I realized something was wrong with Miss G two days after the murder attempt.
I didn’t leave my apartment for a day. After almost getting stabbed, I deserved some time to eat chips on the couch and binge-watch TV, don’t you think? I wouldn’t have moved from the couch the next day either if I hadn’t had a dentist’s appointment in the morning.
I’d just come back from the appointment and was walking into the apartment building’s lobby when I met Miss G coming outside.
She’d always been a well-dressed, classy-looking older lady, but that afternoon her shirt was wrinkled and clashed with her pants. It looked like she hadn’t run a brush through her short hair since the last time I’d seen her, and there was no trace of the usual makeup on her wrinkled face.
And if that didn’t show something was wrong, she violently yanked the leash of her dog, who was whining and cowering from her.
“Come on, you sniveling rat,” she snarled.
What the hell? Miss G spoiled that fluffy little dog rotten. She treated it better than some people treat their children.
I gaped at her. “Miss G?”
The doors to the lobby fell closed behind her, and she turned her head toward me. There was something indescribably upsetting about the movement, like she’d twisted her head just a little too far. It reminded me of an owl rather than a human.
We stared at each other on the sidewalk as the summer sun beat down on us. Then she gave me a tight-lipped smile.
I swallowed. “Uh. Is everything all right?”
“Fine.” She yanked on Biscuit’s leash again and shot the dog a scowl. “Or it would be if this pathetic runt would cooperate.”
Biscuit fought the leash, trying to stay as far away from Miss G as possible. The dog bared its tiny teeth, growling at her, but its entire body shook with terror.
“I can take him,” I said.
I’m not a dog person. Or a cat person. Or a fan of animals in general. But little Biscuit was the only other being around who seemed as disconcerted by Miss G’s behavior as I was, so I felt a weird companionship with the fluffball.
“I don’t mind,” I said quickly. “I can take him for a walk or watch him for a few days or whatever.”
My heart thudded in my chest. The old Miss G would have laughed me off with some kind of quirky southernism, but the new one stared at me without blinking.
“That would be most helpful,” she said, and handed me the leash.
I took it, and when my hand brushed hers, the world caught fire.
You’d think a lifetime of getting psychic visions would have prepared me, but God, it hurt. I could feel the heat of the flames, and smoke scratched my throat as it choked me. But the alien malevolence I sensed was worse than any fire.
Pure hatred surrounded me. I wanted to hide but couldn’t move. Fear tightened around my heart like a noose around a neck.
I saw blood and bones. I saw the dead and the dying. Screams echoed over the roar of fire. And I saw Buck cowering as the would-be murderer stalked toward him with a knife.
But the vision was from the murderer’s point of view.
I staggered back with a gasp. Sweat poured down my face, and I couldn’t blame it on the summer heat. My legs trembled, nearly dropping me onto the pavement. I wanted to let go of the leash and run, but I still couldn’t move a muscle.
Miss G cocked her head and surveyed me. She still hadn’t blinked once.
“Interesting,” she said.
Then she turned and walked back into the apartment lobby.
I stared at the closed doors for several seconds, struggling to breathe. Eventually, I regained control of my body. Then I took several shaky steps down the sidewalk, Biscuit trailing uncertainly after me.
When I reached a trash can, I bent over and vomited into it.
Biscuit yipped worriedly.
“Yeah.” I wiped my mouth with a trembling hand. “I know.”
I took Biscuit for a walk, not because I cared if the dog got exercise but because it gave me time to think. Something was horribly wrong with Miss G. That much was obvious, and it had probably started the night of the attempted murder. She’d seemed fine before then, and now that I thought back, she had been acting strangely when we’d said goodbye that night. I’d just written it off as trauma from the attack.
Miss G hadn’t tried to kill Buck. She’d saved him—and me—so why had I gotten a vision from the murderer’s point of view when I’d touched her? Especially since the murderer had been dead for two days.
Had Miss G suffered a psychotic break after the horrible event? It seemed the most plausible explanation, except… The presence I’d felt hadn’t seemed remotely human.
