Third Week Under Protection
I sighed and averted my gaze as I caught sight of my reflection in the window. The cool day in late summer allowed me to wear a full-sleeve shirt, but that did not remove the precise disgust when I glimpsed my face. My horns, while in better condition than when I had left, still stung on occasion and were filling in the surgically removed pieces missing from them.
The revulsion of my scars had not begun as quite so intense, nor so limiting. Like any disapproval one would have with themselves, it began by stares. Then the murmurs I overheard whenever I left the house. Or perhaps it was the children who would flinch from me, call me a monster or cry. Men hated me. Women hated me. Children trembled in my wake. I suspected the only reason the men on the lawn or the Smiths felt comfortable near me was the ever-present reality that if I attacked I would be shot. Lethally, with the number of guns that surrounded us.
Still, I sat on the porch without much worry. After all, Henrickson was not on shift until seven in the evening. So Santos and Thompson were sitting on the porch, enjoying a glass of lemonade with me.
Thompson was staring at the glass with a content smile, shaking his head slowly. “Man, not even my mom makes lemonade this good.”
“If Henrickson found out, he'd be jealous,” agreed Santos, speech hinted with a slight, fluid accent. He turned to grin at me. “You'll make a very lovely wife someday.”
I laughed. Male jibes had not changed much, at least. I was not in a mood to continue the jest, however. “No, no...I believe that I am already bound, if I can recall correctly.”
“Ooh, a lady friend.” Thompson frowned, endearingly dull and young. “Or is it a man friend? Santos, were you serious about the whole wife thing? Is there something I don't know about?”
Santos chuckled to himself but did not answer. It was only a minute later that I thought the boy might genuinely be incapable of understanding, and so relieved his confusion.
“A woman, Thompson. Not a lady,” I corrected, sipping my glass. I smiled proudly that I could recall Mother's recipe even after the years. They misinterpreted my expression, laughing raucously.
“A? Singular? Now I'm disappointed,” gasped Thompson between fits of laughter. “I was under the impression that demons got around.”
Santos jabbed Thompson's glass with an elbow, unconcerned when the drink spilled across his companion's front. “Please excuse the young man to my right. Apparently, he's still a sophomore.”
Thompson was grumbling incoherently as he brushed his front futilely. Scowling, he glanced about as though looking for something, then stopped and stared at the remaining sip in his glass. His shoulders hunched with a heavy sigh that made me wonder if the sun had suddenly died out.
I chuckled quietly. “Nothing to be ashamed of. Honestly, I envy his youth.”
Thompson started. “What? I'm envied?”
“Not by me.” Santos shook his head with a superior smile.
“Isn't that a good thing?” wondered Thompson, frowning at the grass.
“How did you make the team, again?” asked Santos playfully, although sounding genuinely curious. Before he could receive an answer, the front door opened and Robert stepped halfway out, crossing his arms at all of us sternly.
“Alright, ladies, the latest news is that Henrickson's on his way now. Back to your posts. Leave the glasses,” he added, seeing Thompson attempting to slip more lemonade into his glass. Both flowed easily back into their unyielding masks, watching to ensure nothing could sneak past them.
Robert took the two glasses they left behind, smiling at me. “Having a good day?”
“I believe so,” I replied distantly, frowning as I stood. I took the pitcher with me as I returned indoors. The house was quiet and empty. Anne was cleaning somewhere in the massive domain of her bedroom and the girls were off to school. With a glance at the clock, I was relieved to know that they would be home within an hour.
“You don't know?” asked Robert, helping me to clean the dishes used and store the remaining lemonade.
“Not fully, no.” I placed the rinsed dishes in the washer, still bemused by the device. Yet another object that had not existed on the farm.
“Can you describe it?” A strong portion of Robert's method was handling occurrences for me as they presented themselves, rather than chasing down my traumas and beating them from me. At that moment, I did not know which practice I preferred.
“Restless. Lonely, although that may merely be the unbearable silence,” I listed, staring at the startling contrast between the black polished stone counters and my vivid red skin. My claws were nearly imperceptible against the counter, while my skin only became brighter. The scars were also accentuated, so I looked away yet again. “Pitiful. Useless. Ashamed...”
My words saddened Robert immensely. “What do you feel would help you?”
