She told me she had demons.
“We all have demons,” I told her.
“Hmm,” she said.
She looked at me for a long time without speaking. Until I felt uncomfortable. It’s hard to be looked at for a long time. Especially by someone you don’t know. But I didn’t move. I stayed there and got looked at and, I suppose, I looked back at her too. But it wasn’t the same. I looked away and looked back and looked down and looked back. She just looked.
She had long curly dark hair and a small mole above her lip on the left. She reminded me of someone from a music video I’d seen recently on one of those retro shows, but I couldn’t remember who it was. She wore a lot of bangles on each arm, silver and black mainly, with a couple of thin slivers of colour mixed in. Her earrings were black and silver hoops, not big, but not small either.
Behind us, I could hear terrible music, muted by the walls but still throbbing and pulsing and polluting everything around it. Behind us, it was Saturday night. Out here, it was any time.
She told me she had demons.
We were at a party, only we weren't. We’d both gone outside, and we’d both walked away, and somehow we’d come to be standing together by the woods behind the carpark. I’d recently given up smoking. Again. And more than anything in the world, what I wanted to do right there and then was to start smoking again. My ex had been inside, and dancing with some other guy, which I didn’t think I’d mind, but I guess I did. It made me want to smoke. But I had nothing to smoke. I had been walking, and I stopped walking when I realised I had nowhere to go and nothing to do. And then I noticed that I wasn’t alone. She was standing there, also on the edge of the car park, which was also the edge of the woods. We were on a narrow patch of grass which was a border between the two. She didn’t look sad, and she didn’t look angry, but she did look unhappy. It’s hard to explain.
“Hi,” I said to her.
She looked at me and looked back to where I’d come from, which I would learn was where she’d come from too. I thought for a moment that she was going to run away. “Hi,” she said.
She stepped towards me, off the mound she’d been standing on, and I realised that she was short. Really short. Maybe even not much more than half my height.
I know I’m tall. I’m just short of six foot eight. I’ve had “you should play basketball,” comments my whole life.
“You’re really tall,” she told me, looking up at me.
“Yeah,” I said, choosing not to comment on her height.
“It’s good,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said, because there didn’t seem a better alternative.
“Were you at the party?” I asked.
She looked back, following the route I’d just taken. I looked too. The windows glowed with the colours of the lights, flashing between blue and red and green, almost merging into a sickly purple glow. “I guess so,” she said.
“Why did you leave?” I asked.
“The party sucks.”
“It does,” I agreed.
“I didn’t want to come in the first place.”
“So why did you come?”
She shrugged. She was peering into the trees now as if she was waiting for something. “It wasn’t my idea,” she said, distracted.
“You came with friends?” an old story I was more than a little familiar with.
She glanced at me and smiled. “Yeah,” she said. “More or less.”
“Do you have a cigarette?” I asked.
She seemed confused. “Why?”
“I don’t have any.”
“Oh,” she said. “Why not?”
“Well…I guess I thought I’d beaten that demon.”
She tilted her head and looked up at me. “A demon?”
I told her a bit about the cycle of quitting and then starting and then quitting, and about Sharon, and after that, when she was still looking at me but not saying anything, I felt a little foolish and wished I’d just stayed quiet.
“I guess you didn’t like the party either?” she asked.
“I can’t imagine anywhere worse to be.”
“Then why did you go there?”
“I don’t know,” I told her. “I was invited and I had nothing else to do, so I went along even though I didn’t want to. Sad, right?”
“Not really,” she said.
“The worst thing is, the guy who invited me didn’t even come.”
She nodded. “So you came out here because of your demon?”
I laughed. “I guess so. And even that didn’t work out.”
“It’s difficult,” she said.
“Everything is,” she said, and then looked up at me
“That’s true,” I said.
And then she told me she had demons.
She told me she had demons.
They came out of the trees and stood before us. There were four of them, but shadows moved behind the tree line and there may have been more back there. The tall one, the tallest one, looked me up and down slowly, his long tail swinging, fingers like obsidian talons flexing at his sides. Smoke came from his nostrils along with a low growling sound.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “Just say hello.”
