Jaila was, on all accounts, a sensible person. She didn’t believe in nonsense fairy tales and otherworldly beings. There was a time when she believed in Santa Klaus and wrote letters to him asking for a new bicycle or notebook, and nodded her head at his efficiency in getting them, but even when she got to know that it was but a ploy to make children behave, she merely appraised its effectiveness and continued writing the letters- only directed to her parents this time.
Indeed, Jaila didn’t think there was anything in this world that couldn’t be explained by science or natural phenomena.
She even ran a blog that uncovered the so-called ‘MYSTERIOUS SIGHTING OF UFO’ and ‘ALIENS EXIST??’ clips on YouTube and other blogs and laid them out for the conspiracy theories and fake news they really were.
Therefore, it only made sense that when she stumbled upon an assumed empty classroom occupied by a monstrous figure shooting flames out of its mouth, she calmly stepped in and closed the door behind her.
She frowned at the sight before her, and took her phone out and started recording. Placing the phone against the wall on the table beside her, she took a tentative step forward.
The monster did not seem to notice, and continued to spit fire at nothing in the direction of the window. It was an ugly creature, with a hunched back and ghastly protruding bones. It resembled a bear, one with claws larger than knives and a little less furry, perhaps. A leather-like brown covering seemed to be its skin, with tears spanning the back that seemed to have long since scarred over. The muscles in its arms bulged out, making it look lumpy and misshapen, and it pounced on the window sill, balancing its huge mass on beast feet.
Jaila wondered where the student- because the form wasn’t as big as an adult, so it must be someone her age cosplaying- had gotten such good material for making the costume and she wondered about the fire. She knew fire breathing wasn’t too hard to master, but there didn’t seem to be any heat coming from it. In fact, she could feel the cool breeze come in through the window. A hologram, perhaps?
Right at that moment, a chill erupted on her skin as icy hands wrapped their fingers around her arm. With a start, she looked up, and recoiled back when she found herself face to face with an apparition. Another hologram? But the solid feel against her hands felt real. It couldn’t possibly be a hologram, but she couldn’t explain the thing before her in any other way.
It was transparent, but not at the same time. She could see the monster through a grey haze, swivelling around as if caught by surprise, and suddenly, features that solidified in front of her, a grin?
She felt the cool slide to her back, as if hiding behind her, as the monster’s brutish face started to melt. Was this some kind of performance? She looked around, searching for hidden cameras that would display her on one of those shows that targeted humans for other humans’ entertainment, but only saw her own trusty mobile, still recording. She would play the video and figure out how they did it in more detail later.
She looked at back at the melting exhibit in front of her, face twisted in incomprehension and mild discomfort, as the monster’s misshapen face morphed into a sweet boy’s grin. A 15-year-old, red haired, pale boy, to be specific. Even stranger still was that when he waved his hand as if swatting a fly away, the chillness around her immediately disappeared.
He made a growling sound, something that seemed more likely to come from the monster’s mouth, and was completely out of place from the young boy in front of her. How was he even grinning while making the sound?
“Later, ‘gator,”. He translated for her – “Just, uh, told him that I’d see him later.” He grinned again, tucking his hands into his pocket- where did he get those clothes?- as if that would explain away everything.
Jaila wasn’t by any means ruffled, but she was a teeny tiny bit confused. For a brief moment as she called her brain out for betraying her, she wondered if he really wasn’t human.
Then she returned to her senses and coldly called out, “Nice performance. Consider me impressed.”
The boy, however, looked confused. “Um, thanks?”
Before Jaila could reply, he continued. “I’m surprised you aren’t scared though. Are you sure you’re not, oh, I don’t know, screaming inside or something? Because the last time a girl saw me like that, she screamed her head off and got the whole building in. I had to erase her memories and clear up that mess.” He scratched his head for a moment and continued, “Actually, I think the last five times that happened, it was a girl. You all are easily frightened, aren’t you?”
Jaila bristled at the insult to her gender, and retorted sharply. “And you guys seem to think that everyone is as dumb as you.”