I sighed quietly to myself, considering. In the last two weeks, I had been working diligently to adjust to this new place, life, time. My thoughts strayed instead to what I wanted desperately, what I dreamed of having once I had control and the days were not quite so dizzying.
“My family.” It was only once I had spoken that I realized that my whisper was as loud as my voice would dare become. Why was that? “To see my home, my sister, my brothers...”
The name I neglected to speak was one that Robert noticed. He did not question my reasons, however. He likely already knew that I kept her from my mind intentionally recently. After all, the idea of seeing her was tormenting, particularly when I had to wait for an unknown time before I could.
“You sure are a quick one to recover,” noted Robert with a slight frown. I wonder, was he concerned by this? “Most patients take months, sometimes years to go back home. Are you sure you're ready?”
“Yes, I know I am,” I replied readily. Sitting about waiting for myself to emotionally heal by the will of someone else was beginning to turn me insane. I told him this, then continued, “I would like to take my recovery into my own hands. This includes rushing into the excitement of where my old life collides with the new, as opposed to fretting over whether or not it would be wise to do so.”
Robert blinked in surprise and stared at me. “You're not human.”
I chuckled somewhat nervously. “Yes, Robert, I do believe this truth was already established some time ago.”
“No, I mean that you...There's no good way to put this, is there? The way you've thought through everything, I've never seen another patient do that,” he explained, shaking his head in disbelief. “Very unique.”
I smiled, Paul's words from years ago repeating in my mind. Then I started as I realized that he had spoken them to me a little over fifty years ago.
Half of a century. I considered how much time had passed, yet how little. The world had left its mark on me, but I had not left my mark on the world. I may never be allowed to place my signature on history, yet I was not disturbed by this. Only quietly submissive and tiredly accepting of my place.
Robert sighed but smiled at me. “Well, then. Shall I arrange things for you?”
I started, smiling slowly. “That would be wonderful and very generous of you, Robert.”
He shrugged. “A few phone calls, finding something to rent that'll fit you. I'll let you know what's happening and when.”
“Thank you.” He left and I wondered just how I would manage to find a way to thank him and his family for helping me in all of the ways that they had.
~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~
“Anne, you said that this...card holds my compensation for the last forty years?” I asked again, baffled by the idea. What an advanced and strange age! Water coming from iceboxes, ovens that supposedly cleaned themselves, televisions as thin as books, and now all of my finances being held on a thin piece of plastic? I would be unsurprised when pigs began to fly alongside me.
She nodded. “That's what the letter said. Forty-one years' compensation as well as monthly payments for compensation, some demon organization and disability, even though you look fine to me.”
I smiled slightly. Apparently, between Robert and myself neither of us had told her of my arm. I was somewhat surprised to be paid because of it, though. Aside from it, I could function perfectly well physically. Like I had when I was thirty, even.
“Thank you for your reassurance, Anne. Here, though.” I handed her the card. “I suppose it is well past time that I contributed and thanked you for your assistance. You said you would be shopping for groceries sometime this evening? That should well cover the bill.”
She stared at it in shock. “Cory, this really is unnecessary.”
I paused. “Ah, yes. Bailey mentioned something about this...Well then, is there anything else I might be able to help with? Laundry, cleaning, cooking...?”
“You're not one to sit still, are you?” she asked, returning the card.
I chuckled and shook my head. “No, much thanks to my parents.”
She sighed, nodding slowly. “Well, I guess you can do the cooking...”
“Thank you.” I was genuinely relieved and grateful, not wanting to stare out the window and thinking I would not possibly be able to stand another day of sitting and reading. My hands yearned for some task to fulfill.
“That's a first,” she laughed, shaking her head. I thanked her again and replaced the card in my room. Such a strange adjustment, as well—my room, in their house. Yet day by day, it was slowly becoming a place for me.
~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~
“Wait, you can cook, too?!” gasped Bailey in shock. She was rinsing the tomatoes as I had requested, setting them aside as she finished.
I chuckled quietly, peeling an onion carefully so as to not collect any beneath my claws. “Of course. I would help my mother before I began working in the fields. Even after taking up the fieldwork, I found it pleasant to cook with her.”
“Wow. We don't normally do much cooking, not like this,” she clarified, motioning to my preparing the onion. She sniffled, the wafting oils making her teary. “I think I know why now.”
