The Demon

So this is a short story I’ve been working on. I plan to enter it into some writing competitions within the next couple of weeks, so if anyone has any suggestions for how to polish it up, please let me know 🙂

The Demon

She hadn’t looked in a mirror for over forty years. Today wasn’t going to be the day. It was too cloudy outside and a perpetual haze of fog contributed to the noon darkness. Not the appropriate lighting for such a weighty task.

I sat beside her, drinking her strength with the fury of a tree sucking up the last drops of rainfall before the next desert summer. I was tiring of her. For the past fifty years she’d been easy to feed off of, but now her energy was drying up. Soon I would move on to a riper prospect.

Perhaps the young man who occasionally came to visit us up here on this dead, dried hill. He was a well-built eighteen-year old. I frequently watched him through the dusty windowpane as he attempted to revive the old woman’s dying shrubs. He had thick muscles, messy dark hair and striking blue eyes, the kind that reveal an ancient wisdom.

There were many visits in which I’d been tempted to latch on to him. But those eyes, those eyes warned me he would be a fighter. I needed much more strength before I could attempt to take his energy. One wrong move, one weak moment, and he would surely destroy me. However appealing he looked, this man was dangerous prey.

And so I stayed in the decaying house with the dying old woman. She’d once been beautiful, vibrant even. Her energy was pure as crystal reflecting the sun’s rainbow. It was what first attracted me to her. She was so easy to attach to that I found myself a little disappointed. No fight, no struggle for life. It was as if she invited the slow, inevitable death.

So I quickly bored of her, though I remained anyway. One thing about dark energies you must know is that we love the thrill of resistance, but we prefer the easy prey, especially when it’s young. It means decades of food for us, an effortless source of energy.

She’s seen me many times. In fact she could see me on this day despite her cataracts. The woman would simply turn her head up at me and stare; a purely ambivalent expression on her worn face. I’d always smile back, silently promising her that the end would come soon. Only a few more years, or months, or days.

The woman once had a husband and a child. They were loud, annoying, pulling at her energy and leaving little left for me. So I made the woman hate them, wish with all her might they were gone. You see, it’s very easy for a creature like myself to do once I’m attached. Our hearts and minds become one, predator and prey in an eternal death embrace.

It started when she had that baby, a screeching little thing that never slept and made her energy raw and dry. I was used to this irritation; centuries of prey all reproduced during my feed. But this one was worse than the others; it was colicky and demanding. Her husband worked ten hours a day, so he wasn’t much help. She and I were forced to stay home and deal with the bothersome creature ourselves. After only a few months, her energy had become repulsive.

I could have left then, but I’d grown used to feeding off of her and knew that once this cumbersome thing was gone her delicious energy would return. So instead, I played a game.

You see, humans are like puppets. A resourceful being can easily control human actions and reactions simply by understanding their mindsets. And despite what you may think, all humans have ridiculously similar thought patterns and subconscious desires. It’s amusing to control them, especially when they think they do things completely of their own volition.

So first I gave her dreams, dreams of life without a child and husband, of a beautiful, serene lake filled with butterflies and silence. This fantasyland quickly became her favorite place in the world. I made sure of it.

“Can you watch him,” she moaned to her husband one slow Saturday. “I need a nap.”

He sighed and took a sip of brandy, eyes on the black and white television screen. “You’ve been taking a lot of those lately.”

“I’m sorry, just the baby’s been crying so much lately…”

“And you’re his mother.”

“You’re his father,” she whispered before gulping at the words that had just flowed uncontrollably out of her mouth. I chuckled.

He turned his head slowly, an expression of both surprise and rising irritation. “I work sixty hours a week to-“

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s been coming over me,” she lowered her eyes, shaking her head in an attempt to rid herself of her unseen burden. I smiled. A simple head wag wouldn’t shake me that easily.

The woman didn’t get her nap that day. In fact, she didn’t get much sleep for the remaining week. Everything was going perfectly.

Another little trick I’d learned over the centuries was rapid energy draining. Soon she was mysteriously falling under bouts of exhaustion, to the point where she’d practically fall asleep standing. The downside to these drains was that I’d have to go a few days without feeding- she would have nothing to give me. I had to sacrifice my own comfort for them, but knew the end justified the means.

