My first thought is
I did it.
My second thought is
I did it wrong.
I start to form a third thought, but it turns out to be considerably difficult to do when one careens at nauseating speed through a tunnel of psychic subspace. The landing leaves me dizzy and had I landed with a physical body it would’ve been quite painful. But instead I’m left with a pounding headache and I’m rather sure that the thing pounding on my head is a brontosaurus with a club foot. I get to my feet shakily and rub my temples. My hands are lobster-red and black talons sprout from each fingertip. I look at them with fascination, then look down at the rest of me. I’m red all over, and moreover, quite naked. Something behind me swishes about and knocks at my ankles. I turn and see a red pointed tail emerging from my waist, just above my red buttocks. And my feet . . . are those hooves? Can I even walk on them?
The demon whose body I am now awkwardly piloting shouts a variety of curses at me in the back of my subconscious. I hear him the way people might hear a song stuck in the back of their head first thing in the morning.
“Well, same to you, pal,” I grumble under my breath.
Another demon approaches me. He’s tall, lanky, and wearing thick glasses over his hook nose. I feel my heart – whatever passes for a heart in this thing — constrict as he looks me up and down. Can he tell I’m an imposter? Is he going to roast me over an open spit for daring to enter their sacred space? I wish I didn’t attempt this half-assed ritual. I wish I didn’t download it off the internet. I definitely wish I didn’t pay fifteen bucks for it. I wish . . .
The demon speaks. The language he uses sounds cryptic, primal, and very, very old. But since I’m currently riding shotgun in one of his own, I understand it perfectly.
It roughly translates to, “hey, Brian.”
“Hey,” I say, quickly searching the demon’s brain for info. “Garlamarx. How’s it going?”
“It’s GarlamarQUE,” the newcomer says with an air of contempt. “Alicia needs to see you in her office. I sure hope you’ve got a good report for her today. She is not in a pleasant mood.”
With that, Garlamarque saunters off, bumping into Brian’s shoulder as he passed in what feels like an awfully deliberate way. In the back of my head I feel Brian struggling. He’s nervous, and afraid, and doing the mental equivalent of a nervous pace. Suddenly, I feel quite bad that I’d intruded on this poor demon’s life. He obviously has enough problems of his own.
“Hey,” I say under my breath. He stops pacing. “Look, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind either, alright?”
He gives something of a snort.
“But we’re stuck like this for now, so let’s work with it. You tell me what to do so they don’t truss me up for dinner, and I won’t fuck up your life. How about that?”
I feel him deliberating. I hear him muttering to himself. I shift from one foot to the other and try to look nonchalant so the other demons who are walking this way and that around me would think I am standing in this spot whistling of my own accord. Perhaps it’s because I’m in his head but I can feel him coming to a decision, which feels sort of like a knuckle being popped.
“Alright then,” I say. “Let’s go.”
Walking on hooves is much like walking on high heels, which I was never very good at. But luckily being in overwhelming fear for my life makes picking up new skills remarkably easy. After only a few minutes of awkward stumbling, I find myself navigating this demon world with relative ease. This world that, despite the walls being a bit pink and meaty, tremendously resembles an ordinary office building.
So much so, in fact, that with Brian’s directions I find myself taking an elevator upwards, passing several break rooms where red-skinned demons are making what smells suspiciously like coffee using fleshy appendages sticking out of the walls, and arriving at a meaty little cubicle, one of many with name tags like “Ling,” “Boros,” or “Timothy” on them. There’s a desk and a chair and even an HP computer. I never imagined what kind of computers demons used but HP wouldn’t have been my first guess.
With Brian directing, I sift through his drawers and shelves until I find a stack of forms and an iPad — latest model, I marvel. He helps me log into it and navigate a maze of apps I’d never seen before and frankly makes me wonder whether there is a backroom full of soulless app developers chained up somewhere making these. I scroll through iSouls, Contract Manager Super, Double-Dealing Daily, RateMyDemon, and The Sinner’s Handbook, until I find the one he wanted — MyPossessions. Once open, the app looks very much like a document manager. I see a few names I already recognize listed under “members.” Garlamarque is one. Alicia is another.
