When Life Gives You Demons – Jennifer Honeybourn

“SHELBY, CONCENTRATE.” Uncle Roy’s eyebrows snap together, forcing the skin at the bridge of his nose into a deep wrinkle. I sigh and hold the heavy silver crucifix a little bit higher. Mrs. Collins is chained to the bed, her thin arms stretched across the mattress and secured to the headboard with iron handcuffs. Sounds totally sadistic, but it’s actually a necessary safety precaution. That old lady may look frail, but if she weren’t restrained she could easily tear me apart. And from the way she’s glaring at me with her crazy red demon eyes, I have no doubt she’d like to. Before she was possessed, Mrs. Collins probably spent her days baking cookies for her grandchildren and planting tulips in her garden. Now? Her head is spinning on her neck like a globe on its axis, and she’s using language that’s so foul it makes my face burn. Uncle Roy nudges me toward the bed. The crucifix starts to vibrate in my hands. Mrs. Collins’s eyes widen and she strains against the handcuffs, her body arching toward the ceiling.

She isn’t wearing her false teeth, and her mouth is ghoulishly sunken in. Spit is flying everywhere, which is totally gross and part of the reason why I don’t want to get too close to her. That and the kicking. Her legs are flying around like the blades of a windmill. She’s working them so fast that her bottom starts to lift off the mattress, forcing her modest white nightgown to slide up to her hips in a very ungrandmotherly way and giving me a ringside view of her control-top underwear. And then the rest of her starts to lift off the bed. Crap. Looks like she’s figured out how to levitate. I guess I should have pinned her legs down after all. I sneak a look at Uncle Roy.

He just sighs and shakes his head. Lifting the crucifix up even higher, I close my eyes and start to mutter the incantation. “Deus, in nómine tuo salvum me fac—” “Say it like you mean it,” he says. “—et virtúte tua age causam meam—” “Louder!” I glare at him. Seriously? How am I supposed to concentrate when he keeps interrupting? “Deus, audi oratiónem … meam … um … áuribus?” There’s a reason why Latin is a dead language. It’s impossible to learn. Which is why even though Uncle Roy has made me practice this chant a million times, I still struggle with it. “Áuribus pércipe…” he prompts me. “Áuribus pércipe verba oris mei.” I make it through the rest of the incantation without stumbling.

As I finish, I feel a shift in the air, and all the sound is suddenly sucked out of the room. Smiling, I open my eyes, expecting Mrs. Collins to be lying quietly against the pillows, returned to her sweet, seventy-year-old self, eternally grateful that I saved her soul. Unfortunately, that is not what I see. Mrs. Collins is still halfway in the air, twisting violently, her body being wrung out like a mop by some invisible force. Her tongue is swollen and hanging out of her mouth like a thick black eel, and her eyes … well, they’ve rolled completely back into her head. So not only did the exorcism not work, but it seems to have agitated her even more. Huh. Maybe I wasn’t speaking loud enough.

Or maybe if Uncle Roy just let me do this without butting in— There’s a splintering sound as Mrs. Collins suddenly yanks her arm back. Fortunately, it’s just a piece of the headboard breaking and not her actual bones. She rolls onto her side, one of her hands now free, and tries to work the other handcuff off, so I begin the incantation again. But before I can even get the first few words out, Uncle Roy elbows me out of the way and stalks toward the bed, his black robe flapping behind him like a crow’s wings. “Deus, audi oratiónem meam; áuribus pércipe verba oris mei,” he bellows. “Nam supérbi insurréxerunt contra me, et violénti quæsierunt vitam meam.” My jaw drops. I can’t believe he’s taking over. Again.

I’ve been training three times a week for the past five months and he’s still never let me finish an exorcism on my own. Such a control freak. With a huff, I collapse into an overstuffed floral armchair near the window. The lacy curtains are pulled shut so the neighbors won’t see Mrs. Collins hovering over her bed like a UFO. Uncle Roy continues the incantation, his voice strong and sure—the same way it sounds at the pulpit every Sunday. The kind of voice that even demons listen to. Whatever. Who cares if I’m good at this or not? I’m not even sure I want to be an exorcist. He’s the one pushing me to do it, insisting that I have a gift.

