Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Demon Next Door (Part 2 of 3)

The flames in DJ’s eyes leap, but he just shakes his head. “Oh, it’s just the tv. I like horror movies.” He reaches back and opens the door. His smile is still friendly, but his voice has a new edge to it. “Would you like to come in?"

No. I don’t want to go in. But he’s got my best friend in there, and I came to save her. I take a deep breath and force my mouth to smile. “Sure."

DJ steps aside. "After you."

I walk through the door.

The funny thing about putting yourself in danger is that you don’t always realize you’ve done it until after the fact. That is, unless you know the guy standing next to you isn’t human. If that’s the case, you have, like, no excuse for the sort of reckless behavior that’s likely to get your soul sucked away. Then there’s not really anything funny about putting yourself in danger.

The inside of the Harmon house is just as manicured as the outside. All of the furniture is nicely maintained and positioned to make the room feel as roomy as possible. Airy colors accented with hard wood stained a dark brown that make the whole place look like it was plucked right out of a magazine. In fact, the only thing I see that looks out of place is the TV, which, true to DJ’s word, is vibrant with blood.

On the screen, an ill-fated heroine screams and runs through a dark house. Did I only imagine that scream sounded like Andrea? It’s far too early for the Harmon’s nightly horror, after all. Their scream fest doesn’t begin properly until the after the parents have returned at ten and it’s not even six-thirty. I can’t leave until I’m sure, though.

“Can I get you something to drink? Soda? Juice? Water?” DJ gestures toward what I guess is the kitchen, but is just as likely the direction to his lair for the innocents.

I shrug, using the movement to push my hands into my jacket pockets and clutch at the collection of items there. There are way too many sites out there with opinions on the proper protection from demons and I've taken notes from each. In one pocket, I have a small baggie of kosher salt, violets purchased from grocery store I pass on the way home from school, and two magnets stolen from the assortment on the fridge that I hope are made of iron. In the other are the items belonging to another school of thought, which is that demons aren’t afraid of items, but faith. We’re not the most religious family, but my grandparents found Catholicism late in life and did their level best to infuse as much of it into my life as they could. I’m thankful, now, I have a rosary blessed by the Pope once upon a time and I’m more ready than every before to believe it has power.

Just in case, I also grabbed my lucky pencil, which hasn’t failed me on an exam yet. But who actually walks into a demon’s place of all things demon-y with a rosary and an automatic pencil thinking they’re armed to the gills?

That’s right, I do.

“Sure, a soda sounds great,” I answer, winding the rosary through my fingers in one hand and crushing the violet in the other.

I follow DJ through the short hallway and into the picture perfect kitchen. No signs of Andrea or life really. If this were my kitchen, there’d be at least three cups stacked up in the sink and evidence of some frenzied foraging in the cabinets by me or my dad. It was the sort of thing mom gave up fighting long ago. “Crumbs,” she’d say, “are my décor.” But here there was nothing. Every countertop shines like it was just bleached and polished. Which, I suppose they have to do daily if they’re in here massacring the unsuspecting like Andrea.

DJ pulls two sodas from the fridge and places one in front of me. It occurs to me that the thin aluminum shell would be easy enough to puncture if he wanted to inject the thing with drugs or something less natural. This could be how he gets them.

I place my hands around the can, bow my head, and begin the only prayer I know. “Our Father, who art in heaven…” I say the rest as quickly and quietly as I can before popping the top.

DJ’s expression is amused when I look up. The flames in his eyes dancing like laughter. And even though I know what he is and how much he doesn’t belong in my neighborhood, embarrassment makes me blush. I’m pretty sure I got all the words right, but there’s something oddly uncomfortable about saying a prayer out loud alone.

“My family’s a little religious.” I offer both as an explanation and a warning. “I mean, more than a little. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been blessed by our Pastor. I’ll bet my blood could even kill a vampire. You know,” I add, laughing awkwardly, “if they existed or whatever.”

“Mmm,” he murmurs in answer and his voice is like the purr of a vicious wolf. Not that I’ve ever been close enough to a wolf to hear one purr, much less purr viciously, but I feel the comparison’s apt. “My family’s pretty religious, too. Faith makes a family stronger, don’t you think? Gives you an ability to see the world in a different light.”

“Yeah,” I answer, trying to ignore the little voice in my head calling me a liar. “The town, too. I know you’re new, but the whole town’s religious. We’re all pretty protective of our souls and such.”

I sound like an idiot. He’s going to know exactly what I’m up to and eat me alive. I’ll never even find Andrea if I keep this up. I need to figure out what I’m doing and do it. Fast.

“Do you mind if I put this in a glass?” I ask. “With some ice, maybe?”

“Sure.” DJ does what I was hoping he’d do and turns his too-beautiful-to-be-real back to me.

Quickly, I dig my cellphone out of my jeans pocket and press the power button. It lights up and I swipe the screen in a pattern so practiced I could do it blindfolded, which, thankfully, I’m not. A picture of Andrea wearing a stupid, pink tiara pops up to confirm the call is about to go through. I shove the phone back in my pocket just as DJ slides a cup full of ice across to the counter to me.

“Now, would you like to watch the movie with me or did you just come by to hang and be neighborly? Which, if that’s the case, then I’m glad you did. It’s about time we did.” When he smiles, the points of his teeth draw little lines over his lips. It’s hard not to stare.

I pour the soda over the ice, keeping my eyes on the flames inside his. He’s too smooth. Too good at playing this part. I think even if I couldn’t see the horns curling out of his head, I’d know something was “off” about DJ. No one is this good at everything. No one is this clean, this beautiful, or even this polite.

“Actually, I was looking for Andrea. She said she might be here this evening.”

“Well, I’m sorry to say she’s not here. I haven’t seen her since the end of school.”

Two things happen then, one right after another. First, DJ’s skin sort of shimmers and grays like it’s made of smoke. I stumble back, unable to keep my surprise quiet.

And second, the sound of the Andrews Sisters singing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” comes eking out through a plain white door to my left. Andrea’s ringtone.

“Well,” DJ says, frowning first at the door and then at me. His skin is once again too perfect but for the horns. “It seems we’ve both done a little lying tonight.”

Andrea’s song keeps playing and panic starts to claw its way up my throat. Why can’t she answer? There are only horrible reasons she wouldn’t be able to. I try not to picture her body, broken and soulless, but I can’t help but think I didn’t get here in time. I should have said something sooner.

DJ isn’t panicked. In fact, he’s smiling. “But your lies, Erica, were exactly what I was hoping for. Have I mentioned how happy I am that you stopped by?”

The ringtone stops abruptly. And that’s when it sinks in that DJ’s moved between me and the only way out of this sterile kitchen.

I’m trapped.

Come back Friday for the final piece by Lacey!

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