“A little onion never harmed anyone.” I smiled quietly to myself, amused. As I lifted the knife, I forced back the fear I felt of the object in my hand and began to chop the bulb methodically.
Bailey frowned. “Hey, wait a minute. Why aren't you being affected by the onion?”
“I am immune.” I tossed the chopped onion into the pot, grinning as I turned back to my station. Bailey cried out, stumbling back in shock. I straightened my expression instantly, focusing on my cutting. “My apologies.”
She composed herself quickly, returning to my side shyly. “That was...kind of freaky.”
I sighed quietly, retrieving the washed carrots from the back of the counter to chop. Again, I forced back my fear. “So I have been told.”
“Does it freak you out?” she asked quietly, rinsing the next of the tomatoes. Her demeanor was skittish, even as I turned away to place the carrots in the stew.
“Does your own smile disturb you?” I replied, keeping my eyes down, somewhat guilty for frightening the poor girl. The scars on my arm only shamed me further.
“No.” She was rinsing the third tomato.
“Why would I be frightened by mine?” I began slicing the celery with meticulous focus.
From the corner of my vision, I saw her shrug. “I don't know. Maybe you don't see it very often and you're used to our human looks, so yours are a little...um, sharper than ours.”
I smiled, wondering how it was the young girl was able to think so clearly of others. What was it that made her so drastically different from her sister? What were they hiding that changed them? Again, I could not help worrying for this little family's future.
Fourth Week Under Protection
Time. Did it mean anything anymore? Was it always so...spontaneous? So long, so short, so sharp, so dull? No, no, it meant nothing. Nothing left to struggle with but oneself in endless loops, nothing left to yearn for but to sleep long enough to dream.
In spite of my purposelessness, I was still glad to see the sky again. The beauty of it was relieving after too long of artificial lighting. I spent most of my time out of doors in the back yard, alone sitting in the cool and gentle grass. That was where Robert found me.
“Pretty sky,” he commented, sitting beside me. I nodded, vaguely aware of the rather thick stack of printed papers he set aside. He smiled at me broadly. “I have some good news for you.”
I smiled, feeling dark. What good news could there be anymore? My life had at last reached its peak, leaving me longing for the lower places on the mountain.
“What of?” I asked to humor him. I did not want to aware him of my recent decline in mood. He would not understand if I could not. Perhaps another week or so to begin comprehending the source of the emotional shadow...
“Well, okay, good and bad news,” he relinquished reluctantly. “Lisa said that she's up for a visit on Thursday. Your brothers are busy with some stressful things, they said. But I gave them the number so that they could get back into contact when they were ready.”
“This Thursday?” Ah, good news, indeed! My little sister Lisa, how had she fared? Was she still as cheerful and bright as I could recall? I hoped so and refused to imagine any other outcome of events that resulted in her bitterness or despair.
“This Thursday,” he echoed, smile fading slightly. “If you're up for a bit of excitement. I know not much has actually been happening, unless you count the occasional accident in the kitchen.”
“None of them fatal, thankfully,” I laughed, shaking my head slowly. Robert was right. Excitement was something that had been lacking of late and something that made me curious about the future. “That is very good news, now. I have not seen Lisa since the Christmas of '68, when she was visiting from college. Dustin visited with his children and wife in '66, but I do not recall having seen Ethan since he left home...”
He hesitated. “That's not all.”
I chuckled. “You would make a lovely jester.”
“I have a list,” he said slowly, lifting the stack and handing it to me. I glanced at the front page, the same name attacking my eyes repeatedly.
“I made it so that we can start looking,” he explained. Was my face horrified? Was it joyful? Was it as stunned and baffled as I felt? I am uncertain even Robert could make heads or tails of what to say or do. “I thought, since you love having something to do, this would definitely keep us busy for a few weeks.”
“Us?” I echoed, latching on to the first thing my mind could make sense of.
“Of course! I wouldn't leave you alone to do this.” For the first time, I saw him with a new light that I rarely saw in humans. Dedication and loyalty were the names of his strengths, and I guessed that he was so true to them that he made himself a fool. “I've got routes planned out. Santos and Thompson are ready to take outings with you. Everything's ready, if or when you want to start looking.”
It was only when a wet drop appeared on the paper that I realized I had tears in my eyes. “Thank you, Robert. You are too kind.”
