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Cindy Miller's Daemons

[NOTE: Textual discrepancies due to edit of the original text. I think this version's a little better. Eventually I'd like to edit all of old stories like this one.]

Cindy Miller’s Daemons You know how in kindergarten, how there’s free time and you’re playing with the cardboard blocks or whatever, and you can play with whoever you want because everyone’s friends? But then, by the start of first grade, all those kids already have their groups? They’re not called “the preps,” or “the dorks,” or “the jocks” just yet, but they will be. And it’s really not fair to make someone so young choose who they’re going to be at such a young age. And they are choosing, because odds are that you will be a part of that group until the end of high school. Probably longer. Because these people will change you. No, you will change yourself to please these people. Humans hate change, humans hate being alone. I didn’t want to be alone. If the me from kindergarten met the me from fifth grade, or middle school, or high school, I don’t think she would recognize herself. In fifth grade, she begged her mom to buy her a training bra, even though she clearly didn’t need it, just because her friends were wearing them. In middle school, she laughed at other girls to make herself feel better about the fact that she no longer knew she was. In high school, she pushed herself past her limit with AP classes and track and student council and friends and parties and boys, because that’s what all of her friends were doing. She didn’t realize that she was killing herself. It all ended with chemistry. Doesn’t everything? Hopes, dreams, the essential composition of your very being? I had insisted on taking it a year early because, say it with me now: ‘all of the friends were.’ My councilor strongly advised against it, math and science had never been my forte, but did I listen? Of course not. And then later, when I was struggling with the course material did I ask for help? Of course not. Why would I? To ask for help would be to admit my own weakness. So, when the end of second semester drew near, I began panicking. A B-minus. I had a B-minus. I had never had a B-minus before. Ever. I was about to bid farewell to my 4.0. The only thing I could think of to do was suck it up and grovel to the teacher. And I did. I went back to his class after school had finished for the day and begged. “You took this class too early,” he said. “You didn’t ask for help,” he said. “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.” I tried everything. Asked to retake quizzes, do extra credit. I’m ashamed to say that I even offered something that no one of my age should have. But there was simply nothing to be done. And in that moment, I saw my future flash before my eyes. Goodbye 4.0, goodbye Harvard, goodbye Brown. In twenty years I’d be three-hundred pounds, married to a washed-up loser with five kids, and working at a gas station. But worst of all, I kept seeing the gloating faces of my friends at the inevitable class reunions, watching them with their handsome husbands, stylish clothes, and beautiful lives, and me, standing there wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten that B-minus in chemistry. To most people it might not seem like a big deal, and looking back on it now, it really wasn’t. But to sixteen-year-old Cynthia Miller? To her, that grade was the world. I don’t remember much about my father. My mother finally got away from him when I was five, but from what I do know, he was... a rather violent person. I sometimes wonder how much of that I inherited, because something came over me then. To this day I don’t quite know what it was. But I suddenly felt a strange emotion. My face was hot, my clenched fists were shaking. I was so close, so close to being done with high school and onto better things, and this man was the only thing standing in my way of that. You know those dumb intrusive thoughts that pop up in your head sometimes? Well, at that moment I got one of those, but I was so entirely upset that without consciously deciding to, I acted upon it. I saw the bottle of miscellaneous chemicals just sitting on a vacant lab table and smashed it over my chemistry teacher’s head. The bottle, apparently, contained a unique set of substances that shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near a high school classroom. How they got there, I’ll probably never know. Maybe it was a student experimenting after hours, maybe there was something more sinister going on there. Now I think that it just might have been placed on purpose. But in that moment, those thoughts didn’t even cross my mind. All I could do was stare, frozen, as my chemistry teacher’s face melted. I really don’t want to describe what happened to him then. Sometimes in the dead of night I can still see it behind my closed eyelids, and sometimes the pain of what I’ve done feels so strong that I think I can’t even be human after doing something like that. That chemistry teacher had done nothing to me, after all. But right then I was in shock, I guess, and panicking. The only thing I could think was that someone was going to realize that I was the last person who’d seen him alive and figure out what I’d done. Forget the gas station, I’d be in jail for the rest of my natural life. