𝘣𝘺 𝘡𝘦𝘬𝘦 𝘑𝘢𝘳𝘷𝘪𝘴
Taylor pressed her back against the wall, watching. The demon’s teeth were incredibly sharp, but its neck was short, and it had very poor vision, so as long as she stayed against the wall and timed it right, she was always able to get past it. She took a deep breath and skittered quickly around the corner. After she was by, the demon snapped its jaws several times, catching only air. Taylor shook her head. “Stupid load bearing demon.”
Taylor walked on. She remembered when she was a kid, and her grandmother thought she could get around the corner. Taylor hadn’t seen the actual bite, but she’d heard the screaming, and she’d come running so fast that one of the ceiling demons had nearly caught her. When she reached her grandmother, her grandmother’s shoulder was gone, and half her face was missing. Taylor’s mom made Taylor’s older brother take her back to safety. Both of them were crying for their grandmother. Ever since, Taylor had hated that demon even more than the other house demons. But if they killed it, the house would start rotting from the inside out, and that would be that. There was nothing you could do about a load bearing demon.
Taylor made her way to the kitchen. Her mom was chopping onions. It was stir fry tonight. Taylor’s mom turned towards her. “Done with homework?”
Taylor nodded. “I had a question about the paper in English, so I emailed Mr. Sanders. If I hear back from him tonight, I’ll probably do a little more work, but everything that’s due tomorrow is done.”
Her mom went back to the onions. “Great. How is English going anyway?”
Taylor sat at the table. She remembered when she’d first toured her high school. She’d been in eighth grade, and they’d taken a field trip to get used to the new school. One of the kids had been screwing off and had the back of his calf slashed open by a stair demon. The wound bled and bled, and everyone had screamed. Even the football players. The stair demon kept swiping at air, blood spattering around as it flew from the talons. The teachers kept yelling about how that just showed why it was so important to be careful. “English is fine, I guess.”
“Are you having trouble with Mr. Sanders?”
“The other students?” Taylor’s mom picked up the cutting board and slid the onions into a bowl. She picked up some other kind of hard vegetable and started chopping again.
“I don’t know.”
Taylor’s mom turned back to Taylor for a second, then she went to chopping. “Yes you do. What is it?”
Taylor rotated a salt shaker. “It’s just that the book that we’re reading right now is kind of sad, but any time that I say something in class, if I admit that it makes me sad, these two boys in the back of the room giggle or make fun of me.” There was more to it than that, of course, but Taylor didn’t want her mom demanding a conference with Mr. Sanders, making the whole situation even worse. Like when some kid would try teasing a locker demon and, when they inevitably got their hand bitten off, the parents would show up threatening to sue the school. Any sympathy the kids had from their classmate evaporated, and they got teased for being a baby.
“Does Mr. Sanders say anything when the boys say things?”
“I mean, he does, but it’s not bad enough that he can send them to the office, and it’s not like him just telling these boys to stop is going to do anything.” Taylor pushed the salt shaker towards the napkin holder. She put her hands in her lap.
“Do I need to talk to Principal McKenzie?”
“Mom, it’s not like this is our biggest—Mom, the sink!”
A skinny, purple demon had shot out of the sink. Taylor’s mom yelled, “God damn it,” and slashed at it several times. The demon was able to evade the first two, twisting and arching its body. It hissed loudly and spat. Taylor’s mom’s third swipe caught it. The demon screeched and trembled. While it did, Taylor’s mom gave two more hard slashes. The demon’s head fell to the ground. The body thrashed a few times before falling down. Taylor’s mom sighed. “Well now I have to clean this up.”
Taylor stood. “I can help.”
Taylor’s mom waved a hand. “I can take care of it.”
Taylor went to the sink and opened the cabinets beneath it. She pulled one of the heavy duty bags out. “You don’t have to do this honey,” her mom said. Now Taylor waved a hand. She kicked at the severed head with her foot. It didn’t bite or thrash. You always had to check. Taylor had once seen a friend’s dad try to pick up a severed head at the friend’s birthday party. The dad had been in a hurry, and when he picked the head up, it bit him hard on the hand. Luckily, the dad had only needed stitches, but the birthday party was pretty much over.
Taylor held the bag open and kicked the head toward it. Then, she quickly picked it up by the scruff of the neck and tossed it into the bag. Even though she knew it was dead, Taylor hated touching the heads. And it was already starting to smell like a combination of sulfur, shit, and mushrooms.
Taylor picked up the bag and went to the sink. The body was snakelike in shape, but the skin didn’t have scales. It was more like something between a slug and a worm. Taylor poked at it. The body was still. She took a breath and grabbed it. The body curled around her forearm, and Taylor screamed. Her mom came to her side immediately, grabbing the body. It quickly came off, and they both exhaled, then laughed. Taylor tossed the body in the bag. It only made it halfway in, and she had to bat at the rest of the body to get it all the way in.
Taylor’s mom patted Taylor’s shoulder, then she grabbed some paper towel and started mopping up the demon’s blood from the floor. Taylor used the sink’s sprayer and then washed her hands, scrubbing three times. Her mom finished with the floor, then she stuffed the paper towel into the bag. After that, she washed her own hands and sat down at the table. “Well,” she said, “That was an adventure.”
Taylor went to the table as well. “Makes the jerks in English seem like no big deal, right?”
Taylor’s mom patted her hand. “Years from now, you probably won’t remember those boys, but I know that it’s hard right now. All I can tell you is that your father and I love you very much. If there’s anything I can do, please let me know.”
Taylor stood up, and so did her mother. They hugged. Taylor looked over her mother’s shoulder, out the window. Or, instead, she looked at the window. A face had materialized. The family had never had a window demon before. Jenny Tremmel’s family had once. She wouldn’t really talk about it. The face on the window smiled. Its mouth was full of jagged, uneven teeth. Its eyes seemed to look in every direction. Taylor put her face down, on her mother’s shoulder. There was no point in saying anything right in that moment. What could either of them do? Taylor would let her mom have this moment, and then they’d figure things out. Or they wouldn’t. Either way, there was no use getting more upset about it right that second. ✦