Several minutes passed before I even let myself think the word “demon.” It was ridiculous. Delusional. But then again, I was psychic, so was the existence of demons really that impossible? There’d been a lot of hellish-looking fire in my vision, and memories of the malice I’d felt made my skin crawl.
It might not be a demon, but something had taken over Miss G. And I’d bet my entire investment portfolio that it had jumped into her from the murderer. She’d almost collapsed after approaching his body two nights ago. That must have been when the thing—whatever it was—had passed into her.
Good. Great. I’d figured out how it had happened. Now what in the world was I supposed to do about it?
I almost got back into my car and drove to a hotel, not wanting to risk running across Miss G again. But all my stuff was still in my apartment, and I hated hotels (I always picked up psychic impressions in the rooms, mostly of lonely people jerking off.), so I cautiously entered the apartment lobby.
Buck called out hello from the front desk, his aura astonishingly bright and joyful as usual. I gave him a jerky wave and headed for the elevator. When I passed Miss G’s floor, I held my breath, but the elevator didn’t stop. I made it to my room without encountering her and locked the door firmly behind me.
I unhooked Biscuit’s leash, and the dog scampered around to explore the apartment, its paws clip-clapping on the hardwood floors. I almost tossed the leash aside but then stared at the bright pink strap. It belonged to Miss G. Sometimes I got psychic impressions from touching a person’s belongings. Usually I tried to avoid it, but if I could learn something that would help Miss G…
I sat on the couch and stared at the leash in my hands. Biscuit was sniffing around in the kitchen, so I ignored the dog and closed my eyes. Focusing on the rough texture of the rope, I tried to summon a vision. The past didn’t interest me, and the present wouldn’t help. I was looking for a glimpse of the future.
Hopefully a future in which Miss G didn’t murder me.
My grip tightened, and my muscles tensed. I could feel Miss G’s doting fondness for Biscuit, though the sensation was dim like a half-remembered dream. A touch of demonic malice lingered over it, almost making me let go, but I held firm.
Come on already, I thought as I ground my teeth. I got visions at the worst possible times: in the middle of a first date, on stage at my high school graduation ceremony. Why couldn’t I get one when I actually needed it?
I tossed the leash aside in disgust. It was no use. I couldn’t control my abilities.
Biscuit scampered up to the couch and looked at me curiously. Then he peed all over the floor.
I groaned and covered my face with a pillow.
One good thing came from this horrible situation: bringing Biscuit to the pet store drew all kinds of cute women to me. Everyone from the store clerk to other dog owners cooed over how cute he was and then stayed to chat for a while. A couple of them were checking me out—I can always tell. Psychic, remember?
Anyway, I bought dog food, water and food bowls, a pet bed, a stain and odor remover, and a pooper scooper. A pooper scooper. Miss G had better be damn grateful.
Exorcisms were on my mind as I drove back to the apartment. The demon had gotten into Miss G, but there must be a way to get it out. I resolved to do some online research.
When I walked into the lobby, hands full of shopping bags and Biscuit’s leash, I froze.
Miss G stood by the front desk, talking to Buck. Buck’s smile was strained, his normally bright aura flickering, and he was leaning subtly away from her.
Miss G’s head swiveled around, her eyes fixing on me. Biscuit darted behind my legs with a squeak.
My throat constricted. I pictured Miss G charging toward me with superhuman speed, mouth full of sharp teeth like something out of a horror movie. Would I be able to run away in time? Could I fight off someone who was possessed by a demon?
But Miss G just gave me another closed-lipped smile and strolled to the elevator. I didn’t relax until the door closed behind her and she ascended three floors.
I walked over to the front desk.
“Dog-sitting?” Buck asked, giving Biscuit a smile.
“Yeah…” I shifted the heavy bags in my hands. “What did Miss G say to you?”
The smile fell from his face. “Does she seem off to you? I think that whole thing two nights ago got to her. Maybe she should talk to someone.”
“She definitely seems off,” I said. “Don’t go anywhere alone with her, okay? Be careful while she’s around.”
“What?” A burst of laughter left his mouth. “She’s as old as my grandma. I don’t think she’s gonna hurt anybody.”
