Devil You Know

Kodi and Nyx. Nyx and Kodi.

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1. o n e

         At a molecular level, electrons darted and danced in an infinite tango with indestructible energy. I imagined that if I only pressed right, I could pass through their unforgiving bonds and emerge, triumphant, into the sunlight that heated the planet from so many million miles away. Of course, these were pointless dreams. It was either daydream about electrons or girls, and to be honest, the former was far simpler.

         The brash ringing of the school bell jerked my head from my arm, and I began to play my part in the everyday familiar symphony of pencil cases zipping, chairs scraping, and jubilant chattering. I swept my papers off my desk and into a neat—although depressingly small—pile, and folded down the corners so they stayed together. Couldn’t have my masterpieces mixed with the plebeians’.

         Tom signalled me from his desk across the class and motioned towards the door. I jerked my head at him and slid my work onto the teacher’s desk without looking.

         “Kodi?” Mr Williamson touched my hand briefly to still me. I stood back and let the flow of freed students pass me before replying. The classroom’s atmosphere could change dramatically in a very small period of time with simply the subtraction of people from it.

         “Yes?”

         Mr Williamson fished another stack of papers from some deep cavern inside his desk and flipped through it. “This story didn’t have a name on it last time, and I was wondering if it was yours. It’s about a character called Nyx?”

         “Yeah, that’s mine. Sorry, I’m kinda forgetful about the name thing.”

         Mr Williamson smiled briefly before letting his face settle. “That’s fine, Kodi. I just wanted to let you know that it was very good, if a little dark.” He smiled again.       

         I gave a weak laugh. “Sorry. I’m not crazy, I promise.” Weak laugh, weak joke.

         “No, it’s not a bad thing. In fact, this story is really quite fantastic up until the rather abrupt ending.” He held it out to me. The top page was covered with my hasty handwriting. I was admittedly rather impressed that he’d managed to decipher anything at all. “Is it all right if I ask you to take it home and continue it? Don’t think of it like homework, but more like…home-fun.”

         I forced a laugh. “Home-fun. My favourite thing.” Taking it, I turned to leave, but he stilled me again with another brief touch.

         “And Kodi…I think this writing might be good for you. Let some emotions out. Let your characters do the talking.”

         I glanced back at him and gave a curt nod before turning and taking a metaphorical swan dive into the hallways of chaos.

         Four months ago, my older brother had seen a child standing in the road. Thumb in its mouth, eyes turned to the sky in childish wonder, it had seemed to float in a world of its own, suspended above the grime of the ground by its own pure innocence. To the truck that barrelled towards it, however, it was little more than a flare in the never-ending light that reflected off the glistening road. Oskar had run towards it, arms outstretched like an angel plucking it from the jaws of death. Which, looking back, he had been. He’d pushed it to the side just in time to save its life, but not fast enough to stop the wheels from crushing his own ribcage like a nutcracker. He’d always joked that he wanted an open casket funeral so that his mates could draw on him before he got chucked. As it was, they could barely scrape him off the tarmac.

         And it seemed that they hadn’t been able to do so for my father, either. Some part of him had stayed behind on that blistering day, layered in the days that followed, slowly crushed with the weight of time like the truck that had crushed his favourite son. I was an afterthought—a single leaf on the family tree, the trunk of which had been Oskar. Now, my mother’s branch chopped off directly after my birth, and my brother’s support withered, my father and I hung lifeless in the windless landscape of solitude.

         “Hey, teacher’s pet. Or do you not understand that? Here, let me try again: woof? Meow?” Tom curled his fingers at my face and purred. I swatted him with my story.

         “Knock it off, Chunk.”

         “Hey, not cool! You know that wasn’t my fault.”

         “Yeah, Miranda probably knew that too when she was washing your vomit out of her hair.”

         “Well, I don’t do well with alcohol. You know that.”

         “So does Miranda.”

         Tom swatted me back, albeit slightly harder. He had muscles like a body-builder and the social skills of a butterfly. He’d be a prime-time candidate for popularity if he weren’t so aggressively ginger. His hair burnt my eyes to even glance in its general vicinity—so much so that if you asked me to describe his face I’d probably give you a roundabout description of a pumpkin.

         I shoved my books in my bag as he leant against the locker next to me. “Talking of parties, Marcus is throwing a sick one tonight. Eight till whenever. You up for it?”

         I slammed my locker shut and hoisted my bag onto my back. “Yes, I’d love to be subjected to hours of torment and despair, during which I’d be judged, hurt, and generally mocked.”

         “Jeez, why do I even like you? Oh wait, I don’t. Psych.”

         “I’ll come if you promise to throw up in a girl’s hair again to amuse me.”

         “Done. Don’t wear the jumper.”


         “It’s cool.”

         Tom made a phone sign with his fingers as we passed through the school gates. “Hello? Oh hang on, he’s here.” He pressed his hand to his chest as though to muffle the sound. “It’s 1963. They want their wool back.”

         “Tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine.”

         Tom snorted and swatted my arm as he turned into his driveway. “Eight O’clock, Mary Poppins. Don’t be late. Or do, I don’t really care either way seeing as I don’t like you.”

         I pulled the finger at him, not looking back. I hadn’t been going to wear the jumper, but suddenly my mind had changed. How unexpected.

         My steps slowed as I approached my own driveway. The very ground beneath my feet seemed to darken and tremble. Every scuff, every faded chalk marking was another invisible memory made by a non-existent person. Once, there may have been two boys who walked this pavement. Now, there was only one, with a shadow that stretched out behind it like an anchor to the past.

         The flowers on the front lawn were either garish or dead. I hurried past them like I had been doing for the past four months and levered up my window. Anything to avoid his stony, oppressive silence.

         My schoolbag fell with a thump to the floor, closely followed my me. I slid the window down behind me and checked the handle on my door. It didn’t necessarily need to be locked, especially with the chair shoved underneath it, but I couldn’t bear the thought that he was only one door away. I needed my mind to know that his silence would be confined to anywhere in the house but my room. It was my mental sanctuary.

         I stilled for a moment, listening carefully, unsure as to whether it was simply in my imagination that his breath brushed against my face like the phantom fingers of my brother. Still quiet, I reached into my bag and pulled out the story Mr Williamson had given me. The rustling of the paper seemed to drown out the deafening silence.

         It’s almost funny, looking back now, how very innocuous those papers seemed. Not that I fool myself that it was the story that brought him to life—no, it was something else entirely—but those same papers that I imagined driving away the darkness in fact were a kind of mirror—appearing silvery and delicate at first, but able to reflect the rawest evil that the universe could conjure.

         I spread them over my desk like a fan. There were only four pieces of paper—two accounted for the actual words, and the other two were because of my terrible handwriting. I sat down and placed one elbow on either side of them, staring down with my head in my hands. Their whiteness was only slightly marred by the smudges made by my hurrying hand.

         I wasn’t really sure what the story was about—only that I’d taken the character, Nyx, and surrounded him with a tornado of negativity and darkness, mimicking my own internal warfare. Perhaps Mr Williamson had problems of his own. Maybe he related to it.

         Pushing my chair back from my desk, I stood and wandered over to my wardrobe. Buried at the very back, I knew, the world’s ugliest sweater lay dormant, waiting to be claimed by its rightful owner. I snickered. If I started digging now, I might actually find it by eight. 

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