Some gift. “Nam ex omni tribulatióne eripuit me, et inimícos meos confúsos vidit óculos meus.” Mrs. Collins is still struggling to free herself, desperately chewing at her wrist like a wolf trying to escape a steel trap. As Uncle Roy reaches the end of the incantation, a blast of hot air causes his white hair to blow back—a definite sign that the demon is being wrenched out of Mrs. Collins. Sure enough, a few seconds later, she drops back down onto the bed, completely limp. Uncle Roy doesn’t lower his crucifix right away. Demons can be tricky. Sometimes they pretend they’ve gone and then, once your defenses are down, they attack.

Just to make sure, he uncorks a small silver flask and sprinkles some holy water on her. It doesn’t burn her skin—another good sign. Mrs. Collins moans. Her eyes flutter open, and I can see that they’ve returned to their usual blue color. She stares at us, confused. The possessed generally have no recollection of what happened to them, and considering how most people behave while possessed, this is indeed a blessing. Uncle Roy takes her hand—the one not handcuffed to the headboard—and gently strokes it. “It’s all right, Rose. Just relax.

You’re going to be okay.” My irritation at him starts to fade a little; he has a very good bedside manner. That’s one more thing, according to him, that I need to work on. I get up and walk over to the bed. I pull Mrs. Collins’s nightgown down over her legs and then unlock the handcuff holding her wrist. Her poor skin is raw from where she chewed at it. Good thing she didn’t have her teeth in. While Uncle Roy continues to comfort Mrs. Collins, I open the door and let her husband into the room.

He’s been pacing the hall for the past twenty minutes. Uncle Roy doesn’t like family members to be present during an exorcism. They have a tendency to freak out when they see steam coming out of their loved one’s ears. Mr. Collins looks at me, his brown eyes hopeful. “Is she…?” I nod. “The demon’s gone. She’ll be fine.” His wrinkled old face crumples in relief. He rushes past me and kneels in front of Uncle Roy.

He takes Uncle Roy’s hand and kisses his gold signet ring as if Uncle Roy is the Godfather or something. “Thank you, Father,” Mr. Collins croaks. Uncle Roy pats his shoulder. “Best to just let her rest tonight, Abe. I’ll call you tomorrow to see how she’s doing.” He drops his silver flask into the black leather doctor’s bag he uses to store his supplies and gestures for me to follow him. We walk down the plastic runner path the Collinses have laid over their carpet and out the front door. As we climb into Uncle Roy’s ancient green hatchback, I glance at the little brick house. From the outside, you’d never guess anything weird ever happened in there.

But then again, looks can be deceiving. I’m certainly proof of that. Chapter 2 SPENCER CALLAGHAN rocks the hell out of a Catholic school uniform. He’s taken off his navy blazer and loosened his tie—the first thing he does as soon as the bell rings. His white shirt is still neatly tucked into the waistband of his gray flannel pants. The cuffs of his white dress shirt are turned up, revealing the antique silver watch he always wears with the face turned to the inside of his wrist. “Hey,” he says, watching me approach. He’s leaning back in his chair, twirling a pencil in his fingers. His dark hair is rumpled and curling over his ears, longer than St. Joseph’s High School would like it to be.

It’s this little assertion of independence—his refusal to conform by keeping his hair clipped really short—that first won me over. “Hey.” I drop into the seat beside him. This corner of the library, our usual meeting spot, is quiet and overlooks the school courtyard. Students are already starting to scatter, and in a matter of minutes, the courtyard will empty out. As soon as the bell rings, all anyone wants is to get as far away from the school as fast as possible, but this has become my favorite time of day, because it means I get alone time with Spencer. “You want to start with geometry?” he says, leaning forward to open his textbook. I wrinkle my nose. “Ugh. I hate geometry.

” I let my guidance counselor talk me into taking it after he quizzed me about my college plans and I mentioned I was interested in architecture. Unfortunately, architecture turned out to be only a passing interest, and now I’m stuck with this impossibly hard course. “You may have mentioned that several hundred times,” Spencer says. “That’s because I can’t stress it enough.” He smiles and lightly taps the back of my hand with his pencil. He’s not even touching me directly, and yet a thrill still runs all the way through me. “And that’s why we should tackle it first,” he says. “Eat the frog.” “Um … what?” “It’s an expression.” He starts twirling his pencil again.