She took a breath and turned back towards her phone to stop the recording. “Look, I don’t know who you are, although you seem to have been prepared for someone like me, seeing as you,” she gestured at the room and any devices that might be hidden in it, “set all this up to scare me, but I’m obviously not. Scared, that is. I won’t lie, it’s been a long time since I saw something so realistic, but you should’ve thought before you did this, you know.”
She switched the phone off and shook it at him. “Because I’ve just found content for my next blog.”
She smiled at the boy sweetly. “Oh yeah, nice to meet you. Jaila, professional blogger- about to humiliate you on the internet- at your service.”
She turned to the door to get out, but it proved to be locked. She jiggled the knob a few times before huffing and crossing her arms. She turned back to the boy, who was wearing an amused smile and leaning against the window.
“Jaila, is it? I’m Zeldris, call me Zel. My pleasure,” he nodded his head. “Jaila, why don’t you take a look at that video?” He said.
“Listen, I don’t have time for this, okay? If you hurt me, I can and will get you sued. Open the door.” Jaila wanted him to stop fooling around- she wasn’t some normal idiot who would fall for such cheap tricks.
Zel didn’t move. “Watch it just once. For me?”
Jaila glared at him and clicked the phone on. She stared at the screen, her brow furrowing deeper every second as she watched a blank clip of the empty classroom, before she snapped it close and looked at him with an expression that said “big deal”.
“Alright, so you hacked my phone somehow, or have some kind of jamming device in here,” she said, surprised at her own words. She knew this kind of thing wasn’t easy to do. Would someone just looking for entertainment go this far?
“The good news is, it doesn’t change a thing. I’ll find something else for my blog, and you’re still going to get sued to high heaven unless you open the door right this instant.”
She briefly considered asking him how he did everything, while trying to peek out the window for accomplices, but decided not to give him the pleasure.
She didn’t hear the click, but somehow knew that the door had been unlocked again. Someone standing behind the door then, she thought.
Zel’s eyes were glinting. He eased himself onto a chair.
“You’re free to leave, but I’d rather you stayed. It’s been a long time since I saw someone like you. A century, I think. Maybe we could talk a little?”
Jaila hesitated. She did want to get out of the place, but maybe that would make him believe that he had really frightened her? She was annoyed at his way of talking, as if he’d been alive for more than a century, but she figured it was a part of the charade. Maybe he’d drop it if she stayed and talked?
She took a chair herself.
“Alright, I’ll bite. How’d you do it?”
“Oh, you know, simple powers. Any young demon could do that. We transform very early, a couple decades or so.”
Jaila sighed. “Oh lord, give me patience,” she muttered.
“Your Lord doesn’t exist. I’d have thought you knew that,” Zel said.
Jaila stared at him blankly. “He doesn’t, what? I’m not Catholic. I don’t believe in- oh, never mind. It’s just an expression, for god’s sake.” She frowned at him.
“How long are we going to play this? I have to spell it out for you, don’t I? Alright. I know this is all a show. Very good performance. Five stars. Now can we end this?”
If possible, Zel looked even more amused. “So, you think this is a charade? That explains it. Otherwise you would’ve run away just like the others.”
For the second time, before Jaila could respond to that, he continued, spilling a ton of information, eyes lit up.
“But you somehow don’t seem like a person who would get rattled easily. We don’t have rules or anything, but I’m pretty sure none of us has ever befriended a human, or showed them our true form even if we had.” He thought for a second before saying, “It won’t harm to try.”
In a split second, the boy before her was replaced by a familiar monster.
Jaila took a sharp breath, as the monster spoke with Zel’s voice. “Are you scared? I really hope you’re not. It’d be fun to hang out with you. Playing with the other spirits and demons gets violent more often than not. You’re not scared, right?”
“I’m not scared. I’m tired of this. I have to be home before it gets dark and no amount of putting on your costume- or whatever that thing is- however absurdly fast, will change my mind. Can we please stop this? It’s getting ridiculous now.”
Jaila got up from her seat, intending to go, but found herself unable to take another step.
She glared at him. “This counts as harassment. Trust me, you do not want to spend your life looking through bars. Let me go, right now.”
Jaila wasn’t showing it, but her heart had started to beat very fast. She didn’t understand what was going on – few weeks more of using logic to slam stupid theories and writing deprecating interviews of people who believed themselves to have glimpsed something of the unknown would have prepared her for this. She didn’t even care if she solved this anymore. She wanted to get away.
