⑦ Chase Devil
“It’s a nice season, isn’t it?”
Silence. The therapist smiles lightly, but I don’t mirror it. She tries again.
“Hot and sunny... outdoor activities to do with friends... places to visit? How many places have you visited?”
“Just Stonehenge,” I whisper, and have to stop myself from flinching when I hear myself utter the name. The therapist nods slowly. I can already see where this is going.
“Would you like to talk about what happened that summer? It helps sometimes, to revisit things. We might discover something new?”
“What’s left to discover?” I say quietly, slowly meeting her eye. “Nothing more to talk about. You’ve already got your ideas. And I’ve seen others’.”
She looks a little cautious now, but does her best to mask it. I know they’re all afraid of me. All because of a stupid flower.
Chase Devil, that’s what it’s called. A delicate-looking yellow flower, with thin, golden filaments sprouting up from the centre and a distinct, resinous scent. Because although the longest day of the year seems all merry and bright, there’s still darkness that lurks all around, hidden in the shadows, in places you’d never think of looking. You bind the flowers into a garland and carry them on your person, and they supposedly ward of those dark spirits.
And in Stonehenge, the capital of all rituals and the popular site of visiting when the solstice starts, is riddled with them. And it’s not like I was the only one who knew. There were other wary people there, the flowers strung about their necks. Even my parents went along with the tradition. But I didn’t.
Why should I? There’s no proof. Seeing is believing, right? No measly flower can protect me from spirits.
I was wrong. You never need proof. Beliving is seeing. And that measly flower cost me my sanity. Or so I’ve been told.
There were countless cheers and laughs and whoops, countless arms holding up cameras and phones to capture the first rays of sunlight making their appearance in the very location they were standing, the beams of light highlighting their excited faces and bouncing off the lenses staring at them. Oblivious, carefree to any hidden dangers, just snap snap snapping away with their phones and cameras, smiles all round, warm sunshine resting on foreign flesh.
But once the sun’s up, marking the tireless daylight, no mortal can bring it back down. Once a second’s gone, it’s gone for good. There’s no Doc Brown in reality. No time machine. Just infinite moments which stretch across a boundless horizon, and we all have to go along for the ride. And the ride isn’t always a pretty one.
It was my fault, in a way. I refused to tie a butter-yellow flower garland around my neck and dismissed the superstitious or whatever the warnings come under’s warnings. I never believed I could be so easily gotten to.
Me and my parents stayed at Stonehenge for pretty much the whole day. But then we had to go home, with me thrashing and kicking and screaming uncontrollably, eyes wider than humans should be able to open them, numb with fear, paralyzed with trauma taunts.
I didn’t see the darkness in one way. They came out in so many different forms, but all in all, it was the same horrific presence controlling the sights I saw. I had that rush of awareness - like blood running down your spine and making you shiver, the hairs on the back of your neck bristling, like your subconscious giving you a quick sign of something bad and unforeseen. A fleeting premonition of a kind. There weren’t any devil chasers left at that point, but by then, it was too late anyway.
Then I saw the consequence.
It’s almost unfair - how their taunts plagued me, relentless show ups and sudden biting whispers. Pale figures poking their malformed heads out of the stones of Stonehenge. Invisible claws grappling at my neck and skin. The taste of pennies in my mouth but no trace of blood.
I’ve seen the therapist’s notes. I know they think paranoia broke me and my senses. They have no clue. But then, neither do I.
I screamed and pointed every instance out to my parents, to the sightseers and visitors, each one of them eying me gingerly and clearly unsettled. But I wasn’t the disturbing one.
I screamed myself hoarse for hours, right until we were far away from Stonehenge so that not a speck of its rocks could be seen from behind. My body trembled, and I looked back so much my neck ached. I didn’t sleep in my own bed that night. I went to a special hospital with neutrally coloured rooms and crisp white sheets. They hastily drew the blinds and a woman spoke to me in a calm voice.
When I shut my eyes, I can still see flashes of that same darkness. It’s stuck to me now, forever. I’m damaged inside-out. Maybe I’ve got that streak of darkness in me too. I don’t think I can get shocked anymore. Blessing and a curse, I suppose.
Needless to say, I haven’t been back to Stonehenge since, despite its being an annual occasion. I don’t think my parents have either.
Sometimes I wonder what could’ve happened if I had worn that stupid garland. Even sprinkled myself with pollen, merely to go along with it. Would it make a difference? It certainly can’t now, can it?
Or maybe I’m being too weak. I’ve been offered a twisted key, and now I have to unlock the twisted door in my mind. If I have dark stowed in me, then I can act dark too. Isn’t that how it works?
My therapist asks me what I think of when she says Stonehenge, and I almost drown in hundreds of flashbacks. But I don’t fully drown this time. I want to try something out. I want to copy the flower - or rather, the reverse.
And so I tell her.
“I don’t need any plant to chase the devil. Watch.”