On Demon Wings / Page 28

Page 28



Unreliable.

Unwanted.

Unloveable.

She continued to make small talk about my last paycheck and saying goodbye to Ash and Juan and something about keeping the uniform if I wanted but it was all in one ear and out the other. None of it meant anything to me.

I just turned and walked out the back of the store, into the cloud-laden day that felt as heavy as my heart, leaving another attempt at a normal life behind me.

“Perry, what’s wrong?” my mother cal ed out as I streamed past her on the staircase and went straight for the bathroom. It was the only room with a lock.

“Nothing,” I cried out through the door, even though I knew she saw my tear-smeared face and could hear the hoarseness of my throat.

I heard her turn and come up the stairs, pausing outside the bathroom. She was silent but you always felt the presence of your mother. She was listening, trying to piece together just how damaged I was.

I sighed and sniffled as she rapped softly on the door.

“What happened?” she asked.

“I said nothing!” I shot back, glaring at the door and imagining her face on the other side. My patience was gone. “I just want to be alone.”

“Wel , all right, pumpkin.”

Pause.

“Don’t do anything stupid.”

Don’t do anything stupid? What the hel did she think I was going to do?

“I’m going to take a bath, mother!” I sneered. I wasn’t planning on it but one glance at the tub, and I imagined floating away in a bed of hot bubbles - and it seemed like the only thing worth doing. While I was in here, with the door locked, no one could hurt me. I could be alone. And I alone could agonize over what I was going to do with myself.

She didn’t say anything to that and while I walked over and ran the taps, I felt her leave the door and go somewhere else in the house.

I exhaled loudly and then stripped off all my clothes, piling them on the floor. I was glad Ada was at school and I could hog our bathroom without her pounding on the door and demanding I get out. Though lately, Ada was trying her best not to annoy me. After everything we’d gone through together, me being the messed up teenager, her being the fussed-over perfect child, she was stil on my side. She cared. She real y did.

That’s something, right? I thought to myself. It was something but my ability to care about nice things and make myself feel better was put on hold indefinitely.

I grabbed a bottle of lavender-scented body wash and poured it into the hot running water in little spurts, until the tub was fil ed with a calming, glinting, froth. When it was just hot and ful enough, I shut it off and stuck my foot in. It was a little too hot but I was in a masochistic mood.

Lowering myself in, I took in a few deep breaths, happily distracted by the scorching water that was turning my skin a bright pink. I took it slow and soon I was submerged in floating numbness. I rested my head against the cool tiles behind me and closed my eyes.

I was trying to focus on nothing at all ; I just wanted empty spaces and empty thoughts. I wanted to not exist for a little while. But I couldn’t turn off my brain, which was running around at breakneck speed and tripping over itself. I was bombarded with images, the scenes of what had happened with Shay. Then what had happened when I was fired from my last job at all ingham and Associates. And then it was finding out my col ege boyfriend, Mason, had cheated on me, fol owed by just about everything to do with high school.

The girls who cal ed me fat, the boys that laughed at me, the teachers who were afraid of me. The nicknames I had.

The number of times I ate alone in the library, sneaking in chips past the librarians when they were busy. I saw Jacob’s face before he died. I saw Jacob’s face after he died. I saw the way he haunted me, the way he warned me about the other side. I saw Dr. Freedman’s calmly disbelieving face as I told him the truth of what happened.

Then, abruptly, I saw faces I didn’t recognize. Random people, old and young, white and black; the only thing they had in common was a look of terror. Their mouths flew open, saying – screaming – something I couldn’t hear and they whirled past me in a vision of haunting realism, ten, then hundreds, then thousands until there was nothing behind my closed eyes except blackness.

And one singular face in the darkness that started out as a blurry speck and came closer and closer, the edges of cheekbones bleeding out like black oil against deep space. A grin as welcoming as a rusted rake. Eyes that swarmed with red hurricane clouds.

This face of a monster was laughing, silently.

At me.

And I couldn’t breathe.

Warm liquid pierced my nostrils. My nose had dipped below the waterline.

I raised my head and opened my eyes to the harsh bathroom light, sputtering. I had almost fal en asleep in the tub. Or had I already been asleep? My heart was pounding wildly in my ribcage. I could have died. After all this, what a way to go.

I composed myself and pressed my hands on the bottom of the tub until my shoulders were safely above the water, the remains of bubbles clinging stubbornly to them like cartoon dandruff.

How long had I been out ? My skin was pruney and a greying pink and only a few tufts of bubbles remained floating in the oily water, which was cooling fast.

I wasn’t ready to face the world yet. I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready. I leaned forward and turned on the hot water faucet, prepared to stay in the bath forever.

The tap shuddered and gave off a strange, metal ic grinding noise that shook the blue and white tiles around me.

But no water flowed. It was dry.

I twisted the knob further.

Stil nothing.

I started to wonder if perhaps my parents were having plumbing work done to the house, when a terrible sound - that could only be described as a scream - emerged from behind the faucet fixture, fol owed by a weird scurrying noise.