“Don’t underestimate her,” I said. Then I hesitated, every instinct urging me to keep my mouth shut and go to my room. But I didn’t want Buck to get hurt—especially after all the effort I’d gone through to keep him from getting murdered the first time.
Buck’s bright aura had attracted the murderer—or make that the perfectly average person the demon had possessed. He’d probably been innocent like Miss G, not a murderer at all, only stalking Buck because the demon had been in control.
I thought about Miss G shooting him and felt sick. But what was she supposed to do—let him stab me and Buck?
We hadn’t really saved anyone. The demon had come to the apartment to kill Buck, and now that it had found a new body, it would try again.
“That guy who tried to stab you?” I said. “He was possessed by a demon. Now that demon’s in Miss G, so you’d better watch yourself.”
Buck’s baby blue eyes widened, and he took a step back. “Uh, yeah. I’ll be careful.”
I grimaced, all too familiar with that tone. It was the same way people always reacted when I told them about my visions. Honestly, what had I expected?
“See you around,” I said dully, and trudged to the elevator.
Back in my apartment, I tried not to think about how if Buck told anyone what I’d said, the gossip would travel through the apartment building by the end of the week. I could already imagine the whispers and stares in the hallway, people avoiding getting into the elevator with me. It would be like high school all over again.
I set up Biscuit’s new stuff and then settled on the couch with my tablet. Then I did a web search for “how to exorcise a person.” The internet came to my rescue with countless results, some joking and others serious. I fell down a rabbit hole, and the next thing I knew, hours had passed. My stomach was growling, and I really needed to pee.
But all my research had determined one thing:
I was in no way qualified to perform an exorcism.
I must have gone to almost every church in town, and they all turned me down. They didn’t believe me, of course. Why would they? I almost didn’t believe me. Only one person I spoke to actually sat down and seriously discussed exorcising demons with me, and he explained that the suspected possessed person would have to see a psychologist first to rule out mental illness.
Miss G didn’t have time for that, so I bought a cross and some holy water from a gift shop to exorcise her myself.
It was such a bad idea.
I left Biscuit in my room with plenty of food and water, so if I died, he’d be able to survive long enough for someone to come investigate. Then I rode the elevator down to Miss G’s floor, stopped in front of her door, and wiped my sweaty palms on my pants. The cross and holy water were hidden in the inner pocket of my blazer. They felt heavy, obvious, and like no protection whatsoever.
What was I doing? I should turn around and go back upstairs. This was going to end in disaster. But what else could I do? Ignore the possession and wait for the demon to kill someone? I couldn’t leave Miss G like this. I had to try something.
I raised my hand but couldn’t bring myself to knock on the door. My mouth felt dry, my skin feverish. My palms had gotten moist with sweat again, and I couldn’t—
The door opened, and I nearly shrieked.
Miss G leered at me from the doorway. Her hair was even messier than earlier, and her wrinkled skin had a sickly green tinge.
“Come in, dear.”
She walked back into the apartment, leaving the door open for me to follow. I stood there for a moment, gathering my courage. Then I took a deep breath and entered the apartment.
The living room was dim, yellowish light coming from two old-fashioned lamps. Miss G’s collection of porcelain figurines stared at me from shadowed shelves, and the stink of rotten eggs lurked faintly under the smell of potpourri. The once spacious room had turned claustrophobia-inducingly tight, and I felt like I’d entered the cave of some horrible beast. My legs twitched, itching to inch back toward the door.
“Let me get you some refreshments,” Miss G said, disappearing into the kitchen.
“S-Sure. Thank you.”
I sat cautiously on the couch like I had during my last visit. My heart pounded so loudly that I feared the demon could hear it. How did I want to do this? Should I ambush Miss G in the kitchen and throw holy water at her?
She came back before I could decide, a tray in hand. It held a pitcher of sweet tea like last time, but instead of cookies…
Raw meat sat on a pretty porcelain plate.
“So why are you here?” Miss G asked, eyes never leaving me as she sat in the armchair beside the coffee table.
Fear trickled down my spine like melting ice, and I sat up straighter. “I just dropped by to say hello. Like usual.”