Two Saturdays after her last nap, I drained so much energy that she fainted while cooking dinner, hitting her head on the kitchen counter as she fell. Her body lay there, limp, like a broken doll. For a moment that nobody witnessed but I, her heart stopped beating.

The husband ran into the kitchen at the soft thud of flesh on tile. He called her name, pulse thudding through his thick veins. No answer. Her blue eyes were rolled in the back of her head. A tinge of red began seeping through her bleached blonde curls.

I started to worry that perhaps I’d drained her too much that time. I chided myself for making such an incompetent mistake. While the ambulance flashed red and blue into the dark windows, I sat contemplating my options. If she died, would it be more advantageous to latch to the baby or the husband?

The husband had much more energy, but he would put up a good fight. He was big; a high school quarterback in his brighter days, which lent his energy a ferocity I simply wasn’t strong enough for at the moment.

I loathed infant energy; it was so simplistic, instinctive, black and white. I enjoyed the frustration, hypocrisy and stress of adult energy. But I really had no choice; it was too much of a gamble to attempt an attack on the husband. The baby would have to do.

I began mentally preparing for months, perhaps years of dealing that that tiresome creature, but thankfully the woman’s slow, steady heartbeat continued as the wailing ambulance careened down the little country road to the nearest emergency room.

Hours later she was asleep in a hospital bed, her arm stuck with an IV needle, eyelids half-covering big, black pupils. Her lipstick cracked over dry lips that were slightly parted, revealing a spark of white teeth.

“Well, Sir, we ran all the tests we could think of and they’ve all come back negative,” said the doctor, a hefty man with a horseshoe of gray hair lining the bottom of his otherwise-bald head.

“Negative?!” He cried, terror jolting to his eyes. I forgot to mention her husband was a simple door-to-door salesman; he knew nothing of medical jargon.

“As in, she’s completely healthy,” the doctor stuttered.

“Oh, thank God,” his stance visibly slackened as a breathed out.

This was the only time throughout their short marriage that the husband showed any signs of true concern for his wife. I sighed in relief that she was unconscious for it.

And true to form, he gave her no sympathy when they arrived home the next day. She was healthy and therefore expected to continue mothering and cleaning and cooking.

“But, I really think I need a rest,” she quietly pleaded.

“Don’t you think I do too? I was the one up all night with doctors while you slept in a hospital bed that cost hundreds of dollars.”

She lowered her eyes and hastened to the crying baby. While she rocked it, sang to it, begged it to sleep, I put visions of that peaceful lake in her mind.

The constant cries of a demanding child and huge house that always needed cleaning lead her to slowly grow jealous of her uncaring husband. He could escape the madness every morning. Perhaps he lunched at a quiet lake outside of town every day.

Her resentment wasn’t noticeable to her at first. A sting of annoyance at his dirty plate left on the table that was soon suppressed by the infant’s screams. A bite of the lip at his sigh when he collapsed on the sofa each evening was forgotten when the teakettle whistled. It was perfect, gradual, unassuming, until finally it erupted.

The infant was now seven. I’d been patiently biding my time, waiting for the fruit I’d planted in her mind to ripen. Seven years of poor energy made it difficult for me to do much, but her growing frustration with him would greatly help my endeavor.

She had become much more resigned in these seven years of wear, always staring at him with a thick expression of annoyance. One night, the tired man plopped down at his seat and dug into a plate of cold turkey and dry mashed potatoes.

He grimaced. “What’s happened to your cooking lately? It’s barely edible.” The man was much too dull to realize she’d done it on purpose- her own attempt at indulging a slowly burning frustration.

“You try cleaning a house, keeping a seven-year-old from getting into the dog food and cooking all the meals.”

I chuckled. Her patience truly had grown thin.

“I could do it half asleep. You women don’t know how good you have it.”

She bit her lip and dug her fork into the rough turkey skin, doing her best to think of her serene lake. One day, she would escape to it, she promised herself.

A handsome bachelor moved in next door that month. He would be final stitch in my plan.

The woman hadn’t expected to be so attracted to him. She had brought over a plate of sugar cookies, her standard offering to new neighbors. The man almost stopped her heart again the moment he opened the door.

