- 9 -

48.7K 2.7K 267

When I woke again, I did so without the pain or drama that'd plagued me the first time I opened my eyes.

Dawn had come and gone, replaced by the light of late morning piercing the blinds and sheer curtains over the window, and beyond my house I heard the thumping whir of the garbage truck picking up cans from the neighbor's curb. That made today Tuesday. Tuesday. Two days had passed since my sister lost her life.

I drew in a shuddering breath and turned my sore head, freezing when I spotted the—the demon seated on the carpet, leaning his back against the wall. He had a book of mine open between his hands, though I couldn't tell which in the poor lighting, the covers bent without care or attention. Blood stained his shirt's front.

I shot him. I shot a man in the chest and—and he lived.

Stilling, I feigned sleep and observed the demon through my lashes, wondering what he was doing and why he was in here. Fear drove my initial inspection of him in the kitchen; now I studied him with more intent, searching for horns or scales or similar deformity that would prove him to be other. He had hair the color of carmine, a deep red rendered black in appearance aside from where light filtered through its edges and revealed the crimson hue, cut short and carelessly mussed. His eyes, too, looked black, no longer bright and glowing and red like open pits looking down into Hell itself, his gaze roving over the page opened before him. The elements of his appearance seemed carefully chosen; either that or he saw a mannequin at an outlet mall and stole the clothes off its back.

I sighed and sat up, or tried to, anyway. I managed an ungainly half-slouch against the headboard, pained but not overwhelmed, body weak from lying immobile for hours on end. The creature watched my efforts with narrowed, mistrustful eyes.

Unnerved and wishing he'd leave the bedroom, I swallowed, then asked, "Where is my gun?"

"Why? Do you plan on shooting me again?"

"Possibly. You are a stranger in my bedroom, after all."

He sucked air through his teeth and sneered. "It's gone. Futile as the gesture may be, I don't actually enjoy being shot." The book shut with a snap, then landed on the carpet, the demon rising to his full, considerable height. "At least you're being amenable this time; it's the most I could hope for. I am in here because, after you made yourself sick all over my person—." The demon sneered again, and I knew I'd receive retribution for that eventually. "You hit your head on the floor. Again. I had to ensure you didn't scramble what little wits you've left."

I said nothing as I lifted a hand and prodded at my hairline until I found the fresh bruise. I guess it's too much to hope he'd catch me after I fainted. The demon picked the book up off the floor and returned it to the overburdened shelf by the bureau.

As he considered my library, seeming unimpressed by the selection, I considered him; a demon, the man labeled himself, a lowly demon. Often, in my literary studies, I delved into the mythologies of creation and otherworldly devils, fascinated by the dichotomy between good and evil depicted in Dante and Marlowe, Goethe and Milton.—the very same books he sneered at now. As a child, Tara used to read Nancy Drew while I horrified our mother by choosing Dracula and Frankenstein, but for all my curiosity, all my interest, I never once thought such beings true.

The demon selected a volume on contemporary art, flipped through the pages, then snorted with derision as he tossed it aside.

No, I hadn't believed in demons until I shot one in the chest and watched him dig out the slug with bored disinterest—and yet I hadn't ever thought I'd see my sister be murdered by madmen, either. Her screams would haunt me to my dying day, however near or far that time proved to be, and I felt nothing but unspeakable rage fulminating in my chest for the men and women who stood by and let her die.

BereftWhere stories live. Discover now