Daniel Ellsworth’s day would have been better if not for the bird faced demon in his bathtub, as welcome as a herpes sore on a virgin's face. He saw it out of the corner of his eye after he turned the light on, right as he was reaching for his razor and shaving cream. He had bought both at the dollar store last week, where the other thing had happened in the pet supply aisle.
The demon was crouched down behind the shower curtain, the bulk of it a spindly shadow. It had an incredibly gaunt human body, like a prisoner from the Boer War. The body supported a head that was mostly an oversized bird's beak filled with tiny, irregular teeth; along the beak were a dozen beady eyes situated in rows.
Its shriveled penis was fully erect, a blasphemous exclamation point. It had two bird feet, the talons of which were scratching the bottom of the tub. It smelled overwhelmingly of wet leaves left to rot, and portions of its skin undulated like a thousand maggots waited just under the surface.
"Morning, Dhamer," Daniel said, with a flick of his eyes at the creature by way of greeting. He sprayed some shaving cream in his hands, and began to lather. His palm smacked into his cheek, and foam splattered on the mirror. The contrast of red hand print and white cream looked like strawberry shortcake.
"Good morning, gift," the demon replied. Its voice was a hive of bees in a jar, echoing in the small space of the bathroom. As the demon spoke it moved jerkily, spindly fingers devoid of nails curling over the edge of the bath tub. Its head turned quizzically to one side, like a dog’s; unlike a dog’s, the demon’s head rotated nearly 180 degrees. There were strips of something hanging from the teeth.
"How passed the night?" it asked, rasping. The demon crab walked so that it was in full view, a jumble of dark angles in Daniel’s peripheral vision.
"I dreamt of castles in the sky, the ruins of the ancient world, and porn stars with big floppy tits,” he said. Daniel knocked the razor against the white basin, hairs like tiny brown worms splaying out with each tap.
The demon regarded him, the light above the sink reflecting back in each of its twelve eyes; Daniel knew that if he looked closer, he’d see a dozen tiny, perfect images of himself, all committing suicide. "And yourself?" he asked, in the distracted tones of a man trying to speak while shaving and not draw blood.
"I roamed in and on and under the Earth, but could not find what I searched for."
Daniel paused, razor halfway down his cheek. He stared into his eyes, blue with a touch of grey, asking his reflection if this was really the world he had woken up in. He could handle teen suicide, peak oil, even the threat of a dirty bomb going off down the street; but pushy demons? There used to be…more. At the very least, they used to have courtesy. Now it was simple - give us what we want, tell us where it is, now now now. He pushed his anger down with a grin.
"I hear it's the journey that's important, not the destination," he responded. He spared a sidelong glance at the demon, the smirk on his face taking five years off. Anyone that saw that smile would be predisposed to give Daniel Ellsworth the time of day, and more, if he asked.
The demon didn’t count as anyone; its long fingers tightened on the edge of the bath tub, and dug into the faux porcelain with terrible strength. A susurrus whispering issued from the beak, and the head swiveled sharply to the right, bringing its oddity into full profile. The rippling that was confined to discrete patches now spread through the entire body, as if its tightly stretched skin was trying to crawl away on its own.
Ten years ago, Daniel would have whistled and hollered for more; this morning, it just pissed him off further. "Oh come off it," he spat, slamming the razor down. Foam splattered on the checked floor. "You pout like a baby when you don't get what you want."
"You made a deal," Dhamer replied, without hesitation. The beak never moved, but the eyes gleamed.
Daniel ignored the razor on the floor, shaving cream on half of his face making him look like a Celt prior to battle. He glared at the demon. "And so did you, but you all haven't been honoring your side lately," he responded in kind, lips in a hard line. “What does this look like to you?” Behind him, the bathroom light began to dim.
Dhamer regarded the walls and the light fixture with what might have been confusion, body tense and still. "Childish things are left behind as boys are boys and men are men," the demon singsonged at him, a tone completely incongruous with its appearance and demeanor. It leaned forward, coming out of the tub.
Daniel was only mildly disgusted to see its belly was rippling like an ocean wave of pale, beige skin. He kept his eyes above the thing's waist, knowing what he would find if he looked below. "The others are forbidden. You are well. We hold our deal,” the demon said.
"It used to be different," Daniel spat in his mind, each word sharp and biting. He was satisfied to see that with each syllable he mentally enunciated, Dhamer rocked backwards slightly. It was so imperceptible no one else would have noticed it, but it was there. The world hadn't entirely changed.
As usual, his anger faded quickly; it was replaced by a heavy lassitude. He sighed. "We used to be different," he said, this time out loud. Daniel ground his teeth in frustration, and forced himself to slowly and deliberately pick up the razor. He dragged the blade down his face in a final few strokes.
He rinsed the razor and turned to find Dhamer still staring at him from the shower. "Get out. I've got work and you're in the way."
The demon rose to a height that its crouch had hidden, easily towering over Daniel. The wiry hairs on the back of its neck bunched against the off white ceiling, and small puffs of drywall rained down. This close, Daniel could smell the sweet and spoiled scent of the thing's breath; it made him remember happier times.
They remained face to beak for a moment; remarkably, Dhamer was the first to turn.
"I am summoned. I depart," it said.
"I bet the fuck you were," Daniel replied, closing his eyes as he always did when the demon traveled. He stripped and stepped into the now empty shower. The air was icy cold. He suppressed a shiver. The gouges left by the demon were rough against his left calf, and he made a note that his security deposit was probably gone.
He turned the water on and thumped his forehead against the tile, ignoring the black mold that grew on the grout. Daniel felt anger spike in his belly again and then he was throwing punches into the shower wall. Bits of broken tiles spun around him, and the mold died wherever his fist impacted.
Jagged spurts of breath escaped him. He held his hands up. Blood that was as black as the mold that used to cover the wall trickled from them. There was a faint odor of rotten eggs, and something metallic. The water turned the dust in the air into a filthy grey mud.
"What else can happen today?" he asked, his words echoing in the steamy miasma of the bathroom. The wounds in his hands closed without a trace, leaving a slight tingle.
Later, he'd regret that question.