"Here I am! Your own personal demon!"
I blinked at the apparition before my eyes. "I didn’t ask for a demon," I said. "You must have the wrong house."
"Nope, this is the place." He pulled a slightly scorched piece of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. "Lindsay ‘Linny’ Demarot. You’re the one all right," he smirked, baring the fang at one corner of his mouth. "You so much as think about having one of us around, ZAP! We’re here! Or, I am, at least." He’d have stood about five-foot-eight had he been standing on the floor like any normal person, but he insisted on floating around in the air instead, letting his long satin-lined cape swirl around behind him. The demon looked at the gray-skinned claws of one hand, pretended to buff them on the sleeve of his Italian suit, and looked at them again, probably waiting for a response from me.
I rolled my eyes away from him. Living by yourself, you tend to daydream a lot. This morning, I’d come up with the brilliant idea that it might be fun to have a demon around to do my bidding. It wasn’t a serious thought at all, yet here was a demon, eager for my first command. Way to go, Linny. Amazing that a good Christian like me managed to summon a demon without even trying to. He grinned down at me, hovering in mid-air in a sitting position. "So, what’ll it be first? Conquer the world? Start your own harem? Lose a few pounds?"
"Uhhh…" I said , looking stupidly from him to the clock.
"Come on, anything! Just say the word, and it’s yours for the taking, courtesy of this humble demon." He bowed deeply, still hovering four feet off the floor.
I jammed a book in my knapsack, emphasizing the gesture with a lot of excess noise. I glared at him for a moment, then looked away. "Let me get back to you on that. Right now, I’m gonna be late for class…"
He huffed at my goody-two-shoes attitude, sulking and refusing to say anything in return.
I glanced from him to the door, then back at him, wondering what in the world I was going to do with an evil demon. "I guess.. just stay here ‘til I get back… uh… make yourself at home or whatever…" I was jittery enough from being late on a test day; nothing could have made me any more nervous at that point. Net even that demon. Not if a whole fleet of demons showed up. I shifted a bit, waiting for some kind of answer from him, but there was no response. He just hovered there, acting like a little child denied a piece of candy. For some reason I actually had to pity him; he looked so pathetic.
Hefting my bag over one shoulder, I stood and faced him, catching his gaze. I couldn’t just leave him alone there all day… he was like a lost puppy! "Okay, look… If you really wanna do something for me, you could conjure up an extra five minutes or so, so I can get to class on time…"
"Done!" he cheered, snapping his fingers as the entire world, myself being the single exception, ran backward five minutes. I smiled my thanks and zoomed out the door.
After my classes that afternoon, I headed over to the library. I didn’t usually go there… I suppose I thought that maybe if I stayed at school long enough, he’d just get tired of waiting and go home. It turned out that some friends of mine from a chem class were cramming for a quiz together. "Hey guys! How’re you?"
"Oh, hey, Linny!" Leslie called, waving to me as I ambled up. "That’s a pretty cross!" she said, noticing my necklace.
"Thanks. My grandma gave it to me a few years back… I wear it all the time." I bent my head back slightly, displaying the Celtic crucifix that had since become my favorite piece of jewelry.
"Neato. Wanna hit the books with us?"
"Only if it’s my head that’s hitting ‘em," I replied, already tired and wishing I didn’t have to be there. "What I wouldn’t give for a pillow…."
"Nope, nope, you’re not getting out of it that easily," Katherine—Kath—pointed to the chair next to her. "We can’t figure the proportions out… we’ve gone over the calcs three times now, gotten a different answer twice, and none of them match the answers in the back of the book!"
I picked up Kath’s paper, trying to decipher her pattern of scrawls and cross-outs. "Hmmm… what page is that on?" I asked, hefting my bag up to get out my own chemistry book.
Stealing Kath’s pencil for a few minutes, I strained to remember the right formulas and equations. I could have easily looked them up in my notes had I not been so focused. Muttering to myself while the other two hovered over me, I finally worked the math out and wrote down my answer. "Ahaa! So that leaves 5 kilojules for 3H2O plus 8ClNa."
Les checked the answers section in the book’s appendix. "That’s it, all right!"
"You guys are doing your canceling wrong, I think. Yep, you’ve got the equation mixed up, so kilograms aren’t canceling here, see, Kath?"
"Ohhh… I see! Thanks!"
"No problem. I live for this," I shrugged, grinning.
