It moved at terrifying speed, raining tiles as it went, hissing and spitting current, like a crazy, robotic snake, as it hit parts of the sprinkler system in passing.

It swooped down, going straight for his head, he dived for the floor, twisting as he fell, watching the cable do a U-turn in midair and wedge itself into the back of the computer, which immediately started to reboot.

"
C'mon, that's just not possible! Seriously!" he exclaimed bitterly. A small voice in the back of his head pointed out that nothing he'd seen since launching the MP3 was his idea of possible.

He jumped up and grabbed the taut cable, "No you don't! Come down here!" with a rumble and a crack a fissure opened under his feet, "Stay up there! Stay up there!" he yelled desperately.

The cable slipped from his sweating grasp, as he fell into the hole he grabbed one of the floorboards, fingers bleeding as he dug his nails into the wood. Leaving him hanging at arm's length over a gaping chasm.

Far below was a fiery pit. Above his head, the reboot had finished unnaturally fast, and the chanting was beginning again, "Timor Conventus Anuubar Vectum Poena Evinco Spiritus."

Deep in the stygian gloom, a brutal, subhuman form turned its attention upwards with a baleful glare, "Airlie!" it roared.

Terror gave him the strength to pull himself back up. "I'm sure that fucker's related to Gant!" he complained resentfully, scrambling away from the edge on all-fours. A gout of sulphurous smoke was hard on his heels.

It rose like a fog, blocking his view of the PC. A moment later the thing from the pit stepped into view. Paul, who'd just stood up, jumped back, tripped over an upturned chair, and promptly fell back down again.

The beast was six-foot tall, naked and sexless. Beneath the gelatinous, translucent, blood-red flesh a skeleton was in the last stage of formation. Pure-evil shone from its beady eyes. Under the flattened noise and cruel grin, a black beard wriggled with a life of its own. Barely visible at the end of each hair was a tiny, human face.

The creature had no larynx so when it spoke the words came in unison from the beard, "Fear me and prostrate thyself before my majesty, for I am Anuubar, conqueror of worlds and harvester of souls! "

"
Done and done!" Paul said since he was already on the floor anyway.

A disgusted expression crossed its face, "Hadst thou resisted I would have offered thee a warrior's death, but instead I condemn thee to a coward's life! Begone!"

"
Thanks very much!" Paul sprinted for the exit as if the devil himself were on his heels, which he wasn't entirely confident wasn't the case. Swerving around any obstacle too big to hurdle, he was on the stairs in seconds.

Outside chaos reigned. Over the road, a middle-aged man was rushing to help an injured mother and her howling baby. To the right, a young woman was frantically digging barehanded through rubble to save a crying child as a crowd ran to help. It was like one of his fantasies, only this time he was cast as the snivelling coward in a world full of heroes.

His wounded pride started to outgrow his fear, and he was forced to realise that there was no point in not dying if he couldn't face living.

He ran back up the stairs two at a time, muttering to himself, "I'd better get a state funeral with a separate float just for my medals and a statue in the High Street and a Paul Airlie Memorial Day and a blockbuster movie starring...," his words trailed off as he re-entered the office.

Inside was an oasis of calm. Anuubar stood motionless, the yellow fog caressing its back. The demon had nearly doubled in size, being over eleven-feet tall and five-feet wide. Its flesh was more opaque but even so vital organs, arteries and cartilage could be seen forming beneath.

It opened its eyes and an expression he couldn't quite place flitted across its face, to be quickly replaced by an evil grin. "So, grovelling cur, hast thou returned to die?" its newly-formed vocal cords cracked like a pubescent teenager's.

"
Sadly, that's pretty-much the only plan I have."

It reached up and pulled the electrical cable from the ceiling, The crashing of the falling computer came from the fog.

The cable cracked like a whip and curled around Paul's waist. Anuubar started slowly reeling him in. As he got closer the tiny faces on the beard started hissing and spitting, bringing a whole new meaning to being “Follically Challenged".

Leaning back he dug his feet in, trying in vain to break free. Just as it was beginning to look like the best he could hope for was that the creature never grew pubic hair, its expression changed again, and this time Paul recognised it immediately. With a flick of the wrist, he was thrown sideways, into the wall.

Badly winded, he barely managed to stagger to his feet. "Excuse me a moment," holding his hand up, as he bent over, gasping for air, "but why are you scared of me?"

That stopped the incubus in mid-stride, "I am Anuubar, brother of Zanuubar, son of the lord Satan!" it roared, now with a deep, booming voice.

Yeah, yeah, and my heavenly dad can beat-up your dad, but that's not what I asked," he gently checked his ribs for fractures, "You see, I recognised that look you had a moment ago, hell (no offence there, big man), I've worn it all my life. Scared of failure, scared of success. Scared of being alone, scared of being with someone. You name it; I'm scared of it."

A lightning-fast crack of the whip caught Paul off guard, and he was picked up and hurled to the far wall, which he hit five-feet up, bounced off a desk and crashed to the floor.

