Ghost and the Daemon is a serialized young adult fiction work I’m posting here, chapter by chapter, as I write it, along with my occasional doodles.
Down a narrow hallway, an open door gave way to a few steps and then to a blind descent. Someone whispered indistinguishable words on the other side of the heavy basement door where a frail light puttered nervously between life and death.
If her mother caught her at the center of a circle drawn with an entire box of Kosher salt, she would have to come up with quantifiable proof that finding a demonic entity was worth every penny of the two bucks spent on the basement floor. But first, she would actually have to find said entity. Her dad’s Latin phrasebook fell back open and Ghost chose a random, meaningful-sounding string of words off the thin pages to speak aloud. The book was one of many relics her father’s recent spurt of spontaneous hobbies had materialized into, and like the other relics it was kept around long after the hobby was abandoned. Just in case.
Rocking back and forth on her heels like she’d seen in a documentary about spiritual trances, Ghost closed her eyes and fell to chanting. But honestly faith was a difficult thing to muster in a mold-scented basement on the hard floor with nothing but cottonmouth to show for thirty minutes’ exertion.
“What could you possibly be doing?”
Ghost started. Her eyes snapped open to find the demon before her, giving her the same quizzical look she’d received that first night.
“It worked,” she said.
“The spell,” Ghost said, showing him the Latin textbook. “I summoned you.”
“This may come as a surprise, but I don’t make an entrance every time someone asks for directions to the bathroom. Although, if you’d asked one more time, it’s possible I would have lost my mind.”
Ghost gently laid the book behind her. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Too long,” said the demon, delicately kicking the salt ring with the tip of his shoe.
“You can’t get past that,” Ghost stated. She watched his one foot do a little soft shoe. “Can you?”
The shoe stopped. “What exactly do you think I am?” he asked.
“You said you were a demon.”
The demon looked at her awhile. “A demon. A creature entombed in fire and brimstone, you mean.”
Ghost began to sense that she’d misunderstood something so she bought time by squinting thoughtfully.
“I’m a daemon with an ‘e.’ Or an ‘i.’ A demigod.”
“Something like a guardian angel then?” Ghost asked and was swiftly answered with a spat laugh.
“God no. There’s a fool’s trade for you. People do just as they please in the end. Why bother?” The daemon frowned at Ghost. “No. I have nothing to do with you or the course of your life. But I do stop by to see what you’re up to from time to time.”
“Why?” asked Ghost.
The daemon shrugged. “Being a daemon these days is like being someone born into wealth. You don’t need a job. Nobody expects anything of you. So you find ways to amuse yourself. I find oddballs and browse their lives for entertainment.”
Ghost rose to her feet. “I’m not an oddball.”
“Oh,” sighed the daemon, raising an eyebrow, “yes you are. Just look at you.” He nudged his chin at her helpfully. “Also,” he paused. “My curiosity was naturally peaked when I heard rumor that you managed to escape Death.”
“I didn’t escape anything. I just survived an accident.”
“If you say so.”
Ghost was old enough now to despise attempts to convince her that she knew nothing about herself.
“I’m guessing you know my name. What’s yours?”
“Well, Nix. Nice to meet you and all, but I’m going to get back to my day now.” Ghost turned away from the daemon and walked out of the room without looking back.
Ghost alternated between the shade of the big walnut tree and the warm sun by rolling back and forth on the grass. From the open kitchen window, behind the annoyed rustle of grass, came the voice of her mother asking her father to help find the Kosher salt. Ghost stopped just long enough to hear their search interrupted by the doorbell before returning to her activity.
It had proven too difficult to be indoors around her parents with the improbable and spectacular development named Nix to consider. And she had walked away from him like nothing. Yes, knowing that Nix could materialize right now if he wanted, but still.
Now she wondered if he ever would again and felt an odd pang like missing Poojah, but Poojah he certainly wasn’t.
“Ghost,” her mother called from the back door. Ghost turned to find wary excitement on her mother’s face and knew what she would say next. “You have a visitor.”
Darla would have been exceptionally pretty if not for her nose. It was turned up and smooshed in. Like a pig’s snout.
“My mother made me come over,” she explained, niceties out of the way before they’d begun.
“Okay,” said Ghost.
“She told me I should introduce you to my friends.”
After an awkward few seconds of silence passed, Darla said, “Alright, come on then.”
Ghost obediently followed Darla down the street and out of the cul-de-sac to a gastric pink gingerbread home. Three kids sat in a blasted circle on the lawn, drinking a bright red beverage out of glass cowboy boot steins.
“This is Jo-Jo,” she pointed to a morose-looking kid—Ghost couldn’t immediately tell whether Jo-Jo was a boy or girl. Jo-Jo had long eyelashes and delicate features but carried his or her weight like a boy. “He doesn’t talk much, but once he starts, he can’t stop.”
Lastly, Darla motioned toward a minuscule, tow-headed boy with red all over his face and down the front of his shirt. “This is Pip. My little brother,” she said. “And he can beat it.”
Pip stuck his tongue out at Darla and marched away, sloshing his drink up the incline to the house.
A giant of a woman ruffled Pip’s hair at the threshold as she stepped through the front door.
“This the new girl, Darla?” she called out.
Darla’s mother wore a Cheshire smile beneath a wild growth of frazzled blond hair. She drawled when she spoke.
“How you doing, girl? You like your new home? Good good. I’m Mrs. Pumpernickel.”
Ghost couldn’t figure out how Mrs. Pumpernickel managed to speak so slowly while giving a person no time to respond.
“You just enjoy yourself with the kids now. You want a drink? Let me get you something, child. You look in need of something that’s for sure.”
Mrs. Pumpernickel ambled back up to the house, fanning at the sweat on her face.
“Where’d you come from?” Parker asked through a congested nose.
“Just another town,” Ghost shrugged. “Nowhere special.”
“Like this town?” he asked.
Ghost considered her surroundings. The straight trees and the wide streets. The sleepy silence.
“You won’t like it here,” Darla said. The statement was offered in the same way a person might reassure an ailing friend that they’ll get better.
Darla sat, so Ghost followed the native customs. But not so far as to gulp the acrid red liquid Mrs. Pumpernickel delivered to her.
“Hey, d’your mom let you dye your hair white?” asked Parker.
“No. I got electrocuted and it just grew out that way,” said Ghost. Get it out of the way.
But Parker just showed his buckteeth and nodded.
“How old are you all?” Ghost asked, setting aside her boot.
“Same age as you,” said Darla. “My mom got to talking with your mom at the market and found out you were our age. That’s why she made me come over and say hi.”
“You’re going to the public junior high?” asked Ghost.
Darla scrunched her face at the sun and nodded.
“How do you think it’ll be?”
“Darla hates everything,” said Parker, throwing torn blades of grass in the direction of Darla’s face.
“Do not,” said the unflinching Darla. “I just call it like I see it. I see it’ll be just like Rosewood. We’ll sit in the corner all bored while everyone else has a blast.”
“What do you think, Jo-Jo?” asked Parker.
Jo-Jo’s throat said, “I don’t know,” but his mouth didn’t open.
Ghost sat back and stretched her legs out on the grass. She looked from Darla to Parker to Jo-Jo with something between a frown and a smile and sensed that she belonged.