“So what do I do now?”
Brian directs me through the app. I open the current day’s log, which turns out to be an empty form. It doesn’t take long for me to figure out what I need to do.
“Are you serious?”
I feel Brian shrug.
“This is what you guys do?”
He mutters something that’s part sheepish and part “you should talk”.
Sighing, I pull up the keyboard and begin to log information for today’s possession.
HOST: Gabby Lee Ryland
LOCATION: Duluth, Minnesota, USA, Western Hemisphere, Layer 2, Plane B, Above Ground (most of these were drop-down boxes; I don’t know what Layer, Plane, and Above Ground mean and I don’t want to know)
CATEGORY: Appendaged (this one was also a drop down. The only choices were Appendaged, Appendage Removed, and Non-Appendaged)
I stop at PURPOSE FOR POSSESSION. Brian sort of chirps in the back of my mind quizzically and I realize I haven’t told him why I summoned him with a half-burnt Christmas candle and a tub of lavender bath beads in the first place.
What did I do this for? The shock of my current circumstances has pushed the rest of my life-to-date out of my mind for a moment. I think back to life prior red skin and fleshy floors. What was I doing this morning?
Got up, ate breakfast, dreaded work.
Got on bus, went to work.
Pete made remarks about my “holiday pudge.” Pete is a bitch.
Ladies room had no toilet paper. Or soap.
Betty, who is sweet enough but can’t match wits with a concrete block, didn’t get her weekly report together. Again. I had to walk her through it. Again. Brandon is supposed to do it, but he doesn’t because he knows I’d do it. Again.
Brandon also didn’t put together the quarterly budget, or the executive summary, or next month’s schedule for the hourly workers.
After I finished doing all those things, Brandon called me into his office, gave me an abysmal performance review, and demoted me. I considered shitting on his Porsche on the way out. I hate my job.
Got home, find message from Jeff. Decided to get back with his ex and dumped me. Just like that. Whatever, he’s lousy in bed anyway.
Drank enough tequila to give the surgeon general a heart attack, went online, paid fifteen bucks for a supposed “demon-possession ritual.”
Now that I think about it, maybe I should’ve read “demon-possession” a little closer.
Suddenly, I feel embarrassed. I push the iPad away and sit back with a sigh, then immediately sit up again when I realize the chair is pulsating like a living heart. Brian is urging me to hurry up and finish because he has deadlines to meet, but I shake my head.
“I feel stupid,” I say out loud. “I mean, I tried to summon a demon — a freaking demon — just because I had a bad day! What kind of person does that? It’s so petty! I mean, I don’t even like my job, or the people I work with, I didn’t even like Jeff that much, why did I . . .”
“Who are you talking to?”
Abruptly remembering where I am, I shut myself up. Another demon is peeking into Brian’s cubicle and I realize I must be talking very loudly, much in the way a raving lunatic might be. The newcomer is petite and curvy, with a round face and straight black hair. I feel my heart skip a beat, then realize it’s whatever passing for Brian’s heart doing the beat-skipping.
“No one,” I say quickly. “I mean, hi. Um . . .” Brian chirps urgently. “Ling. Hi, Ling.”
“Hey,” Ling says. I suppose by demon standards she must be very pretty, or at least Brian’s type. Now, however, she’s looking at me — us — rather uncomfortably. “Did you know Alicia’s looking for you?”
“Er,” I say. “Yea. Yes. Garlamarque told me. Where is she?”
“In her office. I’d hurry up and get over there if I were you,” she says a bit nervously, the little tentacles on her scalp wiggle in a way that I think is supposed to be sympathetic. “Good luck,” she finishes, and hurries off.
