On Halloween night, Lin lay tied to her bed, beyond ready to get this thing out of her.
Black candles mounted her dim bedroom’s every dresser and nightstand. Their fires flickered in Kristie’s eyes as she rose from behind the footboard, having finished Lin’s last knots.
“Is this necessary?” Lin tugged an outstretched arm. The rope went taut from the bedpost.
“Exorcisms aren’t gentle,” Kristie said, climbing onto the bed with a book in hand. “You wouldn’t want the expulsion to damage the body.” She sounded strange, saying that.
Not that Lin was one to talk. An alien roar surged up her throat. “Waiting is bogus. Get with the tubular waves.” The demon was eager to see this fail.
Lin couldn’t let it. “I’m ready.”
Kristie straddled Lin’s chest and raised the book high. “On this night, when the veil is thin, I call upon the powers of the heavens and the earth.”
Lin closed her eyes. The weight made her light-headed, not unlike the demon’s first coming. Everyone knew to keep clear of Ouija boards, but Skip-It? No warning there. She’d found the mangled purple plastic toy at a yard sale and wanted to make a silly video. Its electronic noises came crackled and warped, but she’d chalked that up to deterioration. She couldn’t have guessed that this Skip-It held a demon until she slipped its purple loop around her ankle and blacked out.
A growl in her throat woke her after. Nexistopheles had moved in.
After that came every exorcism movie cliché — crawling on walls, speaking in tongues, twisting men’s genitals, and so on.
Worst was worrying over Kristie. They had been together four years, ever since Kristie’s dad kicked her out, but their relationship had been on the rocks this past year. Kristie always seemed bored, and nothing Lin tried could re-stoke their fires. The last thing they needed was demonic possession and having Nexistopheles share their bed had turned innocent cuddling into Russian roulette. Brave Kristie slept each night without knowing whether she’d awaken to her girlfriend or the demon.
But she was here and helping. “Let open the depths,” she said, legs squeezed Lin’s sides, almost reassuring. “Let them feast. Leave one soul to this body and drag Lin’s presence to the royal pits of darkness.”
Lin’s eyes flashed open. “Whose?” She regarded Kristie’s stoic expression and the book in her hand. That was no King James Bible.
It was Lin’s diary.
She yanked at the ropes again. “The hell?”
Kristie grimaced at the diary. “I’d normally never violate your privacy, but she said I needed remnants of your soul to press you out.”
Unpleasant thoughts linked together quick. “You’re helping the demon?”
Kristie shrugged. “Nothing personal. You aren’t terrible, but you aren’t Nexi.”
“I’m your girlfriend!”
“My boring girlfriend. You pretend you’re quirky with your yard sale dives and dumb videos, but they’re window dressing for a dull personality. And that’d be fine, every social ladder needs a bottom rung — ”
“ — but Nexi does actual cool things. Last week, she manifested me a new phone. Yesterday she made my dad’s car explode.”
Lin’s vision swam. “I don’t remember.”
“You were inactive.” Kristie sighed, bored again already. “Point is, I got a chance to trade up, and who wouldn’t take that?”
Lin wriggled. “I wouldn’t!”
“Whatever. You ready, Nexi?”
“Cowabunga,” Nexistopheles growled.
To think there might’ve been a chance for them. Instead, Lin was the candy wrapper around a sugary demonic prize. Did she mean anything to Kristie? Did anyone? Lin didn’t think so. Her heart hollowed as the ropes tightened.
Kristie raised the diary overhead. “I cast you out, Lin Moreau. Leave this vessel and never return!” She slammed the diary against Lin’s chest.
The bed gave way beneath Lin’s soul. She wasn’t falling yet, but her spiritual fingers clung to an uncertain precipice. From beneath came the stares of dead family, everyone she’d escaped long ago, now waiting with open arms in the worst way.
“Hang on!” Lin shouted. “We can work this out.”
“Hey, bargaining,” Kristie smirked. “That’s the fourth stage of grief, right?”
Lin’s jaw snapped open. “Math’s for nerds. Toss her out of my body, girlfriend.” She swallowed the demon’s voice. “It’s my body!”
“It’s a body.” Kristie raised the diary again. “Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Especially in Hell.”
A body. That’s right; Kristie had sounded strange saying the body. Lin wouldn’t want to damage it.
Or would she?
Before the diary slammed down again, she put her chin to her chest and banged her skull against the wooden headboard. She kept banging as she pressed one forefinger back on the bedspread and rammed her hand down, breaking the digit. The ropes resisted, but she yanked one arm so hard that her wrist snapped with a wet crack. Pain burst through her bones.
The demon felt everything. “Stop her,” Nexistopheles said, but Lin bit her tongue until blood filled her mouth.
Kristie sat stiff on Lin’s chest, wide-eyed and useless.
Nexistopheles spoke again, but not from Lin’s throat. The voice hung in the air. “If this lame body’s gonna wipe out that fast, I don’t want it no more.” A jolt quaked Lin’s spine as the demon dove through the bed, shrieking and laughing until she was far below earshot.
Kristie tossed the diary and clambered up Lin’s trunk, cupping hands around her cheeks. “Nexi, don’t go! The body will heal and then we’ll be radical or whatever.”
Lin spat blood at Kristie’s eyes. “She’s gone.”
Kristie slunk back. She didn’t bother to wipe the blood off her face. “Oh.”
The room grew quiet except for Lin’s strained breath and the silent screams of her broken finger and wrist. She waited for the fresh hollowness in her heart to fill when she looked to Kristie, but it had turned cold like it wasn’t her heart anymore. Just some heart she happened to have inside her that kept beating despite betrayal.
“Fucking untie me.”
Hailey Piper is the author of An Invitation to Darkness, The Possession of Natalie Glasgow, and her next novella: Benny Rose, the Cannibal King, is due in 2020. Her short fiction appears in The Bronzeville Bee, Daily Science Fiction, Blood Bath Literary Zine, and many other publications. She lives with her wife in Maryland, where she haunts their apartment with the echos of a clacking keyboard. Follow her on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays or visit her website, www.haileypiper.com.