I wound up staying a good three hours extra, skipping lunch due to a lack of pocket change and doing my homework at the library with Kath and Les. That meant forcing myself to sit on the hard straight-backed chairs and missing my usual study-music, which made it likely the dullest—and sorest—three hours of my life. Of course, I hadn’t taken into account that demons, being immortal and all, had the patience of mountains and he could (and would) wait me out no matter if I’d stayed three years late. I plodded through the door, tired, suffering and on the brink of starvation, to behold him splayed out on my couch, watching something on the history channel and sampling a variety of my snack stash.
"Welcome back!" he said cordially, springing to his feet and launching into the air, gliding over to greet me. "Now… what havoc would you like to wreak?"
"I gave him a glare that could’ve burned ice and dropped my backpack on the floor. His expression dropped. My teeth grated involuntarily.
"Let me guess… not right now. You’re hungry and sore and just want a good meal and a long hot bath."
"Right," I gaped. "How’d you guess?" He smiled narrowly at me. I groaned, putting a hand over my face. "Oh, no, you read thoughts too?"
"Bingo." I glanced over at the mess on my couch, not willing to clean up after company. "Oops, sorry about that," the demon apologized, snapping his fingers at the potato chip crumbs and popcorn bits on the couch. The entire mess disappeared, leaving the sofa cleaner than before. He looked back at me, seeking approval.
I blinked stupidly at him. "And here I was thinking it was just some kind of demon-networking system you had set up…"
He smiled winningly and floated around behind me, starting to work the knots out of my shoulders with his hands. Demon or no, he could give a hell of a back rub. "So, what can I get milady for supper?"
"Ohhh… I have no idea. I was just counting on having to fix smack ramen again…"
"Bah… food for lonely college students, not a fine miss like yourself."
"Food for broke college students like myself," I corrected.
"Hmm…" He tapped a talon-tipped finger on the nubs at the bottom of his chin. "Mexican, perhaps? That is your favorite, yes? Enchiladas, tacos, marinated onions, fresh shredded cabbage, picaros, tomatadas, guacamole?" He merely waved a hand at the empty table and a feast of my favorites appeared before me. "Sit, sit," he beckoned. "Please, dear lady, enjoy!"
I stood motionless for a few minutes in awkward silence, then took my normal place at the now-loaded table. After a long period of me staring at the food, he must have thought something was wrong. "Is it not to you liking? I could always whip up something else…" he wavered, almost frightened that I was not pleased. He anxiously drummed his fingers together.
"No, no, it’s not that, I just… well, I’m not going to eat anything with you floating around and watching my every move! Sit down and eat with me!" I never could stand it when people watched me eat. Call me paranoid if you will, but I can’t cope with it! The staring gets to be too much.
He smirked at me again. "If milady wishes." I calmed down somewhat as he took a seat next to me and began helping himself to the enchiladas.
"So, what do I call you anyway?" I scooped up a taco in one hand, dying to scarf it in one bite but trying to preserve my manners.
"My full name, I’m afraid, you could never hear. It’s a pity, though. I rather like my name. Humans are never meant to hear the names of demons; for it to fall on your delicate ears would drive you deaf or insane. But for now, you can know me simply as Rage."
"Rage it is. And you’re here… why?"
He grinned. "I," he started dramatically, "am here to help you learn to take vengeance on people that bug you."
"Oh, I really don’t…"
"…do that sort of thing. Yes, I know. You’ll learn, though."
I shrugged. I didn’t really want to lean about revenge at all, but I supposed, you know, what could it hurt if I was getting what I wanted? Nonetheless, I wasn’t crazy about having him there… but I could at least use him to my advantage for the time being. "I don’t suppose you’d tell me how one goes about ridding oneself of a demon," I tried tactlessly.
"Pah! Can’t be done."
"You’re lying through your teeth," I said, munching. The food was definitely nothing to complain about.
"I am not!" he whined back childishly. "Demons come and go as we please. Though it’s rather cold here, I like it quite a bit and I intend to stay."
"Does the fact that I’m Christian have any bearing on the matter?"
"Not a bit," Rage grinned. "Not, of course, that I can follow you to church of anything like that," he shivered. "Call it a mild theological allergy."
I gave him a half smile, chewing on a forkful of enchilada. In my mind, I sighed. What would my parents think, me, raised Christian and all, having Mexican food with a demon? What was I going to do with a demon around the house?
"Don’t you worry about that. I can take care of it if it needs to be dealt with. You just go take your bath," he breezed smoothly, practically herding me down the hall. I realized I would have to keep my thoughts in check if I didn’t want him to know every single one.
