They let me keep my body.
I don’t know why. I’ve always been a wreck; I thought they’d at least give me a paint job or a tune-up, like I was a junk-yard Mustang that someone had rescued from the scrap pile, or whatever the hell people do with bodies.
I can’t say that I cared, but I think I would have missed my pudgy fingers and that weird birthmark on my collarbone, the one that was shaped a little like a dinosaur. It would have taken me another sixteen years to break into a new body, anyways.
But it didn’t matter. Not a lot mattered, these days, that didn’t involve warm blood and an ancient tongue.
I had gotten sucked into this new world, one that was run on animalistic instincts and ageless traditions, and suddenly I could breathe again.
My first day liberated, I chopped off all my hair. I knew I was on a timeline, but I couldn’t resist jimmying open a lock and stepping inside someone’s home.
It was a dirty apartment building – old habits die hard, I guess. I used a pair of kitchen scissors that the owner probably used to cut up dog food, if the smell gave any indication.
The corgi seemed to like me. I don’t know why. He just kept following me around, rubbing up against my legs and showing me his belly.
I didn’t bother turning on the bathroom light. I just hunched over the sink and cut. Curtains of raven hell fell to the floor. He sneezed once or twice, so I scratched him behind the ears. It was pretty fucking cute.
I looked like I had been attacked by a blender when I was finished. I threw the hair out the window, into the back alley, and I padded around the flat.
I watched reruns of The Twilight Zone until the clock struck seven.
I had an appointment to keep. I’d be horribly inconsiderate to show up late.
I decided to walk. Dante – she’s my supervisor, my own personal Wonder Woman, who dragged me out of that dank facility, sat me down with a warm cup of cocoa and wrapped a blanket around my shoulders, then set me to work - sent me a memo in the form of ashes spread across the couch. The meeting was halfway across town, and I ended up standing in the middle of an abandoned driveway, the setting sun shining on my closed eyelids, surrounded by sigils and runes of an ancient language that had been pounded into my brain for the last week and a half.
In front of me was a girl around my age, wearing a black lace cardigan embroidered with cats and caked on eye-makeup.
I cracked my knuckles one at a time, smirking as her fierce gaze turned unsure.
My voice was gravelly and low, just like I’d been taught. I had run through dozens of practice drills until I had gotten everything exactly as Dante had taught. I was supposed to get in and out, holding a contract clenched between my fingers signed in the blood of some teenager who’d seen one too many slasher flics.
“I gotta admit, you’re –" she started, her voice surprisingly soft.
“Not what you were expecting?”
She shook her head. “I was gonna say gorgeous. I thought demons were supposed to be rotting corpses or something.” The second half of her words was almost drowned out by the sound of blood rushing behind my ears.
“That’s a stereotype!” I laughed anyways. “Hey, I used to think the same thing. So, what’s got you down?”
I need a new handbook for slang. Louie, my little sister, used to always tease me about my inability to grasp teenage language.
The girl wrung her hand, and suddenly she looked so much like Louie telling me that she tore the cover off my favorite book or popped one of the strings on my guitar that I had to resist the urge to call out, “don’t sweat it, Lou, it’s not important. I’ve done worse.” Because I had done so much worse, especially to Louie, that I wasn’t even a little bit surprised when I woke up behind bars, the cell keeping me stinking of musty sweat, and the first words out of my mouth were, “hell is a lot cleaner than I expected.”
Of course, then the ceiling was obscured by this girl with crazy red hair, poking me in the ribs and looking down at me like I was a frog to be dissected, and the situation started to look better.
The ground began to smell of hot asphalt, and my eyes wandered to the cats on Lacey Girl’s sweater.
“I’m having trouble,” she says, smiling weakly, “with my sister.”
That hit me right in the gut. Whoever picked this job for me must’ve done her research, because even though the horde is stronger that the Roman Empire, we all have weak spots, exposed areas of flesh that they like to pick and pull at until we either fall to pieces or scab over.
“Spill,” I commanded. “Come on, you know you want to.”
“She’s gotten worse. And I want her to get better.”
I let out a long breath of air.
“What’s her poison?”
“Heart murmur. I had no idea, until one day, this girl bangs down the door of my History room, in the middle of a test, and she’s shaking so badly and grabbing my hand and suddenly, I’m not in school, I’m at a hospital, and my mom’s crying and my dad looks like a ghost and my little brother is just staring at the girl in the bed because he can’t really believe it.”
The girl turned around, rubbing her palms across her face, and for a second I despise Dante with enough fire to set a forest ablaze.
Well that was not what I was expecting. My brain had immediately filled in the blanks with the big three, “drugs, alcohol, sex.” That I can deal with.
“Tell me about her,” I said.
“She’s a bookworm. I swear, sometimes I wouldn’t see her for days because she’d be locked up in her room reading, only venturing downstairs for hot coco and granola bars.” The girl swallowed. “She draws these little comics, sometimes, where the main characters all have superpowers and look like me and Charlie, that’s our little brother, and Elinor. She started an art program at the library, but I don’t know what’s going to happen to it, now that she… she…”
She just couldn’t force the words out of her mouth, and I understood. Saying that her sister was dying meant that she was already dead.
I took a couple steps, circling the area. “Older or younger?”
“Younger, but only by a year.” The girl wiped her eyes on her sleeves, and I suddenly found the trees across the yard incredibly interesting. “She was supposed to grow up. We were supposed to run a bookstore together.”
Jesus Christ, I swore I could feel whatever the hell is in my chest shatter like a dropped teacup.
The sky swirled with gray, and the storm clouds overhead that were threatening with rainfall decide that now would be a great time to crash the party. The first drops were fat and juicy, causing my skin to sizzle pleasantly. Pretty soon, I was standing under an icy shower.
“No, no, no, no, no.” The girl swore. “It took me hours to get those right!” My mind skipped like a broken record until I figured out what she meant. I looked down to see chalk mixing with rainwater, the circle holding me disintegrating.
The girl looked about three more drops of rain away from breaking down.
“Shh, don’t worry about it,” I said, stepping out of the circle. She stumbled backwards and I flinched, reminding myself that they always had a reason to flee. “Look, I’m not going anywhere. You see?” I held out my hands, as if I were a criminal showing I was unarmed.
“Now, listen here,” I continued. “She’s your sister. And the only deal I can offer you would contain some truly horrible clauses on your part. So trust me when I say, you can’t do this. Not to her.”
I was supposed to make the deal. Failing meant re-education on my part, which made the hair on the back of my neck raise and my mind short-circuit. I took a deep breath and shoved the fear into a dark corner of my mind, trying to fix this girl’s problem, because god knows I’ve had enough sister troubles to last me a full lifetime and a half.
“What? No, you have to –“ she rushed forwards, grabbing the sleeve of my jacket. I ripped it away from her.
“I don’t have to do anything.” I made sure to put a little fire in my words for good measure, and the girl cowered. “I’m sorry.”
“No, you asshole, I don’t care that you’re sorry, I care that you’re not helping! If you won’t fix it, then what’s the point of being you?!”
I didn’t have an answer. That wasn’t how things worked.
I wanted to reach out and touch her, but I was terrified of what I’d do to her if I did.
“What’s her name?”
“Her name is Hazel. Hazel Marie Griffin.” At that point, I couldn’t tell how much of her mascara was running from the rain.
At that point, I felt like I was facing a hollow corpse.
Slowly, her eyes opened. “I always called her my favorite princess.”
There. With the tiniest of smiles in the midst of a surprise thunderstorm.
This is how you leave her.