He was tall, with dark blonde hair slicked back neatly, revealing wise brown eyes, a chiseled jaw and a gleaming white smile. This man was blatantly every woman’s dream.

“Hello, I- I’m your new neighbor,” she stuttered an introduction with a nervous smile.

He beamed and opened his door wide to let her in. They talked for two hours about nothing, the hot summer air teasing perspiration from their skin. He brought her an iced tea mixed with a shot of rum, the tips of their fingers meeting for the first time as he handed it to her. She couldn’t stop smiling. He leaned in…

And then the sound of her son’s school bus rumbling up the hill jolted her back to reality. Her stomach sank as she said goodbye to the dangerously handsome man.

The boy squinted at her as she anxiously greeted him. He asked why her face was so red. She touched her cheeks and stuttered that it must be the heat.

Her mind was elsewhere that night as she stared out the dark window while washing dishes. She drowned herself in a fantasy of the new neighbor rubbing her back as they enjoyed her lake.

The woman couldn’t stop thinking about him as the days passed. This was partly my own coaxing- my role as the devil on her shoulder had to be played- but she made it so easy. She stopped by the drugstore on her next grocery run into town and bought fire engine red lipstick.

She rushed to her bedroom vanity mirror as soon as she got home. But she frowned when she looked at her reflection; it had been years since she’d had time to care for herself. She spent nearly an hour primping her hair, washing her face and doing her makeup.

It took another hour of pacing her living room to bring up the courage to go over there. She was too dim to think of a good excuse to visit him, one that wouldn’t be blatant. I eventually had to whisper it in her ear.

“What brings such a gorgeous woman to my doorstep?” the neighbor smiled wide, his white teeth reflecting the beaming sun.

Heat rushed to her neck and cheeks. She inadvertently let out a childish giggle.

“Since you’re from out of town, I figured you’d like a little tour…”

She drove him around town, pointing out the theater and the secluded post office. He inquired about the quality of the fine Italian restaurant across the street from it. She blushed and told him it was marvelous.

They went the next evening. She’d managed to convince her husband to let her have a “girl’s night” with a few of her estranged friends. He’d plopped on his armchair and muttered something about frivolity.

The neighbor asked her in for drinks after. Within the hour they were furiously engaged in a forbidden tryst. Her energy was luscious then, red, full of relief and vanity and freedom. A touch of guilt thrown in, just enough to taste but not overpowering.

The affair went on for two weeks. She invited him to her home on a few occasions. One weekend they escaped to his cabin on the lake while her husband was away on business and son at camp. All of her fantasies became sweet reality.

But I decided it must end, I couldn’t stand the loud child for another second. That was the whole point of the affair, anyway.

I enticed the husband to eat some bad fish for lunch one day. He had to rush home sick, and when the pale-faced man opened the door, he was greeted with another man’s shoes strewn about the living room floor and moaning coming from upstairs.

His brow furrowed, eyes squinted. The man was confused, unable to make that initial grasp at what was happening. Ideas and excuses ran through his mind as he slowly, quietly climbed the stairs. Had someone broken in? A young couple with nowhere to make love, who was desperate enough to sneak through the perpetually-unlocked back door? Or maybe they had some unexpected visitors. Or perhaps this was all just some odd dream.

Shuffling. Rushed whispers sounding from their bedroom. They had heard his heavy footsteps. He silently cursed the floorboards that always creaked beneath him.

The woman’s heart was thudding, though it had been for nearly an hour anyway. The taste of iron in her mouth was a new addition; sick, raw. She pulled her slip back over her bare shoulders and hastened her slender fingers through her curls. The half-naked neighbor had lunged into their tiny closet. Clearly he was experienced in these matters.

He opened the door quickly, as if there was any hope in him catching them in the act at this point. All he saw was his flushed wife sitting at her vanity, wearing nothing but a slip as she shakingly brushed her lips with red.

“What’s going on?” he shouted, dull eyes wide in their search for the adulterer.

“I’m getting dressed,” her shuttering voice betrayed her. “What do you think?”

“I heard moans,” he growled as he slashed about the room, looking under the bed, walking toward the closet.

“Stop!” she cried.

