Brendon puttered around his apartment with a fresh cup of coffee, his hair a crown of messy strands pointing this way and that. He heard a disgruntled Mrow at his feet and watched the scruffy cat emerge from its den.
“Good morning, asshole.” Brendon called fondly.
The cat blinked slowly, the fur on its face squished in a permanent frown. Brendon chuckled at the expression as he opened the curtains to the living room, letting in the warm afternoon light. He felt Emperor wind through his legs, endeavouring to trip him up. Fortunately, Brendon was used to this sort of nonsense and managed to gingerly hop his way to the pantry without spilling a drop of his coffee- not that there was much coffee left.
MOW, Emperor insisted, butting his head against his human slave.
“Yeah, yeah I get it your majesty, but I can’t feed you if you keep harassing me.”
Surprisingly, the assault ceased and the demon opted to sit beside his tenant and fix him with a condescending stare. How he managed to look down on Brendon while looking up was a mystery.
Brendon took the opportunity and quickly filled the cat bowl, setting it down in its usual spot before heading to the coffee machine for his own breakfast. He glanced at the fridge chalkboard and saw his human roommate’s response to his late night message.
“Sleeping in late, will feed Emperor”
A stirring response, worthy of the Gods, Brendon thought to himself sarcastically. Pat had always been a man of few words, but this was a new low. He wiped the chalkboard clean (as clean as was possible with his hand) and opened the fridge to search for goodies. When he closed it however, he noticed the blurred words “feed Emperor” still peeking out from the smudged chalk.
Maaow, Emperor agreed, already cleaning the remains of his lunch from his face.
“Nice try, hellbeast, but you’re not getting anything out of me until dinner.” Brendon smirked. Emperor stared back silently, the blank expression far more menacing than his usual scowl. Brendon blinked, but Emperor was already back to cleaning himself, so he let the moment slide and promptly retreated to his bedroom.
Brendon woke that night to a heavy weight on his chest pressing him to the bed. He tried to get his bearings and saw demonic yellow eyes staring into him, only inches from his face. He blinked in shock trying to clear the vision, but instead spotted two curved horns framed against the shadows of the room. The demon opened its mouth, sharp teeth glinting in the moonlight. He could feel his chest buzzing with fear, and as he prepared to scream, he realized that the demon hadn’t attacked him yet. Furthermore, the buzzing didn’t feel internal, but as if it was coming from the beast. But it wasn’t until Brendon heard the drone of the demon’s purr that the pieces finally clicked together.
Brendon slumped back into his pillow, willing his racing heart to slow. I am... the ultimate fool, he thought to himself. Sweet relief mingled with his adrenaline and he began to laugh until tears came to his eyes. The fluffy devil jumped off his chest, annoyed by the sudden and incessant earthquake and settled next to his subject, glaring. Brendon chuckled as he pet Emperor and relaxed back into his pillow, his mirth ebbing away.
“Thanks, Satan.” He sighed loudly, and promptly drifted back to sleep.
Time marched steadily on and while the days increased the remainder of the month dwindled. It was only a couple weeks out until his birthday and Brendon was getting excited. He’d decided to treat himself to an Amazon shopping spree to find himself a gift, and was sprawled across his couch scrolling through pages and pages of junk. He was contemplating buying a harmonica when he noticed the cutest picture he’d ever seen. It was a cat, in a crown. But it wasn’t just any cardboard cutout, it was a beautiful, intricate, hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind masterpiece that managed to make its model both regal and comedic. Brendon was gawking at the low price (only $6!) when he heard the gentle fwoomp as Emperor jumped up on the couch arm to peer over his shoulder. Brendon didn’t even have to look at the beast before the item was added to his cart. Emperor butted his head against his roommate’s cheek and purred, seemingly oblivious to the fate that awaited him. Finders Keepers, losers weepers Brendon grinned.
Thanks to the wonders of Amazon, Brendon had gotten free 2-day shipping. Hence why for the first time in months he was actually awake before noon (10:30am still counts). Brendon bounded out of bed Tuesday morning, the last day of the month, eager to collect his prize. Emperor padded after him, still blissfully ignorant of his imminent doom. He opened the door to his apartment and smiled devilishly, snatched up the absurdly large box and all but danced to his couch, Emperor still at his heels.
The scissors made quick work of the box tape, and soon Brendon was peering inside. He couldn’t help his disappointment at the fact that Amazon had decided to use this big of a box for a product only a fifth of the size, but seeing the bundle of bubble wrap pushed all other thoughts from his mind. He plucked it out and quickly unraveled the treasure, pausing only to pop a bubble or two. In minutes he had freed it and held the tiny miracle in his hands.
It was different than he expected, but in the best way. Brendon had assumed it would be made of some cheap plastic, maybe even 3D printed, but it had a surprising weight to it. Heavy enough to be sturdy, but not too heavy to wear. Whoever had made it was a talented painter too, the crown had the bluish-grey of tempered metal, as if it had been made from a wrought iron gate. It felt cold in his hands, but the sort of cold one feels when touching something searing hot. Brendon smiled, his eyes gleaming. For six bucks and some change, this was already the greatest birthday present he’d ever gotten. Thank the heavens for Amazon and their third-party sellers.
And now, it was the moment he had been waiting for. Brendon turned to face Emperor, who in the meantime had been appraising this moment from his usual spot on the couch arm. Brendon slid across the couch, creeping along as if approaching an alligator, cooing at the hellbeast as some sort of reassurance. He lowered the masterpiece to give Emperor the chance to sniff it, and then gently, ever so gently, placed the crown atop his head.
