On Demon Wings by Karina Halle
I was standing in a forest, the trunks of the slender trees wrapped in a blue-green twilight that fell quickly from the East. I was alone except for the fireflies that darted about in the pine-scented air above my head. My body felt odd and slightly feverish, my limbs went from cold and goose-pimply to hot and sweat-sheened in cycles. I wasn’t sure where I was, maybe by the river where I had walked earlier in the day, but further away from the roar of the currents.
I couldn’t remember how I got here, or why I was in my sleeping attire, but I wasn’t worried and I wasn’t afraid.
For once, in a very long time, I was not afraid.
I heard my name on the wind as it brushed my hair off my shoulders and swirled the aqua light away from me. I followed it, my feet quick and quiet on the damp grass.
I cleared back the branches of the trees, hearing strange voices emerging from the dark places around me.
They sounded so far away. I heard someone crying. She sounded like my sister.
I continued through the glade, my pace quickening as the darkness dropped even faster. Finally I saw him, the one who had been calling for me.
He sat on a log with his back to me, a camera placed beside him, the light from it illuminating the trees and adding extra sparkle to the fireflies.
I glided toward him, drawn forth like a magnet. I couldn’t keep away.
He didn’t stir until I was standing right behind him. He raised his head without looking at me. Another breeze wafted past and tossed his black hair delicately. The scent of Old Spice and Nicorette filled my nose.
I hated that smell.
“Perry,” he said, his voice unmistakably Dex. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
“And you still won’t,” I replied.
I reached down with my hands, placed them on both sides of his cold, rough face and with one quick motion I broke his neck, the SNAP of his vertebrae shattering through the still forest.
Dex slumped to the ground, motionless.
I smiled to myself and walked away.
A giant shudder ran through me, almost causing the coffee I was handling to spil out over the sides. Sorry, not coffee, but an extra-hot, no-foam, triple-shot, gold-dusted, magic-whipped, unicorn-blessed mother of al cappuccinos.
I quickly glanced up at Larry, the regular who waited impatiently for his daily creation of pomp and circumstance in a paper cup. His lips were squeezed tightly together, his eyes on the beverage, more concerned for it than the deathly shiver that had just rol ed through his barista.
I composed myself – that was the last time I’d let myself think about my disturbing dreams at work – and handed him his coffee with a smile.
“Have a great day!” I exclaimed. You nitpicking twat.
Larry took the drink from my hands as if I were seconds from dumping it on his head (he wasn’t too far off), shot me a barely perceptible look of disdain, and left the coffee shop.
I let out a sigh of relief and closed my eyes, a migraine threatening to appear.
“Hey, Perry, you doing OK?” Ash asked.
I looked up and gave my col eague a tight smile. I could keep up the cheery pretenses with the customers, but not with Ash.
“Just feeling a bit under the weather again,” I said sheepishly. I had only been working at Port-Town coffee for six weeks and it seemed like every other day I was suffering from kil er cramps, a terrible migraine, dizzy spel s, painful bloating or plain old pissyness. Oh, and a broken heart. I tried to keep my complaints at a minimum because I didn’t want the manager, Shay, to regret hiring me but sometimes it was hard to hide.
Ash was extremely observant, too. He was a few years younger than me and had aspirations of being a criminal investigator but his dirt-poor upbringing forced him to be a barista for way longer than he ought. I wasn’t much better.
There I was, a failed internet host, who, despite having a degree in advertising, had found herself unable to get any kind of respectful employment aside from shoving coffee down Portland’s throat. Not that being a barista was anything to look down upon, but I wondered if al my sudden ailments were related to the nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing what I should be doing.
That said, things weren’t al bad. Ash was a cute kid and I’d hung out with him quite a bit, as I did with Shay, Steve, Mikeala and a few other coffee pushers. We had fun at work, and when I wasn’t being bombarded with people like Larry, who demanded the most ridiculous drinks, or Marge, the old lady who paid with pennies, the job was fairly low-stress and it al owed me to continue living at my parents’
house without being guilt-tripped about it. It also ended the “I told you sos,” which had lasted for at least a few weeks after I returned from Seattle.
Oh yes, Seattle.
I don’t like to talk about that time, let alone think about that time. It’s probably why I’d been having so many icky dreams lately – my subconscious was pushing them up through the ground, like bones through a fresh grave.
To put it mildly, December had been a hel of a month. I was in a very black place, one I feared I would never crawl out of. But I did eventual y crawl out that hole, dragging myself out of the depression by my fingernails. My younger sister Ada helped; she was a great shoulder to cry on. And by cry, I mean slobber. I was an ugly, hysterical mess more often than not. I never knew that kind of agony before.
Perhaps I had been lucky that so many boys ignored me for most of my life.
Final y, getting this job helped, too. It forced me to go somewhere every day and put on my best face. Put on my best face and try to forget the pain that stil ricocheted through me from time to time, pain that intensified when certain songs came on the radio, a pain that left you with a tear-soaked pil ow in the morning.
I never spoke to Dex again. He tried, though, but I’l give him no credit for it. I got cal s from him right after he twisted that pin in my heart, a mil ion voicemails that I deleted (before I smashed my phone in a fit of rage). I got a new number, changed my email and total y withdrew from the little life I had attempted, which meant no contact with Jimmy, Rebecca or anyone at the Shownet office. Nothing against them – personal y – but it was just too hard. I needed to move on.
By the time February rol ed around, I was in a better place. Of course, it’s not fun to feel sick al the time. I gained that pre-bootcamp weight back, and I felt pretty disappointed in myself for taking the risk on Experiment in Terror in the first place. For putting my heart on the line.
But I learned, and I will live.
“Do you stil want to come out tomorrow tonight?” Ash asked, his eyes staying on me and not on the customer who just walked in the shop. He had very nice, bright hazel eyes. They didn’t appeal to me in a romantic way but they reminded me of a brother I never had.
“Definitely,” I told him. I pointed to the washrooms. “I’m fine. I think I just need to splash cold water on my face.”
He nodded and took care of the customer as I escaped to the safety of the washroom. I was lucky to have someone like Ash. I was only working part-time, but I desperately wanted to move onto ful -time and then hopeful y shift supervisor. As you can imagine, I made minimum wage and if I were to ever get out of my parents’ house, I needed a lot more dough. Feeling sick and occasional y trying to fight back tears when Bil y Joel comes on the stereo doesn’t make me look like the best employee, someone Shay would want to eventual y promote, but Ash has been the only one who has caught on that not al is right with me and he’s been doing a pretty good job of covering up.
Of course, everyone else knows I’m not entirely normal – hence my nickname “Scary Perry.” They al know about the Experiment in Terror show (as does the occasional customer who comes in) and they love to tease me about it.
Shay believes in ghosts, so at least my manager doesn’t think I’m crazy, but I can tel the others don’t know what to do with me sometimes. Stil , they invite me out to the bars after work and to local band showcases (which is where I was planning to go with Ash tomorrow night), so I’m slowly feeling like a regular girl.