I stared at the mirror.
This couldn’t be the same face that had stared back at me for 26 years. Just a few days ago, it was the face of a young professional, content at home with her crime dramas on tv and a latte in her hand. Now, this same face was the granddaughter of a biblical figure who ruled Hell, daughter to a demon, kidnapped by some 500-year-old serial killer, and family to a plethora of snake people. No way we were the same person.
I looked away, not sure what I was looking at anymore. Dinner had been called and it was time to leave this room she had so graciously given me. My prison without locks or bars, but I had no escape regardless.
Reaching the bottom step of the sweeping staircase, I turned to where I remembered the dining room I had sat in just that morning had been. Derek appeared by my side just as I was headed in the opposite direction by mistake and steered me into the correct room.
This time, elegant place settings lay before each chair, complete with gold plated utensils surrounding the finely designed china. Derek held out a chair to the right of where Lilith had sat this morning, and I wondered who the rest of the seating was for. It occurred to me I had yet to see any of these demons eat or drink once. At the same time, I could see requiring a full table to be set every night and picked up unused, just for the show.
No sooner had Derek filled my crystal wine glass with a chardonnay did Lilith enter the room. Her olive-toned top flared into tulle sleeves gathered at her wrists. Her black silk skirt swirled and swished with each step. Only a single ring adorned her hands with its immense black pearl that seemed to negate all the light around it.
No matter what else, I had to hand it to her; she knew how to present herself. Every movement she did was calculated and intuitive at the same time. Never had I met someone that could make such elegance look so effortless. Here she was gliding in on 6-inch metal-studded stilettos, and I was still worried about the 2-inch heels on my own shoes for tonight.
The sound of Lilith's chair scraping on the marble tile at the head echoed along the walls as Derek pulled it out and he didn’t waste any time in filling her wine goblet with the same golden drink.
I took a tentative sip, relishing the smooth tartness, and asked, “Are we expecting more for dinner? Do your demon children normally just wait on you, or do they join you to eat?” There was that newfound curiosity now making me ask before contemplating who I was talking to. One of those children in question placed baskets of freshly baked bread and little dipping plates with olive oil and fragrant herbs swirling in each before both of us. Lilith hadn’t been kidding when she said she went all out for dinner.
“My children cannot eat food on Earth, so it's usually just me. Having company that can actually join me is such a treat I may have gone a bit overboard in place settings.” She sipped her wine, closing her golden eyes briefly in pleasure. I noticed when she reopened them that except for that moment after we first touched, they looked human once again.
“So what is it about the eyes? For everyone else, I see those snake eyes, but you, I have only seen it when we first touched. Why?” Derek came by, placed a bowl of creamy soup in front of me, and disappeared before I could thank him.
“My children can only change their appearance superficially, and you seem to be immune to the glamour. Mine are a part of me and physically change as I wish. When you do see them, it's because I intended for you to. I wanted you to see who I really am, no lies or hidden agendas. I am who I am.” She graciously grabbed her spoon and pulled the soup into her mouth. I hoped I wouldn’t embarrass myself and slurp as I tried my hardest to mimic her.
Even as a resident of Hell, her manners were impeccable and made me feel like a peasant. I took several spoonfuls of the soup, a potato and cheese explosion of flavor in my mouth, and I realized how hungry I really was. And whoever had made this, wow! For beings that couldn’t eat, they sure as hell could cook! Before I realized it, my spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl, and I almost pouted at the ending of such a delicious dish. But there was Derek again, removing my disappointment and replacing it with a spinach and mushroom salad. Sweet, plump raisins were tucked in between the dark green leaves with a balsamic dressing I would have killed to have the recipe for. Lilith knew how to serve a meal. I realized I was squandering my chance to ply her with all the questions about today’s revelations, but I found myself enjoying this gourmet meal too much to really care.
Very little could have ruined this. But of course, it seemed he was destined to ruin every meal for me because as I was about to take my last bite, Clyde sauntered in.
My appetite that had flourished just seconds below slithered out of my body and left a churning in my stomach. His aura of terrifying maniac hadn’t lessened any since the last time I had seen him, buried under my would-be guardian, with fists pummeling that greasy head of his. Every cell of my being screamed at me to not trust any intentions that this man had.
Derek pulled out a chair on the other side to Lilith, placing Clyde at her left and directly in my line of sight. He cocked his head at me with that creepy side grin, showing enough teeth to make me feel like I needed a shower. It didn’t quite reach his eyes, and I couldn’t help but notice his left one was beginning to bruise and swell. I wasn’t sad at all.
His hand still sported the bandage around his palm from the fork I had stabbed through it at our last encounter. I hoped it still hurt. It may have made me petty, but this man scared me in ways not even Lilith could.
He waved Derek to pour wine into his glass. Instead of the chardonnay we were enjoying, I noticed his was a deep red. It fit he would prefer something that had the dark tint of blood. He grabbed the stem while swirling the contents as he stared at me. “So, after all that, you still made it home. Should have just come with me the first time if this is where we would end up. Save me some trouble." He flexed the bandaged hand as example, “Though any chance to kick the shit out of that asshole you were with makes it all worthwhile.”
In one gulp, he downed the wine and waved insistently again for more. Quicker than even his attendance to me, Derek was refilling the glass. This time, Clyde snatched the bottle from him. “You know, it's a celebration tonight, so let me make this easier on you as we toast to our prodigal daughter’s homecoming!” With that, he raised the bottle over his head and proceeded to down the contents, his throat constricting with each gulp as he tilted the end until every drop was consumed. A sober Clyde was scary. I didn’t have the imagination for how utterly terrifying a drunk one could be.