“Mark Twain. Put the worst task behind you, and then you can get on with the rest of your day.” Where does he get this stuff? “Well, it’s definitely the worst task,” I say, pulling my textbook out of my bag, careful not to let him see the big silver crucifix and bejeweled spray bottle of holy water that I have stashed inside. Because he would definitely have questions. Spencer and I have been study buddies for the past few months, ever since shortly after he arrived at St. Joseph’s, but I still don’t feel like I know him all that well. He’s pretty tight with details about his personal life. Then again, I don’t share much about my life—it’s not like I’m going to tell him I’m an exorcist. It’s not exactly something I brag about. Even my best friend, Vanessa, doesn’t know about my extracurricular activity.

Here’s the thing: I go to a Catholic school. Most of the kids at St. Joseph’s believe in heaven and hell, in God and Satan. If they found out that I have direct experience with evil spirits, they would probably publicly shun me. And while I don’t have many friends, I want to hang on to the ones I do have. Even if that means not ever letting them know who I really am. We work silently, the only sound Spencer’s pencil scratching across his paper. “Hey, what’d you get for the first question?” I ask him a few minutes later, casually trying to sneak a glance at his homework. He places his palm over his paper to hide the answer from me, but not before I see that he’s already almost finished the entire page. He narrows his eyes.

“First, tell me what you got.” “You’re supposed to be helping me.” “Helping you study, not helping you cheat,” he says. “Cheating is pretty much the only way I’m going to pass this course.” I put my head down on the table. I’m debating whether to just give up and gracefully accept that I’m destined to fail when Spencer does something totally unexpected; he reaches over and strokes my hair, light as a butterfly. My breath catches. I don’t want to move in case he stops. But I hear him shuffle his papers, and when I sit up, Spencer’s eyes are already back on his homework. He’s diligently focused on the last question, like whatever just happened didn’t happen at all.

He’s so stone-faced that I begin to question whether I even felt anything, or if I just want him to make a move so bad that I’m imagining things. I turn back to my own homework, wondering if I’ll ever unravel the mystery that is Spencer Callaghan. * * * Ever since my mom left, I’ve been in charge of the grocery shopping in our house—a task that Uncle Roy has tried to take back several times in the past five months, because he isn’t thrilled with what I bring home: heavy on the fruits and vegetables, very little sugar, zero foods that contain ingredients that aren’t found in nature. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that he’s the reason I buy that stuff in the first place. The fact is, he’s old, and I’m determined to keep him healthy. Pumping him full of kale smoothies and quinoa will hopefully help him live to be a hundred. I’m not nearly as strict with my own diet. I have dinner at Vanessa’s house at least twice a week, where I eat my fill of meatloaf and mashed potatoes drowning in butter or tuna casserole with saltine crackers crumbled on top. “Shelby, honey, grab me some oregano, would you?” Mrs. O’Malley says as I walk in the back door.

She’s standing in front of the stove, stirring a huge pot of red sauce, a tea towel featuring a cartoon lobster hanging over one shoulder. The kitchen is as steamy as a sauna and smells like garlic and tomatoes. I root through the spice rack for the oregano and pass it to her. Mrs. O’Malley twists off the cap and turns the glass bottle over, sending a shower of dried green flakes into the sauce. “Before you run off…” she begins, setting the bottle on the counter. Her glasses are all steamed up. When she slips them off and wipes the lenses on the tea towel, I notice the bags underneath her eyes. I guess that’s to be expected when you have four kids. “How are things going? Are you doing okay?” What she’s really asking is how I’m doing without my mom.

I’ve told everyone that she’s on an extended trip to Italy to visit relatives. It’s not like I can tell them the truth: that my mom’s actually training at some supersecret exorcism school in Rome. It wouldn’t be so bad if she’d at least said good-bye. We’d had a big fight, so I’d told her that I was sleeping at Vanessa’s. When I got home the next morning, she was gone. She didn’t even tell me she was leaving. She let Uncle Roy break the news to me. Thinking about it now, hurt rushes through me. I can tell from the way Mrs. O’Malley’s mouth turns down whenever she mentions my mother that she thinks she’s awful for leaving me.

I can’t imagine what she’d say if she knew that I haven’t heard from her since she left. Not a phone call, not an e-mail.

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