JOSHUA MADE ONE mistake—he put his hand too close to my teeth.
I bit down. Hard. Soft flesh squished under the pressure of my jaws. Skin broke. I tasted blood.
"Fuck!" Joshua shouted. His grip loosened for a second as he recoiled in shock.
I squirmed and twisted out of his grasp, spinning around to face him. I wound back and kneed him right in the crotch.
"Fuck! You little shit!" He coughed, grimacing and doubling over in pain.
Without thinking, I spun around, grabbed the door to the cage and swung it shut. The sound of metal crashing against metal echoed through the house as the bars shook. The creature screeched in response, like an enormous bird crying into the night.
I hit the lock button on the door. The mechanism slid into place with a dull clunk. I had no idea what that thing was, but what I did know was that I wanted it to stay down there.
It ascended the stairs, inching closer and closer to us. Its dark blue eyes sparkled, and its blood splattered teeth shone. It clicked its jaw open and closed. Its bat-like wings twitched, goo dripping off of them.
Suddenly, an arm grasped me around the waist from behind. I instantly reacted like a spider had crawled on me, prying at the hand with my nails. The grip loosened for a second, and I ducked, slipping out of Joshua's grasp. I darted to the far side of the room, ducking under the chandelier in the center. My feet slipped on the dusty wooden floor as I skidded to a stop. My bad ankle pulsed in pain.
I turned around to face Joshua, pressing my back to the wall. My heart slammed against my chest. My swollen eye throbbed, and my right wrist crunched and shifted inside my skin with each movement I made. Blood dripped onto my hand. I didn't want to pull back my sweatshirt and see how bad the injury was. I heaved and gasped, trying to catch my breath.
I spat blood onto the floor.
Joshua grinned at me menacingly. His eyes narrowed as he slowly inched toward the only exit to the room, blocking off my chance for escape.
"What the fuck is that thing?" I asked, still gasping for air. My entire body shook and shivered. My head spun in a daze.
"Why, she's your daughter, Harper," Joshua chuckled lowly.
"Shut up!" I ran my left hand along the old, peeling wallpaper, my right one hanging uselessly at my side.
"Aren't you happy to see her?"
"It isn't possible!" My eyes darted around the room, searching for any other method of escape. Anything that might be useful. Where was the gun?!
"Think about it," Joshua said. "That Friday night when I gave you a ride home from the bar... you have some blank spots, don't you, Harper?"
"No, no, no, no, no," I repeated myself over and over, shaking my head. "That was only two and a half weeks ago. It isn't possible. It isn't possible."
He laughed and took a step closer. "Yes, well the gestation period of a demon is quite a bit... shorter than that of a human, as it turns out. Devils grow quickly. Very quickly. Quite uncomfortable for the mother, unfortunately." He shook his head in mock sympathy.
"You're sick!" I spat at him. "That thing isn't mine!"
"Well, I suppose you are partially correct with that. There probably isn't that much of you in it. You were so drunk, after all, I don't think all of the Viagra in the state of New Jersey could have gotten you up that night." He paused for a second. "Luckily, demonic possession is a bit more... potent."
My eyes stretched wide and my heart slammed against my chest over and over again. My breaths came short and empty of oxygen, like I was drawing in water. My vision faded to black for a second before returning. My head spun, and my stomach rolled. It was like the floor was dropping out from under me, and I was falling into nothing.
Suddenly, Joshua darted towards me. I sucked in a gasp of air and ran in the opposite direction, ignoring the pain surging through my body. Quickly, he shifted on his feet, heading the other way. I skidded to a stop, my bad leg twisting painfully and slowing my turn. I backtracked, using the low hanging chandelier as a barrier. We were like children chasing each other around a sofa in a sick game of tag. Joshua switched directions again, and I took my chance and dove under the light fixture.
I wasn't quick enough.
Joshua lunged at me like a football player, and we both fell to the floor, him on top of me, pinning me down. My body shuddered in pain on impact. He pressed me down with one hand, and then he drew his fist back behind himself and slammed it into the side of my face. Pain shot through my skull, and I squirmed and shook in fear. Warm blood welled up in my mouth, coating my tongue and teeth in a sticky metallic goo. Tears flowed from my eyes.
Joshua was winding up to punch me again when a high-pitched screech erupted from the basement. The entire room shook. The entire earth shook.
The chandelier shook, threatening to let go and fall on top of us.
Joshua paused. "She's hungry," he said, lowering his fist. Instead, he grabbed me by the back of the neck, right below the base of my skull. "The ritual of birth must be complete. The immediate family must be sacrificed. She needs her second kill—her second meal." With one hand, he yanked me to my feet. Ducking out from under the shuddering light fixture above us, he shoved me towards the basement door. "No more fucking around."
I dug my feet into the floor to stop myself, but he was stronger. He pressed me forward, and we inched closer and closer to the door. I swung my left hand around and tried to squirm out of his grasp, but he wrapped his other arm around me from behind, pulling me into his body and pinning my arms to my sides.
"Fuck you!" I shouted, jerking my head to try to break free from his grasp.
"Shut up!" he yelled. We reached the door to the basement, and he pressed my face up against the cold metal bars. He pinned me to the cage with his side as his other hand fumbled with the lock. The devil clicked her jaw open and closed. She crouched at the top of the stairs, her hot breath covering me, stinking of rot and death. Her fleshy tongue slithered out of her mouth like a snake, licking blood from her teeth. I shuddered.
"Last time there was a mistake... last time it got away..." Joshua muttered. He accidentally punched in the wrong code. The lock beeped but did not release, and a red light flashed once. He cursed under his breath. "But not this time. This time, I'm going to raise her properly."
He began to punch in the code again. My eyes darted around the room in a panic. My heart pounded in my chest. Where was the gun?!
Suddenly, something glinted in my line of vision. Joshua's back pocket! He'd had the gun all along. With one last push of strength and adrenaline, I broke my left arm free. Before Joshua knew what had happened, I swiped the gun from him. He pressed the final button on the combination and the door released with a beep. As the bars slowly swung open, I adjusted the gun in my hand, and then, I pulled the trigger.
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