I was surprised to find the bath already prepared for my when I reached the bathroom. Steam and the scent of rose water reached my nostrils as I walked in, towel wrapped around me. Bubbles flowed up and almost over the sides of the tub, just the way I’ve always liked. Stepping in and sitting down easily, with suds up to my throat, my tense muscles finally began to relax. The water was warm, and never really seemed to cool down, I noticed. Not that I was complaining… I’ve always hated cold bath water with a passion.
After about half an hour, resting my head on the tub’s rim with my eyes closed, I felt as if I was being watched. My eyes snapped open as I jerked my head to one side.
"Enjoying your bath?" Rage asked, smiling that passively calm smile of his as he gazed sumptuously down at me with his coal-gray eyes.
"GAH!" I exclaimed, startled into sinking as far as I could below the level of the foam. "Rage! What the hell are you doing in here?!"
"Just figured I’d check up on you. You know, see if you’d drowned or anything." His voice had a note of humor in it and his eyes danced. I, however, didn’t think the situation was all that amusing.
"Get OUT!" I yelled, splashing a handful of water in his direction. He dodged, floating to one side as the water flew past him and soaked the carpet instead of his Armani suit as I intended it to.
"Testy, testy!" he scolded, shaking a finger. Had my manners been worse, I would have shaken a finger of my own back at him. "You’re learning, though, aren’t you? I’ll be around. If you need anything, just call." Turning into a smoky gray haze, he disappeared under the door, leaving with another unnerving fang-bared smile on his face. I groaned and sank the rest of the way under the water.
Rage just seemed to become part of the normal interior décor for the next few weeks. Seeing him in the living room, bedroom, or anywhere else in the house became as routine as setting the remote control in the same place when I turned the TV off. Making occasional requests of him also became more routine as time passed. Nothing major… a little boost on a test, a nice home-cooked meal, an auto-repair job that wouldn’t cost anything… little things.
The house had also changed with his presence, I noticed. Things took on a dark, goth-like shade when he was around. The lights seemed dimmer; the white walls a little grayer (sometimes it even looked like rippling, changing wallpaper!); the poor, scraggly trees in my backyard looked even scragglier… my home began looking like something out of an Edward Gorey lithograph. I rather enjoyed the effect, and at one point even wondered what employ I could find for Rage come Halloween.
Each day I came to expect Rage’s greetings to me at the door, which could include such things as dropping his cape over my head or bursting into an enormous ball of flame, the general intent of which was to scare me to death. The first few times, it nearly did. For a little sweet revenge, I stopped at a gas station on the way home and picked up a 64-ounce cup of water… with lots of ice. The entire purpose of this was not to get something to drink, of course, but to douse Rage with it if he tried anything that day, which, I might add, he did, and which, I might also add, resulted in an infuriated, cold, wet demon. He told me, with eyes narrowed, that I was really getting the hang of this revenge stuff.
Once, I forgot to warn a study-buddy of Rage’s antics, unlocked the door and stepped inside, ignoring the "Raging" inferno in my entryway.
"Oh, you’ve company today!" he exclaimed, dropping the fireball act.
You’d think I was the only one in the world with a demon hanging about. I have never before or since heard a guy scream so shrilly or seen anyone run so fast.
Things at school were getting a little… awkward, to say the least. I didn’t notice it at the time, but every little thing would set me off. At times, I would come home storming mad for no reason apparent to anyone around me. Road rage was an almost constant threat to anyone within three car lengths of me on the street. My demon would subtly suggest revenge, and I would always refuse… or that was what I said. I admit that after a while, I started to cave. Carrying a box of nails in the glove compartment of the car to pop tires or scratch paint with didn’t sound like such a terrible idea after a while.
Rage was always a wonderful dining companion. Aside of trying to goad me into extracting vengeance on everyone who had ever crossed me, he was a lot of fun to talk to. We’d banter back and forth about the general workings of the universe, debating about this and that, teasing each other more than once in a while. But generally, he’d try to push me into getting his way. And generally, I wouldn’t budge. Much.
"What’s it like where you come from anyway?" I asked over dinner one evening.
"Not as bad as people seem to believe. I rather enjoy Hell… nice and hot, and demonics is a good line of work, if you can get it." Rage held his shish-kebob up distastefully, noticing that it had gone cold. Pointing a finger at it, he caused the entire thing to burst into flame and proceeded to eat it that way—still burning.
"How do I know you’re not lying to me?"
"Why would I do that?"