Zel didn’t budge. He flicked his fleshy hand up and Jaila moved up along with it, floating in the air. She gasped, as the phone slipped from her hands and fell on the floor. It was surely broken, but Jaila wasn’t worried about it at the moment.
“Whatever you’re doing, stop it!”
“Oh, don’t get like that.” Zel grinned at her. “This is the least of what I can do.”
Zel got up from his chair, his hideous form in its full glory, and raised both his hands, presumably to perform something even more amazing, but before he could do it, a familiar cool breeze floated into the room and the milky white apparition Jaila had seen before came flying in and tackled Zel to the ground.
It broke his concentration, and Jaila fell, released from his control, and hit the ground with a thud. Her head shook with the force of the fall, but before she could sense more of the pain or the sticky substance that seemed to be coming out of her head, everything went black.
When she awoke, Zel was crouched on the floor beside her. He was back to being a boy. He seemed to be muttering something about spirits who wouldn’t listen and leave him alone. He leaned back as her eyes fluttered open, with an ‘about time you got up’.
Jaila’s thoughts were still foggy, and she asked: “How long was I out?”
“Three whole minutes! Your constitution is absolutely terrible.”
Jaila knew there was something wrong in what he’d just said. She dimly recalled hitting her head and, dying? As her memories came back, she sat up fast, surprised when her head didn’t pain. She looked behind her, but there was no blood or mark to show where she had fallen.
“What did you do to me?”
“Oh, not much: only healed you and possibly prevented your death.” He smiled cheerily.
“It was your fault I fell in the first place! Did you lose control of your mechanism or—?” She paused. “Wait. That ghostly thing- what was that? And- heal- me? How did you—?”
Zeal sighed. “I thought you’d be brighter. Well, I’ll settle for what I’ll get. If this thing goes well, of course.” He paused before explaining. “I’m a demon. Monster, devil, whatever. Demon I might be, evil I’m not. So, don’t get worried I’m going to eat you or something. I even healed you! If that’s not a show of good faith, I don’t know what is.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t be...” Jaila trailed off. She didn’t want to believe it. She knew the past few minutes hadn’t been a hallucination- there wasn’t the accompanying sluggish feeling or shiny effect that usually came with inhalation of drugs. That meant she had hurt her head, and this- this demon had healed her? She couldn’t believe it.
“Do you want me to hurt you and do it again?” He asked wryly. “Would that convince you?”
Jaila hastily crawled away from him.
“Ah, the fear. Here it comes. Run away, will you? Then I’ll have to chase you down and erase your memory.” He got up. “Well, this was a waste of time.”
“No, wait...” Jaila didn’t know what she was doing. “Show me... something else. Anything else. Th- that doesn’t involve lifting me up.”
Zel looked at her. His stare seemed to bore through her skin. “Okay.”
In front of Jaila’s disbelieving eyes, the atmosphere outside changed. She rushed to the window as the clouds started to darken and just put her hand out as the first raindrops struck her skin.
Now, Jaila was, by all accounts, a very sensible person. She took down posers on the internet who claimed to have been abducted by aliens and revealed elaborate farces for the sham they were. She believed in only what she could see, whittled down to its barest truth, and here, right in front of her, she was seeing something that while highly improbable, was happening. That meant that it was real. The only possible conclusion was that Zel was telling the truth. Which meant Zel was a demon- one of many, if she recalled their conversation correctly.
Jaila turned back to him. “I believe you.”
Zel appraised her. “And, you’re not scared.”
He considered that for a moment before exclaiming, “You’re not freaking out! So, it worked? Awesome!”
Jaila took a step forward. Her mind had accepted the fact, but she still needed an explanation. “But you’re still going to explain to me exactly how you- you are and how your species exist and how you have these powe—"
“Of course, of course, my new friend! All in good time. But more importantly,” he grinned at her. “Can you keep a secret?”
Jaila recalled him mentioning something about frightening other girls like her before and raised her eyebrow.
“I don’t think it’s me you have to worry about. Now, can we talk about—?”