I glanced over to Lilith to see her reaction to his vulgar display, more pronounced next to her cultured presence, but I found her raising her own glass in my direction. “To my lost granddaughter, once more by my side where she truly belongs!”
I couldn’t believe she didn’t have a problem with this. “What is he doing here? He threatened me with a knife to my ribs and has made sure to terrify me every chance he gets. He isn’t one of your kids since he is here eating and drinking.“ With that, Clyde held the bread he was tearing into aloft, justifying my words, ”Some warning would have been nice.”
My throat felt dry, and I reached for my own wine that I had intentionally not risen to either of their toasts. It helped give me the added fuel to confront Clyde. “What is your deal? You have only tried to terrify me at every turn. You deserved that fork in your hand, you psycho.”
I leaned back in my chair, fuming and internally wondering who the hell it was that had said all that. He deserved the berating, but to hear me have no hesitation in shouting at a guy who had tried to gutt me just a day before gave me pause. I still wasn’t sure if I would be allowed to leave, but if he was going to be here, I couldn’t stay under the same roof and feel safe.
“My issues go way back when your supposed savior ran my father and my mother through with his sword. He tried to kill me too, but she saved me. “ He waved casually in Lilith’s direction. “Oh, and my mum was his sister, so there’s that. It's just one big family squabble between us. You just happened to get caught up in it. I knew he wouldn’t let you go easily, so I figured I would explain later and threaten you so he wouldn’t fight back. But you turned out to be quite feisty. I like that.” His eyes narrowed at me and whatever he imagined behind those cold eyes caused me to shiver, feeling even dirtier than before. He saw my discomfort, and I could swear his pleasure grew.
“Does this make you as old as him?” Pretty soon, I would be requesting a bottle and a nap as the only one under a 100 around here, apparently. What hope did I have to outsmart all these beings that had had centuries to devise their plans and perfect their poker faces? If there had been an element here that I was out of, it was already lightyears away from where I sat.
I downed the rest of my drink, about to just concede defeat.
There was Derek again with a refill, and I went to grab my cup to empty it when it hit me that being drunk wasn’t going to help me, and the best thing I could do is try to keep a steady and clear head as much as possible. If my years of playing it safe had left any impression on me, it was to always plan 10 steps ahead. As it was already halfway to my mouth, I opted to barely dampen my lips with its contents and placed the full glass back on the table.
My salad had already been whisked away, and our main course now appeared before us. I couldn’t help but notice that three plates of perfectly cooked salmon on a bed of asparagus lay before us.
She knew he was coming.
This was all a plan to gauge my reaction and play me against her minions. I peeked at her out of the corner of my eye. She had leaned into Clyde’s ear, her head turned away from me, her whispers too low for me to catch anything. His own head bobbed in accord with whatever she had just told him, and as she leaned back in her own chair, Clyde raised himself up from the table and grabbed his plate. “Well, looks like I overstayed my dinner date, so I leave you two to catch up on your own family matters. I won’t bother you again, Eve. No hard feelings, but I have some other pursuits that need my attention. Good night.” He nodded towards Lilith, then myself, and came around the table and leaned into me before whispering, “Though if you get lonely, I wouldn’t mind paying you a visit tonight in your room and showing you exactly what really does excite me. I would love to find out how to make you scream my name.”
His hot breath on my neck caused my own to hitch in my throat. I found myself having to hold down my bile. He didn’t want me screaming in pleasure, that I was very sure of. The very realization made the little control I had maintained slink away, and before I thought about what I was doing, my palm connected with his face in a resounding slap that left an imprint on his cheek.
I waited to see the anger arise and wondered if Lilith would really protect me from this monster. Instead, he laughed as he rubbed his cheek. Of all the reactions, this one scared me the worst. He walked out with a grin that finally reached those maniacal eyes.
“Forgive his boorish behavior. His life has not been easy, and the grudges he holds are long. He is your typical male, prone to violence first and wits last. They can’t help it. But he is loyal to me, and loyalty is hard to come by.” Her words seemed sincere, but the calculating look in her eyes kept me from accepting anything she said at face value.
She was testing me, for what? I had no clue. I still didn’t know a fraction of what was going on, but I had to start playing this game if I planned to survive. “He is rude and an ass, and to say the crap he did to me is just gross, but you know him and his past better than I could. Men are definitely pigs and can’t help it.” With this, I held my glass aloft, finally returning the toast, and she met me with hers. If I could convince her I was still meek and simple, the better for me to figure out what the hell I was going on.
I barely touched my food after this, my appetite never returning from where it fled. But I made myself stay for the duration and make small talk. So many questions I still had running through my mind, but I had to look at the long con and gain the trust of everyone here first and let them see me as unthreatening as possible and tip their hands. She asked about my parents that raised me and listened intently to irrelevant stories from my childhood.
“What a wonderful family dinner this turned out to be, something I have never been able to have. Thank you for that. Now, you go get some rest, we will talk some more in the morning, and I would love to give you a proper tour of the grounds.” With that, she excused herself from the table, and I stood awkwardly, not sure how to say good night when she gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I hugged her back, feeling that surge, like goosebumps on the underside of my skin. They were not as strong as before and quickly dissipated as soon as we let go.
I was glad about that. Hugs for me were something I didn’t give easily. Truthfully, other than my parents and Mimi, I rarely wanted to touch people, let alone embrace them in such an intimate way. But I had a feeling that rejecting Lilith’s touch would be a catalyst to see her demon side.
I returned to the room, waiting to see what tomorrow would bring.
Carefully I locked the door and placed a chair under the knob, just in case Clyde really did decide he wanted to hear me scream.