I can hear Brian sigh in the back of my mind. “Should I finish the form?” I whisper to him. He replies with a despondent sound that basically amounts to “what’s the point?” and points me toward an office at the end of the fleshy hall.
I can’t believe this.
I am getting reamed at a performance review. For the second time today. And this one isn’t even for me!
Alicia is long, lanky, and very much resembles a red version of the classic little gray aliens from old science fiction films. Her voice has a slight buzz to it, as if instead of one voice she has a tiny swarm of talking bees living in her throats. The entire time she speaks out of her left mouth, her right mouth never stops smoking (Marlboros, which I guess isn’t surprising after the HP computer, iPad, and the Frigidaire fridge in the break room). Between sentences she would put the cigarettes out on her desk, burning little holes on the soft pink surface which then emits thin trails of smoke that smells uncomfortably like barbeque.
She tells Brian his performance has been subpar, that the number of possessions he has managed to successfully complete has decreased in recent months, that he’s not concentrating on his work and spending too much time working on piddling little projects like researching the morals of sinning and the psychological effects of possession.
“We don’t care WHY humans want to be possessed, Brian, we care about how MANY of them we can possess. What good is a demon who makes the host overthink? You think they’ll hand over their souls if you make them wonder ‘gee, is this really good for me’? No! This is the second quarter in a row where we haven’t able to turn a positive on soul contracts established, and it’s because of under performers like you who . . .”
I try to tune her out but find it impossible. Alicia’s voice buzzes its way through my skull much like a table saw through plywood. Brian shrinks into the back corner of my mind, cowering like a miserable child. I can’t say I blame him. After all, not twelve hours ago I was doing much the same in Brandon’s office.
Alicia finally finishes her rant. She thumps her carton of Marlboros on the desk, dumps out a second one, lights it and slips it into her free mouth. She’s not talking now, just staring me — Brian — down. I timidly clear my throat.
“I hear you had a possession today,” she says, almost derisively. “How’d that go?”
I straighten up a bit. “Fine,” I say. “Um, actually, really well. The . . . host was very satisfied.”
Alicia raises a brow. “Is that so?”
“Oh, yes,” I say, suddenly feeling pumped. “Gabby Ryland. She was very happy with the results. I’d say if you ask her, she’d tell you she had the best possession experience yet. In fact, she will be leaving me a review on . . .” I wrack my brain, thinking of Brian’s iPad. “RateMyDemon. Yea, she said she’d do it.”
Now both of Alicia’s brows are up. “Is that so?” she says. I hear Brian chirping in my head. “We have yet to be able to convince a human to leave feedback for their possession experience. You claim that you’ve been able to accomplish that?”
“Absolutely,” I say, nodding. “In fact, I’ll go check and see if she’s done it now.”
Alicia narrows her many eyes as I stand proudly, turned, and walked out. “You’ll tell me how to put in the review, right?” I whisper, and Brian happily chirps affirmative. As I head down the hall, Ling appears again, gazing in our direction with kind concern in her eye.
“Hey, Ling!” I call. “Looking good today. Let’s get coffee after work.”
I sit in my old ratty robe, sipping a glass of Merlot. My smartphone is in my hand. I’m alternating between job searching, deleting Jeff’s pictures and contact information, and texting. I’ve downloaded RateMyDemon, which took some interesting navigating to find in the app store but thankfully was free, and written Brian Addison (I was quite disappointed that even his last name was ordinary) a glowing review, describing his possession as “sensual, pleasurable and dizzyingly satisfying, like good sex or a bad trip.”
My phone dings with another text. Had coffee with Ling. Went well. I think we’re dating now 😉
Chuckling, I reply with a thumbs-up.
Want me to put Jeff and Brandon on the Surprise Possession list?
I hesitate. What does that do?
Recreates The Exorcist in a socially inappropriate setting. It’s an old favorite. The upstairs folks like to bring it up once in a while to keep the humans on their toes.
I think about this for a moment.
Nah, I text back. I think it’s time I deal with life without someone getting possessed.