Darkness Brutal (The Dark Cycle) by Rachel A. Marks
The demon is crouched in the corner, between the Cheetos and the onion dip. Itâ€™s a small one, only about four feet tall: a low-level creeper. I flick my gaze over the spot like I donâ€™t see it and open the cooler door to get a Coke.
I watch the cashier behind me in the security mirror as he finishes ringing up a customer. He notices meâ€”eyes my ratty hoodie, grungy backpack, scruffy jaw, tattooed fist gripping the cooler handleâ€”and reaches one hand under the counter, probably to grab the butt of a shotgun or a bat heâ€™s got hidden there. Heâ€™s totally oblivious to the real danger thatâ€™s hanging out in the junk food aisle.
The bell on the door rings as the customer leaves.
I walk past the demon, hoping it doesnâ€™t sense my awareness. Itâ€™s not here for me, though; its bulbous black eyes are trained on the cashier. Its scarred and misshapen wings twitch and knock at the shelf as its leg muscles tense, like itâ€™s ready to pounce. Clawed feet dig into the linoleum floor, surrounded by traces of black ash and sulfur that seep from its skin.
I set the can of Coke down on the counter and toss a Snickers up there tooâ€”dinner of champions.
â€œHey,â€ I say to the cashier. The chill of being too close to the demon crawls over me, but I clench my jaw and ignore it.
The cashier nods back, ringing up the soda. â€œTwo fifty.â€ He glances at my tattooed hand againâ€”probably looking for a gang symbol, which he wonâ€™t find. Then he studies my face, like heâ€™s trying to memorize it for the cops, just in case: about seventeen years old, olive-skinned male, dark brown hair, hazel eyes, five foot eight, looks like a homeless junkie.
Heâ€™d be right about everything but the junkie part. I am homeless these days. Everything I own is in the backpack Iâ€™m wearing.
I pull change from my pocket. It clangs onto the counter, along with an old stick of gum, some lint, a rubber band. And a Star of David.
Damn. Forgot I had that in there.
I slip the gold star into my pocket again, but not quick enough. The chill of the demon stings the back of my legs as it comes alert to my presence.
â€œYou know, forget it. Iâ€™m good,â€ I say to the cashier. The medallion was blessed by a rabbi a few weeks agoâ€”itâ€™s supposed to keep me from seeing things. It doesnâ€™t work, obviously. Instead, it has the opposite effect. Iâ€™d meant to ditch it, but â€¦ well, I have a lame inability to ditch anything.
I head for the exit, leaving my meal and change. Itâ€™s my fault, really. I shouldâ€™ve known better than to roam around on the night of the full moon without taking precautions. I almost make it to the exit before the smell of sulfur fills my nostrils. The demonâ€™s right behind me.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t follow me if I were you,â€ I say. I really donâ€™t want to deal with this shit tonight.
â€œWhatâ€™d you say?â€ the cashier asks. â€œDonâ€™t want no trouble here.â€
I ignore the guy and turn to face the demon, scanning the shelves for salt or rye, but thereâ€™s not much rye in a Circle K. My stomach rises, the scent of sulfur bringing back old memories.
My sister, Ava, screaming in her crib, the demonâ€™s claw digging into her tiny shoulder, marking her. Mom on the floor, eyes wide to another world, the blood spreading beneath her like a growing shadow â€¦
I start to whisper a prayer for protection under my breath: â€œThe light of Elohim surrounds me; the love of Elohim enfolds me. Wherever I am, Elohim is â€¦â€ The demon hisses at me, backing away a little. â€œIâ€™m telling you. Just leave me be,â€ I say.
Saliva drips from its teeth, and it makes a garbled noise in its throat, like words, but all backward and upside down. It canâ€™t hurt me, not physically, since itâ€™s not corporeal. Right now, itâ€™s like the demonâ€™s behind glass, on the other side of the Veil that separates the human world from the spirit world. Itâ€™s only able to influence people, to whisper into their minds, telling them to do dark things. It feeds off their negative emotions. And itâ€™ll likely cause bad shit to happen if it follows me.
â€œYou want this?â€ I ask, pulling the Star of David from my pocket again and dangling it in front of the demonâ€™s hole of a nose. It seems more interested in the tattoo on my hand, though, and hesitates at the sight of it.
â€œGet the hell out!â€ the cashier yells. â€œIâ€™m callinâ€™ the cops!â€
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