“Hello,” I said.
The tallest of the demons, who was taller than me, much taller if the horns count, nodded his head a little. I stepped back, worried about those horns. One of the other demons, dark red, on all fours, with jagged plates all over its back, came up to me like a curious dog. As it moved towards my hand, I let out an involuntary high pitched sound.
“It’s ok,” she said. “Let it sniff you.”
I didn’t want to, but I did. I tried not to let my hand shake as I extended it a little. I remembered the rule for horses and dogs, that you should keep your fingers straight and flat and together and I did my best to do the same. The red creature put its face right up to my hand. I felt hot air over my hand. It seemed like my fingers could smell how rank it was. A shiver tried to move through me but I fought it. “You can pat his nose, if you like,” she said, but I didn’t.
The other two demons looked like twins. They were stubby troll-like creatures, not much over a mature tall, but bulky, with big round, ugly, grimacing heads and what appeared to be a crown of bony lumps around their bald domes. They were a colour that was lurking in the margins where green becomes yellow. Or where yellow becomes green. They lurked behind the giant black demon, who seemed to reflect light, even though there wasn’t any light for him to reflect.
I took a half step backwards, but I didn’t run. I was thinking again about dogs, about horses. My cousins had had both when we were growing up and although I’d never taken to either, I’d learned the basics.
“They’re my demons,” the girl said, somewhat redundantly.
“Ok,” I said. I wasn’t going to argue.
She looked at the two troll creatures and then up at the big horned one. “Where’s Pal?” she asked.
The horned demon swished his tail from side to side, cutting the air with a shrill whistle. At that, more demons started to emerge from the tree-line. First among them was something like a bear, with thick fur striped black and dark blue. It had four eyes, two above and two below a huge mouth with tusk like teeth crossing up and down over its face. As it padded towards us, the mouth opened wide and a long forked tongue flicked out. It reared onto its hind legs and licked the girl’s face. “Easy Pal,” she said, waiting for it to sink down to a crouch so that she could ruffle the fur on top of its head.
There were flying demons now too, one with feathered wings and another with six large bat-like wings layered in pairs atop each other, creating a flapping image like nothing I’d ever seen. What I at first took to be a collection of large black rats turned out to be one creature connected by veiny bridges of flesh while it strained and scampered in different directions, pulling against itself.
I was lost and overwhelmed. Something was going on, that was for sure, but I had no idea what it was.
“What do you think?” she was saying to her demons. “Shall we go?” and then she turned to me. “Do you want to come with us?” she asked.
I didn’t. I really didn’t. But could I say that? “Where are you going?” I asked.
She lifted her arm slowly, her wrist limp, her head bowed slightly. It looked like a well practised movement and I could imagine her doing it again and again in front of her mirror until she got it right. Her arm stopped and her wrist flicked upwards with a jangling of bangles, her finger pointing straight ahead. She was looking from the top of her eye sockets through dangling hair. “To the party,” she said.
The demons started to move, passing her, and me as well, on both sides as she stood still, pointing. Pal, the freakish bear monster, stayed by her side.
I moved to the side until I came up against a car and leaned against it, watching the creatures moving towards the glow and the music. I thought about Sharon, inside, dancing with that ratty looking guy, the two of them grinding against each other. I could have tried to run in and warn her, and warn everyone. They weren’t moving that fast. I could have turned and run away. But my feet didn’t want to do either. I was torn between thinking about what was going to happen and thinking about anything, literally anything, else in the world.
“Hey,” said the girl, coming over to me with Pal. “It was nice to meet you.”
“You too,” I said, trying to keep my voice level and to keep eye contact.
“Yeah,” she said. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
I hoped not.
She patted Pal on the side and the two of them followed her demons across the open space in the middle of the car park. The furthest forward ones were already between the cars on the other side and would be at the door soon. The girl stopped and turned back to me. “Hey,” she called, halfway between nature and the party. “Don’t start smoking again. It’s not worth it.”