Her eyes bulge out of their sockets. She’s breathing heavily through her nose because her jaw is clenched tight. That vein in her forehead is even going again. Thump, thump, thump, it pulses. She can’t seem to find the words to verbally accost me for my actions. That never happens. She’s a writer and a second-generation Grammar Nazi, words are her freakin’ life. I sit in the passenger seat, eyes defiant. Sneaking out to go to an impromptu rave over an hour away from home knowing she expected me to go to church in the morning, like we do every Sunday, probably wasn’t my brightest idea. But it was awesome.
The volcano finally erupts. “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!”
I shrug, nonchalant. “I was thinking a rave inside a greenhouse would be dope as fuck.”
She makes a sound somewhere between a scream and a snarl, her knuckles turning white as she grips the steering wheel. She hates when I cuss. She whacks me in the shoulder after each word, just to really emphasize every last one.
“How–” Punch– “Dare– ” Punch– “You!– ” Punch.
Then she dissolves into a puddle of tears. I look awkwardly at her but have enough sense not to blurt out that that didn’t hurt at all. It really doesn’t though. I don’t feel much of anything. She pulls off at the next gas station and buys an entire freakin’ bag of ice and a box of ziplocks, insisting through barely comprehensible sobs that I need to ice my shoulder. She doesn’t want me to have a bruise.
“I’m fine, Mom.” I say.
“No, you’re not. I can’t believe I hit you. I’ve never punched you before.”
She’s hysterical at this point. I roll my eyes and take a bag of ice, so she’ll shut up. Once we’re back on the interstate, she starts to boil over again.
“God, I can’t believe you, Nevaeh!” she says.
“It was fun,” I say tonelessly, shrugging.
She looks at me in exasperation and makes the sign of the cross, “I’m calling Father Bill! My daughter would never treat me like this. I can’t take this anymore; we need to cast Satan from you!”
I roll my eyes. “I’m not possessed, Mom. You’re being ridiculous.”
My mom has been telling me this story for most of my life. How I must have been possessed by a demon the year I turned four. Apparently, up ‘til that point, I was the ‘golden child,’ sweet, soft-spoken, kind, creative, agreeable, I could do no wrong. My name is Nevaeh, after all, she would say. Not even the terrible twos could mar my purity, just outright angelic perfection wrapped up in an adorable button nosed, rosy cheeked, golden-eyed, pint-sized package. Not until kindergarten did I become the surly, manipulative, detached, and devious creature I am now. She, being a devout Catholic, says, “demon.” I, being of rational mind, say I just finally developed a fucking personality.
The minute we walk in the door, she sends me to my room. I’m grounded, obviously. But she also shoves a massive Bible into my stomach as I pass her.
“Don’t come out until you’ve read this, missy.”
I exhale exaggeratedly, and trudge upstairs. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve read this stupid book from cover to cover. I’m not even sure why she gave me this, I have the exact same one in my room already. I slump into my bed and roll onto my stomach, groping around for my own copy of the Holy Bible which has slipped into the crack between my mattress and headboard. I had never retrieved it after falling asleep while reading the last time I’d been sentenced to this shitty punishment. I run my fingers over the gold lettering on the worn navy-blue cover and smile slyly. I flick it open and barely register the scent of musty, old pages before I retrieve the forbidden material stowed in the hollowed-out center of the good book. It’s a fascinating study on the practice of Ceremonial Magick. The means of summoning angels and demons is contained within these pages.
I’ve studied witchcraft and demonology for years. I don’t know if I believe in any of it, really, but I have had some pretty unusual experiences in my life. The auras I can see haloed around truly good people. Their brightness always makes me queasy. The way certain places in nature murmur secrets in my ear as I pass by. How I can sense if a crystal has life, and what energy its soul possesses, just by touching it. There’s the time we visited a cemetery, and a little girl with a red jump rope followed me home. Nobody but me could see her. The premonitions of disasters to come, like the devastating earthquake that hit Japan, the Columbine shooting, and the fall of the Twin Towers. The way sinister shadows sometimes moved across walls toward me even when all the light sources were still and the whispering that accompanies those shadows.