"I don’t know… just, I’ve had some bad experiences with that kind of thing before…"
"Yes, and that’s why I’m here. To help you get revenge on those that hurt you." I glared at him. He gazed back, pleading and completely diffusing my anger with him. "Come on, surely there’s a vengeful bone in your body somewhere…"
"No, Rage, I swear there’s not…"
"Don’t you want to get back at those locker-jocks that used to torment you in high school? Or that one girl form camp?"
"Well, maybe. I figure they’ll get what’s coming to them sooner or later."
Rage looked skeptical. "You don’t really believe that, do you?"
I sighed. Did I? No, not really. Avoiding eye contact, I stared into my teriyaki instead, stirring it around in its bowl.
"Then why not do something about them?" He summoned a local phone book, which hovered in the air in front of him. "We know where they live," he smirked. "Wanna grab some cinder blocks and do some damage?"
I pointed an accusing chopstick at him. "I do that, and I’m gonna wind up landing myself down in Hell with you and your pals. I’d rather avoid that if I can."
"Oh, come on, it’s not so terrible…really!"
"I’ll pass, thanks…"
He slumped, looking defeated. "Can we at least take over a minor country? Canada maybe? Please??"
Meanwhile, my social skills were floundering.
"So I think if we put in just so much HO3 and a little less ClO2…"
"It’ll never work," I put in suddenly, having not said a word for the entire period.
"What do you mean? It should… look at the calculations," Kath said, grabbing for her calculator to re-check her work.
"Yeah, but you’ve got all the proportioning wrong!"
About then, Leslie broke in with, "No, she’s got ‘em right… I have the same thing."
"You’re still doing ‘em wrong!" I practically shouted at them both. "Kilograms cancels on the bottom, not the top! How many times do I have to show you this?!" I slammed a fist down on the table, growling with irritation.
"Well, you know, if you just don’t want to do the project…" Kath mumbled.
"You’re acting really weird lately… are you on something?" Les asked, concerned.
I sneered at her. "No." I looked away from the group. Everyone else in the room was gathering up their books and heading for the door. "Class is over. I’ll see you guys next time."
"Fine, so long as you stop acting like you’re possessed."
That stopped me in my tracks. "I’m NOT possessed!" I called back over my shoulder, not entirely sure if I was directing the comment at Kath and Les or myself. My face flushed bright red as I stormed out of the classroom. "I’m not possessed…" I muttered, definitely to myself this time. I didn’t really believe it the second time, though.
I found it odd that I hadn’t noticed the change in my personality until it got so extreme. This wasn’t me talking. I never sounded like this. Never. I didn’t sound like myself—I sounded like… Rage. Oh, he was going to get it for this little stunt, I thought, not realizing I was probably playing right into his talons. For as mad as I was, rehearsing the strings of words I’d be shouting at him when I got home, I’m surprised he didn’t hear my thoughts five miles away, else he feigned not knowing. I practically kicked the door down as I came in, startling him out of pulling the cape-over-the-head routine with me. He looked inordinately guilty, drumming his fingers together, his grin turning into a grimace as I slowly approached. "Uhh… something wrong, Linny?"
"Wrong?" I said. "Oh, no, nothing’s wrong. Nothing at all… except for the fact that you’ve been possessing me, you son of a bitch!"
He gulped, turning his eyes away from me. "Oh, that. Look, I know that you’ve had a bad day and all… why don’t I just go…"
" ‘Oh, that…’ Yes, that!" I interrupted violently. "And don’t you dare go trying to get off the subject, Rage! I’m not falling for any more of your tricks."
"No! Look, those were just like… er… personal favors… from me to you."
"To keep me coming back to you, I suppose. So you would have more influence over me. And here I was thinking we were friends."
"We are… I just… it's my job to possess humans and…"
"…and make them turn on everyone around them. Yeah, great, some friend. And I trusted you!"
His voice softened, going into its most convincing tone. I almost fell for it. "But I'll always be here for you, no matter how many of your so-called friends leave you. I'll always be here to give you whatever you need or want. Who made you mad? Didn't it feel good to get rid of them? Don't you see? Together we can make them pay…"
"And the only price I have to pay is losing the few friends I have because of YOU forcing me to be mad at them!" I stormed down the hall, not caring that he followed right behind me, cape swishing in a wave behind him.
"Don't do this, Linny… Do you really need any other friends? I could be everything you ever wanted, give you the world! Don't you…"
"Who's supposed to be controlling who here? Go away!" I roared at him, more than a little annoyed.
He set a hand on my shoulder, brow ridges forming an angry V between his smoldering eyes. "You don't honestly thing you can get away from me now, do you?" I cringed, feeling him tightening his hold on my mind.