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know where to go, and I couldn’t look away. That was when I met the daemon. “That’s quite a mess you’ve made there, young lady.” He whistled, leaning against the doorway. In one hand he held a mop, and looked for all the world like one of the school’s janitors, but I had never seen this man in my life. I probably should have run, should have done something, but all that happened was that my legs gave out from under me, and I collapsed onto the tile floor like a worthless lump. “Please.” I wheezed out pathetically. “Don’t tell anyone! I-I’ll do anything!” “Anything, hmm?” the man chuckled. “That’s good, hold on to that feeling. But don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.” “Who the hell are you?” I stuttered out as my breath caught in my throat. He took a step into the room, and closed the door behind him. “Ahh, maybe I should have opened with that. I’m a friend, I can promise you that. You can call me Cowell, and I just might be the only person who can help you out of this little... accident.” “How? Someone’s gonna waltz right in here any minute and find the body and then... oh god, I’m gonna go to jail. My... my life is over.” “Alright, I want you to take a deep breath. Relax! Everything’s going to be fine. Now, you might want to brace yourself, because this is going to get a little strange. What if I told you that I could help make this all go away, that I can help get you that perfect life you’ve been dreaming of? All I ask is something of yours in exchange.” “What are you, some sort of demon? Like, from Hell?” He adjusted his square glasses further up his nose. “Hmm, well, not really Hell, per say, more like a nightmare space between realities where the bones of dead civilizations rot for all eternity, but close enough, I suppose. Now, about that deal.” Obviously any person in their right mind would at the very least have to think for a moment about the implications of what this strange man had said, but I at the time was a hysterical teenager. “You want something from me? Like what? I’ll give you anything.” “Hmm... I want... your subjectivity.” “My what?” “Your point of view. The rose-tinted glasses through which you view the world.” Though I had no idea what that really meant, I simply nodded my head. “Fine. Sure, whatever. Just please help me.” I’m going to lay this out here right now: I was a fucking idiot. I’m utterly certain about that, because now I can’t see it any other way. We sealed the deal not with me signing in blood or anything like that, but with a simple handshake. Then he handed me a book. Liberis Decipis,” the cover read. “Book of the Deceived.” I’m sure he thought it was ironic. “What the hell is this?” I asked, looking down at its tattered leather cover. Cowell just shook his head, and picked up his mop. “I never said I would fix it for you. Just that I would help.” He turned and sauntered over to the door. “It’s all in there, just read the book. I’ll be back to collect my payment as soon as its proven useful.” And with that, he was gone without another word. I ran out the door after him, but Cowell had simply disappeared. I somehow made it home without being seen, the book tucked under my arm. I locked myself in my room, threw the gross thing onto my bed, and began to read. It was very old, very large, and written by at least a dozen different hands. Some were in Latin, some in English, and some in a language that I didn’t even recognize. I also quickly discovered that it was a grimoire... full of spells. And not the kind of stuff you see in the newest teen fiction where you wave a wand and cool CGI effects happen. That’s all bullshit. Magic is not flashy, and it’s certainly not easy. No, this was the old kind of magic where you have to do a certain thing at a certain time of month when the planets are in the exact right alignment and you have to gather a bunch of insane ingredients and stick ‘em in a pot while chanting “Hail Satan.” Okay, maybe not that last part, but you get the idea. I stayed up all night, desperately trying to find something that could help me, and eventually, I did. And best of all, I could do it in a few hours. But it was... very costly. It’s not that easy to make the whole world forget that a person ever existed. So, what have we learned today? That if you ever accidentally commit a homicide that you can just make a deal with a daemon and erase your victim from existence with your newfound unholy powers? I guess? But it’s not that simple, is it? As I walked to school the next day, I was terrified that the spell, the ritual, whatever I had just spent the previous night wading through the swamps off the freeway for hadn’t worked. Or maybe that seeing the lump that had once been my chemistry teacher had driven me temporarily insane and I’d made the whole thing up. But I had nothing to worry about. There were no rumors, no police cars, even the door to his room had become a solid brick wall. I spent most of the first half of the day in a daze, wondering if it had all been just a bad dream. Until lunch, that is. I sat down at the full table, and as always, began to talk to my friends about the usual: boring classes, Ashley’s new boyfriend (the skank), and how lame it was that track practice was now four days a week instead of three. But then I happened to look over to the garbage can only to see a sickening