“What? Is he in there?” he pointed to the closet. His face was as violet as a dried plumb by now. I relished in her fear.

He’d already swung the doors open before she could respond. The neighbor had done a decent job of hiding behind their clothes, but the smell of his sweat and sounds of his heavy breaths gave him away almost immediately.

“Get out!” the husband hollered. The neighbor stood, eyes diverted as he grabbed his clothes and rushed out of the room. The husband followed him.

She sat at her vanity, eyes fixed on her reflection, unable to move save for the occasional wincing at the sounds of flesh hitting flesh, of groans and screams that came from downstairs. A slamming door. More shouts. Then silence.

For five minutes, that thick silence pressed down on her, harder and harder, until she began gasping for breath as tears streamed down her pink cheeks. But she sat still, waiting.

Her husband’s heavy footsteps creaked against the floor, louder, louder, until they finally came into the room. She didn’t look away from her reflection, even when she felt his eyes boring down on her.

The only sounds she heard were the shuffling of his feet and the rustling of clothes hastily pushed into a suitcase. Ten delightfully agonizing minutes passed before his footsteps sounded in the hallway, then downstairs. Far away, in what seemed to her a different universe, the front door opened and shut.

He came back a week later only to pick up their obnoxious child.

So easy.

She was now alone on that house on the hill, where she would stay forever. The neighbor never came back to her door, never answered her calls again. Through her window she saw a new woman slink up to his house a few days after her husband’s divorce papers and custody confirmation came in the mail.

It was when she sat in the quiet living room a month after they’d gone that she first took notice of me, first came to terms with what I’d done to her.

That was the last day she looked in the mirror.

Usually humans can only see us when they are in an altered state of consciousness, such as meditation or drunkenness. She was just coming off of about a half a bottle of whiskey when she looked into that mirror above her cherry wood dresser.

She first stared at her sunken eyes. They used to be bright, sharp, knowledgeable. Now they were simple holes of azure. There were thick purple lines puffing out beneath them, framing a hollow, lost face. It is the look of a prey giving in to the energy drain. We dark energies relish it.

Her blonde Marilyn Monroe curls clustered in a mop on her head. She picked her brush through the knots, wincing every so often. And then she stopped. She sucked in a sharp breath.

I had been standing beside her the entire time, but only now had I appeared to her. I was a tall, black mass, skinny but formidable. I smiled at her. She screamed and threw her brush at the mirror, glass shattering everywhere. Blood intermingled with the shards on the ground. She cried out as the pieces pierced her bare feet and collapsed on the nearby bed.

It took a few hours of sleep for her to sober up, and when she did, she immediately covered every mirror in the house with linen, closing her eyes upon each undertaking, avoiding the sight of herself and of her predator feeding off of her just behind.

And she spent the next forty years in her house. She avoided mirrors during her rare expeditions into the inhabited world. This hunt had been a glorious success; her energy was so easy to drink.

But as with all kills, the food only lasts for so long. She tasted bitter now, the last drops of her strength were raw and practically useless. There was one last thing I could do to entice the remaining energy from her worthless bones.

I’d been putting the idea into her head for weeks by this point, making use of her perpetual shallowness while biding my time for the right moment, that perfect lighting. She wanted to see her face, see the withering skin and lifeless eyes once more before death.

The sun began melting away the fog; soon the clouds blew away and the sun warmed the dusty room. I smiled as I felt the presence of the young man. He was walking up the long driveway to our home, his energy markedly weaker from some heartbreak he suffered last week. It was all going perfectly.

She breathed in deeply, her rattling lungs filling the silent space. A moment’s hesitation before pushing herself up to her unsteady feet. She grabbed her cane and limped to the covered mirror by the downstairs mantel. She’d always loved that mirror, its gold frame curly-cueing around her once-perfect reflection.

Another breath in, air squeaking through her throat. I stood beside her, giddy for the final feast. The perfect puppet pulled down the dusty cream bed sheet. She looked at her wrinkled face and her gray, disheveled hair. A whimper whispered from her lips at the forty years of age that now reflected off the mirror. She closed her eyes, thin eyelids a sheath from the reality she was struggling to come to terms with. After a moment she reopened them and looked at me. Recognition laced her face: the prey accepting its inevitable death.

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