Brendon almost squealed with delight, but managed to reel it in, his hands already scrambling for his phone. Against all odds, Emperor didn’t move. In fact the only sign he’d even noticed the crown was when his irises suddenly widened before returning to their usual slits. Brendon couldn’t believe his luck, and immediately began to take picture after picture. There was his cat, this unruly demon from the depths of hell, lounging across the arm of the couch wearing a crown like he was born to. Brendon had picked the name “Emperor” for a reason but this was almost too perfect.
It was approaching noon when Brendon finally finished tagging and sharing all of the pictures to his various social media accounts. Emperor, meanwhile, had somehow managed to fall asleep, the crown still balanced on his head. Even more inexplicable, the cat was purring like a Harley. Brendon smiled fondly at him and attempted to gently lift the crown off without waking the beast. No such luck, the moment it left his head Emperor perked up, uttering a quiet prrt? in objection.
“Sorry buddy, I don’t want it to fall off and break while you’re sleeping.” Brendon apologized, setting the crown on the coffee table. “Want some lunch?”
Emperor’s death glare vanished with the promise of food, and soon the two were munching on their respective meals.
The rest of the day passed by without a hitch, save for one unexpected surprise: Emperor loved his crown. Obviously he couldn’t put it on himself, but throughout the day Brendon would find the cat following him around with the crown in his mouth. Each time he got settled, the demon would bat at him, usually aiming a paw for his face and only ceasing the onslaught once Brendon put the crown on him. Normally Brendon would be annoyed, but it looked so gosh darn cute on him he was happy to oblige, always accompanying the favour with a sarcastic, Your Majesty. At one point Brendon wondered if the crown was turning his cat into even more of a royal asshole than usual, but this was pretty standard.
But assholery aside, Emperor was undeniably acting a little weirder than usual. He’d traded his typically aloof attitude to stick to Brendon like glue, and was constantly underfoot. He was even waiting for Brendon when he got out of the shower, which had resulted in an impressively high-pitched scream.
“Can you be a little less of a weirdo, Emperor?” Brendon sputtered, gasping in breaths of hot steam from his shower.
Meow, the beast responded, his new favourite possession laying between his paws.
Brendon started his nightly routine, his hands still shaking slightly as he brushed his teeth. Emperor had leaped up onto the counter, the crown in his mouth. Brendon obliged and huffed out a laugh as the Emperor of Hell began to preen himself in front of the mirror. He finished up quickly and began to head out, flipping the switch off to the bathroom, but not before one last glance at Emperor.
He blinked at the image. Emperor was still looking at himself in the mirror, but Brendon couldn’t help but feel that he’d seen something... off, right before the lights went out. It probably didn’t help that the light from the hallway was making the cat’s eyes reflect back at him in that creepy way, like some demon from hell.
Emperor’s Mrow distracted him and he laughed to himself, the promise of sleep already pulling him to his bed. He heard the crown clatter onto the bathroom floor as Emperor leaped off the counter and a quiet scrape as it was lifted back off the tiles. Good thing it was sturdy. Without much further ado, Brendon sank into his sheets and into sleep, but not before placing the crown back on the demon’s head.
As the clock struck midnight and the month of April began, the light of the moon broke through the curtains and shone on the bed. Brendon looked up into the beautiful white light and felt his chest fill with warmth, prickling his skin and making his hair stand on end. He was about to rise when he felt the ground disappear from underneath him, and suddenly he was falling, falling, swallowed by shadow. He woke in complete darkness, his head foggy. The prickling feeling had been replaced with a quiet itch which was getting progressively more persistent. He lifted his hand to scratch when he noticed it had a strange bluish-grey tint to it. Brendon blinked in confusion, but the itch demanded his attention and instead he lifted his shirt to scratch, only to find another splotch of colour spreading across his stomach. The itch was clawing up his chest and Brendon ripped off his shirt, discovering his whole chest was covered. He watched as ridges began to crawl under his skin and a crest sprouted across his chest. Brendon briefly wondered at the familiar design before the itch spread to his back, crackling along his spine and bringing him to all fours. He hardly had time to raise to his knees before he felt a searing cold pain at his temples. In moments his body was consumed by the fiery itch and he pounded the ground as if it could somehow purge the disease.
Brendon’s vision was suddenly painted white and finally he could see, although he immediately wished he couldn’t. A splash of moonlight lit the scene before him, revealing a hellish creature huddled on the dirt. Every atom in the room was vibrating with energy- he could feel the thrumming in his chest. A crack! brought his attention back to the beast, and Brendon watched in horror as a pair of wings forced their way out of the creature’s back; Brendon shivered at the dull itch between his own shoulder blades. He tried to control his panic, hoping he would remain unnoticed, but the demon looked up, almost as if it had heard his thoughts. Horns curled from its forehead and shoulders, the tips of its ears sharpened into points. The creature smiled, its razor-sharp teeth a jarring shade of white that glinted in the moonlight, starkly contrasted by its charred skin. But it wasn’t until the demon’s yellow eyes met his own that Brendon realized he was looking at his reflection.
Brendon awoke in a sweat, gasping for breath. He ignored the heavy feeling on his chest as he felt the full force of the realization hit him about what had seemed so wrong last night.
It wasn’t Emperor he’d seen in the mirror. It was the demon.
Brendon turned to face the source of the thrumming weight on his chest and came face to face with yellow eyes.