The most frightening experience in my memory is a night in between fifth and sixth grade. It was the summer I developed insomnia. I had stayed up late into the night reading and just as I was finally starting to yawn, the foot of my bed raised up into the air and stayed there. I felt the vibrations of a deep, guttural growling reverberating through my body. I looked around frantically, trying to see what was holding up my bed, but there was nothing there. In my mind’s eye I could sense more than see a clawed, monstrous hand holding the mattress up, but I wasn’t sure if that was just my imagination. The pounding of my heart and blood rushing through my arteries at an accelerated rate filled my ears creating a terrible racket in my brain. My voice was frozen in my throat. I was so petrified I couldn’t even scream for help. The corner of my mattress hung, suspended a foot and a half in the air, for what felt like an eternity.
Finally, it dropped back onto the frame with a dull thud. I could barely catch my breath as I pulled my body tightly into the upper corner of my bed. I stood up, slowly, pressing myself against the wall, before taking the biggest running leap I could muster in the direction of my door. I darted into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind me and locking it with fumbling fingers. I grabbed a couple of clean towels and made up a bed inside the bathtub. Why I thought I was safer in there, I have no idea. I tried to fight off the dreams that threatened to drag me into the ether where I sensed I would be less protected. But ultimately, I drifted into a fitful sleep.
Bang, bang, bang, “Nevaeh, you’ve been in there for hours! What are you doing? Are you sick, baby?” I woke with a start and patted myself down as if I was checking to ensure my body was still whole. I opened the door and rushed into my mom’s arms, a whirlwind of tears and tangled wisps of hair. I told her what had happened, panic rising in my chest as I described the events of that night to her.
She shook her head and said, “That’s a scary nightmare!”
I wanted to scream, ‘It wasn’t a dream, Mama, it was real!’
She hugged me and kissed the top of my head gently.
“Well you’re safe now, Featherwings.”
I huffed at her obvious disbelief.
My eyes narrowed resentfully at the use of my baby nickname, I hated being dismissed that way. She had never believed me when I told her about that sort of thing. You’d think someone that pious would be more willing to accept the supernatural, but she never was.
I drift aimlessly downstairs to see when dinner will be ready. My mom practically shouts at me, “Have you finished reading the Bible already?”
I snap back, “No-oooh, you know I’m a slow reader and it takes like, three days for me to read the entire Bible. I just wanna know if dinner is done yet?”
“Half an hour. Go shower while you wait. Father Bill is joining us, and you still reek of manure.”
“Gee, thanks.” I say. “Think I can talk to him about that time a demon levitated my bed and tried to enter my body before he performs the exorcism you surely requested?” My tone is a snotty, tangible thing that she tries to bat out of the air as she waves me off.
“Please,” she scoffs, “like there was any room for that demon when the other one had already taken up residency in your heart ages before!”
I laugh uproariously as I plod to the very bathroom I had hidden in all those years ago. I can hear her chuckle following me up the stairs. I know she’s mostly joking.
Steam creeps over the corners of the mirrors as I wash off the crusted remains of my makeup from the night before. I scrub at the Hollywood-Red lipstick that still clings to the edges of my lips. I catch a glimpse of my eyes in the mirror and see reflected back at me the image of a girl, maybe eleven years old, with ragged brown hair and amber eyes, beating her fists against the inside of my pupils. Sobbing, defeated, longing to break free from the prison of her own mind where I’ve locked her away nice and tight. I smile maliciously and wave my fingers slowly, teasingly back at her. She collapses in a heap of tears and mirth escapes between my lips in response.
I always wonder how nobody else seems to notice her there when I’m so acutely aware of her presence. Asmodeus had indeed fled when he sensed me within, biding my time in the recesses of Nevaeh’s soul, slowly chipping away at her defenses until her shield had dissipated enough for me to take full dominion of her vessel. She’s confined now, visible only in the reflection behind my eyes. Her mother has no idea just how accurate that last remark was.
“Shhhhhhhh,” I whisper with finger pressed to my lips, split in a wicked smile, as she writhes inside me.