My hand rose deliberately to clutch my cross pendant. He stared at the tiny protector around my neck. "Please don't send me back!" he blurted suddenly. "I'm sorry! Really! I didn't mean…" Begging must've been a reflex action. He looked rather sore and embarrassed after that little outburst. So that was his little secret.
"Oh, you didn't mean to possess me and change the way I acted. Sure. Why don't I believe you? Maybe because it's all been one big LIE!"
Rage glared. His eyes felt as if they were burning into mine as I gazed back in fear. I have no doubt he could've killed me with a thought. "Kneel," he said spitefully. I could feel my legs crumpling beneath me as he held a palm up in mid-air, slowly curling it into a fist. He still had possession of me! He shouted down at me, loud enough to make me flinch. "Yes, Linny, maybe it has been a lie the whole time. You think that friendship bit was real? A convenient ploy, and you fell for it. Stupid mortal! I'm only sticking around here because I have a fricking job to do!"
The pain in my hand brought me back to myself… I hadn't realized I was still clutching my cross, and the points were biting into my palm and fingers as I clenched my fist tighter and tighter, trying to fight the possession. I wasn't even paying attention as Rage stormed around the room, ranting about this and that. Betraying my trust… that was the last straw for me. "I renounce you, Rage," I said, dripping acid on each word.
"Huh??" he replied, whirling around to face me again with a confused expression. Rebellion was clearly the last thing he expected.
"I cast you out. GO away. Leave me alone." I scoured the back of my mind, trying to remember any other tricks I'd seen in "The Exorcist." It wasn't having the flesh-shredding effect I was looking for, but the words were effective enough in their own way.
"No! Stop it! You don't know what you're doing!"
"In the name of the Father…"
Rage shuddered, visibly feeling the strength in the words of the Holy Trinity. "Don't, Linny! I want to stay here! I can give you anything! Wealth, success, long life, anything!"
"…And of the Son…"
"LINNY!" He grabbed me by the shoulders, shaking me and begging me with his eyes and his words not to go on. "Don't do this to me! You'll wreck everything! Don't finish it, and I can stay! I can be anything to you, give you anything! ANYTHING! No more possession, I promise! I just want to stay with you! Just let me explain…"
"…And of the Holy Ghost." I had to choke back tears at the last phrase. After all this time, I'd thought of him as a friend…
"Well, hell, there goes my promotion… no thanks to you, oh heartless one," he sneered. Rage looked disappointed and more than a little annoyed, muttering something about girls not knowing sarcasm when they heard it. With a flash, he exploded into a shower of hot sulfur and ash that showered my face and arms as he was drawn back to Hell. Shocked witless, the only movement I could achieve was to fall over and scratch at some of the freshly burnt-in freckles on my arms.
Twenty minutes passed before I made any other movement, and that to unhook my cross pendant and fling it across the room, letting it join the various other things I never wore, stacked in a box in my closet. I didn't think I deserved to wear it anymore, and didn't really want to.
Back to my normal life of canned-ravioli dinners and cold bath water, I actually found myself missing Rage. He may have been an evil demon, ha may have had me possessed, but I missed the friend I made in him, and my interior dec didn't look anywhere near as gothic. No one greeted me at the door, no one nagged at me to take over the world… life was dull again. If he wasn't so evil, he would've been a nice guy to hang around with. The house did smell like sulfur for the longest time afterward. I'll never know how I put up with it.
"Hellllloooooo!" a female voice called from my left, nearly causing me to fall out of my chair. "So, you're the one Ragey's got his shorts all in a twist about, huh?"
"Who're you?" I asked, not really wanting to know the answer.
"Name's Mistrust!" the red-skinned she-demon said pridefully, gliding around in front of me. "And what can I do for you this evening?"
"You can go away and leave me alone, for starters…"
"Nahhh… I don't wanna. Why don't we go shopping??" she suggested, enthusiastically clasping her hands at her chest.
I waved her off. "Beat it before I sic God on you…"
Mistrust paused, floating thoughtfully. "God?" She threw her head back and laughed hysterically. "There's no such thing as God! Didn't Rage tell you that?? Oh, but he's just been sulking about for the longest time! The boss was reeeeeaaall mad about that little episode. He's doing some hard time down in the pits now. Ya know, you're the first mortal he's messed up on in the last five hundred years or so and I think…" she paused again, as if letting me in on some big secret, "I think Rage actually _liked_ you!" The demoness giggled like a schoolgirl. "Iddn't that silly?"
I stared into my ravioli. "I'm damned…"
"I'll say!" Mistrust chimed. "How about a manicure?"