“Just helping you out.” He shrugged off the comment easily, receiving the papers from my outstretched hand. “On a lighter note, we were thinking of doing breakfast for dinner tonight.”
I laughed, mildly grateful for the distraction. “Sir, you are absurd! Breakfast for dinner? What does this entail, exactly?”
He stood and offered me his hand. I took it and allowed him to aid me, though I required no assistance. His eyes widened as he nearly toppled over from my weight. I laughed again.
“Pigs in a blanket, this time,” he replied in answer to my question as we started indoors. “Last time we had cold cereal, insistence of Vanessa.”
“What about next time?”
His reply was drowned out by my thoughts as I followed him inside. Things were falling into place. I was going home to the farm. More than that, I was at last going to put my mind at ease and answer my questions.
~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~
I was reading in the living room when Bailey first approached me. Robert had lent me a thick, dusty volume of poems with which I could entertain myself by memorizing and reciting the cadences under my breath. She had a pen in one hand, paper in the other, and bore an earnest expression.
“Can I ask you some questions for an article that Supernatural Supporters is doing for the school paper?” she asked quietly, voice as somber as her face. I could not help but smile at her method of pursuit as I set the poetry book aside.
“Supernatural Supporters?” Vanessa scoffed vindictively. “Right. That pro-demon group.”
Bailey ignored her. “So, what do you think?”
“I would be more than happy to acquiesce,” I replied, following her cue. She sat in the chair beside the couch, grinning.
“Okay, this is so cool! It's like an interview.” Her child-like enthusiasm was like that of a four year old at Christmas. “Alright. First question...No, we don't need to know his name, that's already all over the press...Oh! Hometown?”
“Ah...” I frowned deeply, shaking my head slowly. “For the life of me, I cannot recall. I am unsure I ever knew.”
She stared at me with a mixture of disbelief and pity. “Right. Um...How has life been as a demon?”
“It has been worthwhile,” I murmured reflexively, barely noticing my own words.
Robert looked up from the book he was reading. “That must be the fifth time you've said that.”
“What, like it's trying to prove something?” scoffed Vanessa rudely, sneering at her father. I reigned in my shock and disapproval.
“I suppose I may be attempting to convince myself more than anyone,” I told her evenly. She started and looked at me as though she had just noticed my presence there.
“Why would you?” she demanded, cruelty faltering. I saw that she was struggling to keep her face from revealing whatever weakness frightened her so terribly.
“Why would I not?”
She blinked quickly, eyes tearing up while she glared at me. Standing abruptly, she spat, “I hate you,” and stalked away. I heard her footsteps thudding on the stairs as she fled to her bedroom.
I was quiet for an uncomfortable moment. “Should one of us not comfort Vanessa with whatever troubles her?”
“I don't know,” admitted Robert with a sad, fatherly glance at the stairs. He sighed. “Ever since th—she hit her teens...I don't know what happened, but she's not my little girl anymore.”
Bailey left silently, and I understood then that he was not speaking simply of Vanessa. Sometime in the history of their family, they had all changed and no one had noticed.
“May I propose something?” I asked quietly, turning my attention from the stairs to Robert. Would I be speaking out of turn in this instance or could it be acceptable? Regardless, I felt a familiarly creeping darkness when I considered letting this be, a hideous knowledge that I would be damning and denying myself.
He looked at me tiredly, eyes dim and cast into a hopeless shadow. “What is it?”
“Treat them as your daughters, but respect the bright women they are becoming.”
He only smiled, unsurprised at my referring to them both. “I'll try that.”
Robert stood and left as well. I sat in silence for some time, though I did not feel uncomfortable there. The sun was pouring into the room through the large windows that looked out into the back yard. This was the first I had witnessed Robert acting with his family from a different place than the usual throne many individuals mistook for their seat above others. He was capable of much kindness and expressing equality with anyone, so I was only mildly surprised when he and Vanessa returned downstairs, chattering idly. I realized then that I had been expecting to hear shouts above me, the sounds of them arguing as I had heard my first night here. What startled me most was her smile—as I had never seen it untainted by scorn or spite.
When she genuinely apologized to me, I understood that time did still have meaning to others, if not to me. I lifted the poetry book to continue reading, feeling more than content.