familiar janitor wink at me. I had completely forgotten about my end of the bargain. My subjectivity, he said he wanted. I barely knew the meaning of the word. Taking stock, I didn’t feel any different. I shook myself, turned back to my friends, and tried to forget about it. Someone was talking about the new pair of shoes she had just bought, and everyone was gushing over them, but for some reason, I didn’t feel like joining in. It was strange, I usually loved talking about clothes, and yet at that moment, it suddenly felt so inane and insignificant. Why did the shoes mean so much? She was just going to buy another pair in three weeks and forget all about them. And why did she need so many shoes in the first place? Three-quarters of them never got worn and most of the others hurt like hell to walk in. And then, I looked around at the other girls, all my “friends,” and I wondered why we cared so much about what we looked like. I mean, I knew the answer of course, it was what we thought of each other that was the problem. What everyone else at the school thought. And I realized that it didn’t even matter at all, because we were all so concerned with how we looked that we weren’t even paying attention to anyone else. So why did it matter? All around me, I saw the exact same thing. No matter who they were, what group they belonged to, they were all so concerned about what everyone else was thinking, that no one was really thinking about anyone else at all. They were all so petty, so... shallow. It was like I had spent my whole life with a mask over my face—or a pair of rose-tinted glasses—and it had suddenly been ripped away. My mouth dropped open as I understood what Cowell had taken from me. I could see the world as it truly was, and I couldn’t turn it off. Distantly, someone was asking if I was feeling alright. “I’m fine.” “Are you sure? Do you need to go to the nurse’s office?” “No, I’m—” “She can’t do that, you idiot. If she went home then she’d have to miss track.” “I... what? No, tha-that’s not important.” “You must really not be feeling okay. State’s in like, a week, you know?” I couldn’t believe it. All of the sudden I couldn’t understand why I had thought that track was so important. What had I even liked about it in the first place? “Hey,” I asked. “Why do we do track again?” The girls blinked at me. “What do you mean ‘why’? Uh, because it’s fun.” “But what’s so fun about it? Cuz it sure as hell ain’t the running. Can you honestly tell me that you like being sore all the time?” “Not really. But we all do it, so like, I don’t know.” “But why.... why do I care?” I sputtered. “I... I don’t even like any of you.” It was another realization, but to me it was clear as day. Just a fact. None of these girls and I really had anything in common. Some part of me had always found them petty and annoying, so why had I put up with them? The table fell silent, as did a few surrounding us, but I kept going. “So, what is it then? Why track? If it’s not the running, is it the winning? But that’s just a plaque with your name on it that no one gives a shit about. Is it the personal accomplishment? Maybe for some people, but all we do is complain about it. So what is it?” “It looks good on a college application...?” I should have shut up then, should have laughed it all off like it was a big joke, but I couldn’t. My mouth kept moving, and I was powerless to stop it. “Oh, of course, college. That’s what I’m killing myself for, isn’t it? That’s why I’m taking three AP classes, heading student council, and running track, all so that I look good on paper, like I’ve had a “well-rounded” education, so that I can get into the best college, so that I can get a boring job that I don’t like, and have some kids with a man I’ve simply ‘settled for’ because being alone is hard, and then die in eighty years.” I stood up from the table. I felt sick. “What’s the point? What’s the fucking point? Can anyone tell me? Or are you all just too busy staring at the next carrot dangling in front of your noses to notice? The next step to fucking death! We’re all just bits of meat and bones that think for a little while and then die. Ashes in the fucking breeze. That’s all there is, isn’t there? There’s no point to any of this! There’s no— ... why are you all staring at me?” Do I really think all of those things? I did at the time. I saw things as they really were in that cafeteria and assumed that the rest of the world was just the same. But after the police liaison dragged me away and pretty much forcibly locked me up in a psych ward for two months, I had a lot of time to think. And I saw a lot of things there. By the time I had gotten good enough at lying, at appearing normal, for them to let me out, I didn’t believe that everything was meaningless anymore. See, it’s not that life is meaningless, it’s that most people settle for a life that doesn’t make them happy, not truly happy, just enough, and that makes it meaningless. Look at me talking. I know I’m a hypocrite. I haven’t done much of anything in the past year. But I think that, for the first time in a long time, I’m starting to become happy. I’m starting to find the me from kindergarten that I lost so many years ago, the person that I really am. And now that I’ve been at the lowest of the low, things can only get better from here, right?

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