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Midnight Burritos with Zozrozir

Rachael K. Jones grew up in various cities across Europe and North America, picked up (and mostly forgot) six languages, and acquired several degrees in the arts and sciences. Now she writes speculative fiction in Portland, Oregon. Her debut novella, Every River Runs to Salt, will be out with Fireside Fiction in late 2018. Contrary to the rumors, she is probably not a secret android. Rachael is a World Fantasy Award nominee and Tiptree Award honoree. Her fiction has appeared in dozens of venues worldwide, including Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and PodCastle. Follow her on Twitter @RachaelKJones.

A week after my husband leaves me, I go out for midnight burritos with the demon who's going to devour me. I haven't even bothered to take off my stage makeup, but Zozrozir has my back. With Zoz around, nobody notices my black eyeliner or purple Mohawk or the jacket made out of tiny leather f-bombs all stitched together.
"How do you do that, anyway?" I ask Zozrozir, who is small but inexplicably terrifying, like a cockroach crossed with a closed-casket funeral.
"Make you invisible?" Zoz sets the tray of burritos on the table with one disjointed arm and divvies them up with the other three. "Easy. I just make you look old. Nobody notices old people. They can get away with anything." He helps himself to a vegetarian burrito. Non-human flesh gives him indigestion.
I have no such limitations, so I bite into a beef one. It tastes incredible, easily the best thing I've ever eaten, which is all Zozrozir's doing. That's our deal. Endless pleasure and success in life, but he gets to devour me at the end.
"Everything sucks, Zoz." Even though the concert was totally kicking and the burrito's divine, my husband still left me last week, which colors things a bit.
Zozrozir buzzes his half vulture/half dungfly wings together. It sounds like chalk on a nail file. My unhappiness makes him anxious. "What's wrong, Marla? Aren't you enjoying your burrito?"
"It's fucking delicious."
"And the concert went great."
"My best yet," I agree.
"Those guys on the front row shaved your initials into their pubes."
"Uh huh. I noticed."
"And how about when the fuzz busted up the crowd and pulled the plug on your 3-hour encore? First time you've managed that."
"That was rad." But I'm losing my cool. Tears drip through my mascara, making it even more metal.
"So," says Zoz, "what's eating you?"
"Dude. Jake literally left me last week."
His wings stutter to a stop. "Sorry about that, buddy," Zozrozir says slowly. "Outside my wheelhouse. I can't control people who haven't sworn allegiance to me. I'm trying my best, though. How about I summon you an incubus to replace him? Better stamina, obedient, great abs."
I put down the burrito and mull over how to explain it. For an immortal being whose business is pleasing humans, Zoz doesn't always get it.
I dip a finger in salsa verde and draw on a napkin. "Humans are like bull's-eyes," I tell him. "Concentric circles of everyone we know. Closer to the center, closer to your heart." Zozrozir leans in to see. "The circles are like a multiplier. Closer in, the harder their love hits you. The more rejection hurts."
Zoz nods the screaming head budding from his back. "So Jake was... in here." A claw pokes the center circle.
"Exactly. Doesn't matter how much the fans love me. They're out there." I tap the edge. "And the worst part? Jake has circles, too. You'll probably guess where I stand there."
Zozrozir rotates the diagram, studying it. "I understand, I think. It's the same for demons." He lurches onto his hind feet and pries open his chest cavity, spilling a cloud of black gnats into the restaurant. I bat them away and lean in. Little glowing baubles hang from his ribcage, casting rainbows on Zoz's pulsating organs.
"Wow. That's beautiful."
Zozrozir taps them in turn, gently, lovingly. "Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin. I've been trying to collect all the Beatles, but I can't get Ringo to cut a deal. He thinks he's good enough already."
"What's this empty place for?" I wave a plastic spork toward a bare spot near the center of all the glowing action.
Zoz sighs wistfully. "I was going to put Kurt Cobain there, but somebody else recruited him first."
"Sorry about that."
He gently shuts his chest, and the flesh welds itself back together. "It's okay. I've been thinking that's where you'll go instead, after I devour you."
"Right at the center?" I get this feeling in my throat, tight and weird like I'm going to cry, but it's something else.
"Yeah. You've got that special something, kiddo. I was a fan before you summoned me."
I grab the little horror by a random nose and pull him into a hug. He squeaks like a kitten. "Zoz. My whole life has been one performance after another. I've never been good enough for anyone. You're the only one who really believes in me as I am."
"Don't get mushy on me now."
I don't add, You're probably my best friend. I release him, and we both return to our burritos.
"Hey, Zoz?"
"Are you really going to eat me when I die?"
"Yeah, Marla. Every last hair and bone and scrap of flesh."
"You can count on it."
"I'm glad," I say, comforted beyond measure. "I wouldn't want it any other way."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Author Comments

"Deal with the devil" stories are usually about hidden costs and trickery. I thought it would be interesting to explore what such a deal would look like if both parties involved went in with full consent because their arrangement really made sense to them. I hope everyone has a friend like Zozrozir in their life (well, except for the eating you part).

- Rachael K. Jones
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