Fear-induced adrenaline alone pulled him upright, "You know, for a harvester of souls you seem to be determined to keep well away from mine," he said hiding behind the desk.

It growled and started a cautious approach. "It wasn't just random that you chose me, was it?" Paul asked running bent-over to crouch behind a photocopier. "You needed somewhere big and empty to grow," he looked at the incubus, it scraped the fifteen-foot ceiling, which it would eventually burst through, "and there only had to be one person there, a sucker to open the portal and invite you in," Paul continued as he bobbed and weaved to another desk as the thing continued its slow approach, "and that sucker had to be a coward guaranteed to run away because that whole 'warrior's death' thing was just a bluff. A real warrior would have dropped-kicked you back to hell before you grew strong enough to take his soul."

He backed into a corner, bracing himself against the plaster. The beast blocked the way forward, and he'd run out of room to manoeuvre sideways. "But it screwed-up your plan when I came back." he said, his impending death giving him unexpected courage, "because every soul you take strengthens you with their rage, envy, lust and greed, and all you'd get from me would be self-loathing and a humungous inferiority complex and like the irritation of a single grain of sand can make an oyster produce a pearl, I think that would weaken you and lead to your eventual downfall."

Anuubar was towering over him by this time. "Even if that be true," it growled, "it matters not, for I can crush thee like the spineless slug thou art--without touching thee!" It picked up a photocopier in one huge hand and prepared to smash it down. "And thou hast nowhere left to run!"
Paul's mouth formed a shark-toothed smile, but his eyes were already dead. "Oh, I'm done running," he said calmly as he lunged underneath the poised blow, and beneath the gelatinous flesh with a loud 'Gloop!'
For a moment the brute looked puzzled and then it fell over and started to writhe in agony. Ghostly apparitions rose from the beard, swirling like puffs of smoke cursing as they went. Anuubar screamed and exploded, ectoplasm went everywhere, and Paul was hurled out backwards with the speed of a bullet. Like a hurricane can embed a playing card in an oak tree the force impaled him on the fractured pipe, holding him sitting upright against the wall. For a moment the water ran red before becoming clear again.
His legs were at crazy angles, and he was paralysed from the neck down. He smiled at the irony, because of all the ways-in his extremely-thorough paranoia-he'd ever imagined being killed, being plumbed-in hadn't been one of them.

What looked like a purple, rotting plum pulsed in his hand. It was whatever had passed for the demon's heart.
The first time I ever stood up to anybody and I actually won! He thought. It was the only time he'd ever been truly happy. Then the universe turned the lights out.

"
Airlie!" the sound of Gant's voice reinforced Paul's belief that he'd followed Anuubar back to Hell, "What's going on here? Are you acting out your daydreams now?!"

"
Leave him alone; he might be ill!" Sandra's concerned tone forced his eyes open. He was lying propped up against the wall, the room was perfectly normal and so was he.

Oh no! He thought rolling his eyes back in the head; Now I can't tell the difference between reality and fantasy. They'll put me in a jacket that fastens up the back and cart me off! Then he felt Anuubar's heart pulsating in his hand.

He whooped, jumped up and started testing his legs by doing a bizarre jig whilst checking his chest for holes. "I'm not mad! I'm not mad! I'm not mad!" he cried exuberantly, although most people there would have asked for a second opinion.

Sandra's wide-eyed stare stopped him dead.

"
Have you lost it completely?" Gant roared. "This is grounds for dismissal!" His eyes bugging-out. As he continued to rant Paul walked back to his desk, put the job adverts in his back pocket and scribbled his phone number on a Post-it before walking over to Sandra. Pressing the note into her hand, he leaned over and whispered in her right ear, "Don't believe what you're about to see; go out with me sometime."

Even though he wanted to hit Gant he finally realised that he wasn't a violent man at heart, and perhaps that was just as well, because if he were he might have been spending the rest of eternity worrying about eternal damnation and split ends, but that didn't mean he had to let him get away with it either.

"
Honey bunny!" he said loudly, "Let's stop hiding our love!" With that, he dipped the bigger man to plant a long, lingering kiss. It was the most disgusting thing Paul had ever done and coming from a man who'd recently been thrown-up by hell-spawn that was saying something.

"
Might as well have a half-day, there should be some perks to living with the boss. See you at home, lover!" patting him on the backside he heading for the door, grabbing his jacket on the way past.

"
Gak! Gak! Gak! Gak! Gak!" was all Gant could muster by way of a reply. Not that it would matter what he said, even if nobody believed Paul it was still too good a story not to spread and when it got back to Illiad's homophobic bosses his career would be over.

As he left, knowing he was never going back, he dropped Anuubar's essence on the ground, for a second he could have sworn it was wriggling to get away, but dismissed that as the action of the stiff breeze before stamping his foot down on it as hard as he could and watching the powdered remains blow away.

He took a deep breath and smiled. In terms of per-capita lifesaving, he thought (still partially in statistical-clerk mode) I must be the greatest hero the world has ever seen, and no-one will ever know it. And that was just fine.