I instinctively inched away from it until my back was flush against the tub.

A drop of water dripped out, creating a ripple on the water.

Then a black, moving drop; a tiny spider. It also created a ripple, but instead of floundering in the water, it moved its little legs in a hurry, as if it were swimming toward me.

“Oh, ew,” I cried out softly, and began to splash it in the opposite direction.

Another shudder shook the whole bathroom. Someone, somewhere laughed.

Suddenly, black water gushed out of the tap, flowing so fast and strong that I was frozen in shock.

Frozen until I realized it wasn’t water, but spiders.

Hundreds, thousands of baby black spiders that were rushing out, streaming into the bath with me, cutting through what was left of the bubbles with their scurrying, writhing bodies. Each one was no bigger than a freckle, but united they created a squirming blanket of horror.

I screamed. I just screamed bloody murder until the bathroom shook and tried to get out of the tub. My feet and hands slipped wildly beneath me and the spiders were making their way up my arms, my torso, onto my shoulders, my neck.

I splashed and screamed until spidered water fil ed my mouth, then slapped myself sil y along my stomach and legs and chest. They popped and squished under my hands, leaving behind a burst of fresh pain, like they oozed stinging acid goo that clung to me like their flattened bodies. I twisted around, wildly, blindly, and when I couldn’t find my footing, I flung myself over the edge of the tub and flopped onto the bathroom floor like a slab of meat.

One quick glance at the bathtub was all I needed to see; it was fil ed to the brim with the evil arachnids that never stopped flowing out of the tap. They trickled over the side in charcoal streams against porcelain, stil heading for me like an unstoppable army.

They were up my nose, in my mouth, in my hair.

Everywhere.

I heard my parents cal ing my name, the door handle jiggled. I scrambled to my feet, stil making some horrible kind of gurgling scream.

“Help me, help me!” I screeched, and threw myself at the door, pounding on it with my fists until they were bruised and tenderized.

“The door, Perry, let us in,” my dad yel ed, but I kept throwing myself against it, trying helplessly, foolishly to get out. I didn’t want to look behind me. The bathroom shuddered again and it sounded like the world was being torn apart.

With my back against the door and spiders stil clinging to my bare skin, I turned and saw the tub breaking up at the bottom, the drain becoming a wider and wider hole until that’s all there was; a fathomless, dark fissure to nowhere.

Two human-sized spider legs, three-feet long each and coated in coarse black hair, crept out of the opening, wrapping over the edge of the tub. They clung to the wet porcelain, and with straining joints, tried to pul up whatever was left in the hole.

I didn’t want to see what that was; I knew there’d be six more legs to fol ow.

I grabbed the door knob and throttled it harder, then finally remembered that I had locked it. I pushed the button in and the door was thrown open by my parents, who were looking at me in utter shock.

I col apsed into my mother’s arms, total y naked and wet and cried into her shoulder, “Get them off me, get them off me!”

“Calm down, Perry,” my father said, and I felt his hand on my head. Seconds later he had a towel and was wrapping it around me.

“What happened?” my mom asked, sounding near tears herself. “What happened to you?”

She held me back at arm’s length and I clutched at the towel at my chest. She gasped as she looked over my limbs.

I nodded and said, “I know, I don’t know what…they just all came at me, I…”

“What did you do to yourself?”

“What?” I asked, and fol owed her gaze down.

I wasn’t covered in spiders. I was covered in numerous scratches, all forming Xs in bleeding, swol en abrasions.

My head spun. I looked up at my parents. I looked over their shoulders at the bathroom. The tub was intact, the water filmy but empty, the bathroom floor was wet but bare.

There were no spiders.

There never were any spiders.

And I had been scarred with Xs.

“I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t know, I didn’t do this, I didn’t.”

I didn’t, right? How could I have, I was taking a bath. A bath with spiders that magical y disappeared.

But I’d never hurt myself; I hadn’t done that since I was 15.

“We’re making an appointment with Doctor Freedman,”

my mom said briskly. “Tomorrow.”

I hadn’t seen Doctor Freedman since I was 15.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The last thing I remembered after the bathroom scene was my parents taking me to my room and trying to get me in bed. They wouldn’t listen to what I said about the spiders, they wouldn’t believe me when I said I didn’t make the Xs on my body. They didn’t listen and I got angry and threw the book on demonology at my dad.

It nearly hit his head, and when he picked it up and read the title, he went whiter than snow.

I’d say I didn’t mean to throw the book. That I was acting without thinking. But part of me wanted to hurt him. Bad enough so that he would see how serious this was. And I wasn’t joking.

Then Ada was at my side, trying to placate me with tears. It must have worked because a few hours later I came to again. My mother gave me several yel ow pil s, anti-anxiety drugs, and all three of them watched me as I took them, then watched me as I relaxed in bed and watched me as I fel asleep into a lucid dream world.


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