“There’s nothing usual about that.” She poured herself a glass of iced tea. “You never come to visit unless you need something. Otherwise you do everything you can to avoid me. You’re not a good friend, Cassidy Chen.”
My stomach churned nauseously, and it had nothing to do with the raw meat or rotten egg smell.
“Then again, you don’t have any friends, do you?” She took a gulp, tea dribbling down her chin. “People think you’re strange once they get to know you. Always distracted by things they can’t see, always knowing things you shouldn’t. It’s easier to keep yourself isolated.”
She set down the glass and pulled the plate of raw meat toward herself. Picking up a steak knife and a dainty silver fork, she began to cut.
“They don’t believe you see the things you do,” she went on calmly. “And if they do, that’s even worse, isn’t it? Then they’re afraid of you. Even your parents find you uncanny. How sad.”
Red meat juice pooled at the bottom of the porcelain plate. Miss G stabbed her fork into a fatty chunk of moist meat and raised it to her mouth.
I shot to my feet and brandished the cross at her. “B-Begone, demon! Leave this body and go back to whence you came!”
She stared at me for a moment—and then burst into laughter.
It felt like a cannonball hitting me in the stomach. I fumbled for the holy water, but the bottle slipped from my shaky hands and rolled under the coffee table.
Son of a bitch. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I hadn’t expected to exorcise her immediately, but I’d thought the cross would at least make her flinch.
“You pathetic, amusing creature.”
Miss G smiled widely—too widely. Her mouth stretched inhumanly, and her eyes narrowed to slits. It looked like someone wore her face as a mask, and it didn’t fit properly. When she spoke again, a deep, rasping voice echoed under her own.
“You’ll need much stronger faith for that to work.”
I dropped the cross and bolted out the door, her laugher following me. The hallway was empty, and I sprinted for the elevator. I looked over my shoulder as I jabbed my finger into the button, but there was no sign of the demon. She wasn’t chasing me—at least not yet.
I fled to my room, locked the door, and collapsed on the couch. Biscuit scampered up and barked excitedly, but I ignored him and buried my face in my hands.
What the hell was I supposed to do now?
Biscuit crawled into my lap and licked my face. I’d find that gross normally, but under the circumstances, I would take whatever comfort I could get. I cuddled the dog and tried to think of a Plan B.
Should I go back to that one church and start the process of requesting an exorcism? The demon inside Miss G would probably kill someone before they sent out a priest—and that person might be Miss G herself. If she didn’t get Salmonella from eating raw meat, it would be a miracle. She looked awful even when the demon wasn’t showing itself under her skin.
The malicious smile on her warped, monstrous face burst into my memory, and I squeezed shut my eyes. I wished I could go into denial about her possession, because the reality of it made my breaths grow short and shallow. The demon knew me—knew me frighteningly well. I finally understood how other people felt when I told them private information that I shouldn’t know about their lives. It was freaky.
My breathing got close to hyperventilation, and I tried to calm myself. Should I take Biscuit and run? Nothing was keeping me in this apartment. I could move across the country and start over, let the demon be someone else’s problem. I obviously couldn’t stop it, so I should at least save myself, right?
My hand brushed Biscuit’s collar, and I got a flash of the warmth and love Miss G felt for the dog. I latched onto the soothing feeling, and my breathing gradually slowed.
No, I couldn’t run. Miss G had believed in my visions without question and hadn’t been the least bit disturbed. She’d saved my life. I’d be an asshole if I abandoned her.
Still holding onto Biscuit, I tried to summon a vision again. It hadn’t worked the first time, but it never would if I didn’t keep trying. I thought of the wrongness of the demon inhabiting Miss G’s body, the danger and terror. Then I focused on how Miss G had been before the possession. There had to be a way to get her back to normal.
I sat there for so long that Biscuit grew bored and jumped off my lap, but I didn’t give up. Confidence in my abilities didn’t keep me going; desperation did. I was out of ideas. If a vision couldn’t provide the answer, I didn’t know what else to do.
My limbs grew stiff, and I shifted position. Biscuit knocked something over, but I didn’t open my eyes. The physical world didn’t matter; I sought the preternatural, the transmundane. All my life, I’d tried to avoid visions. Now I tried to remember what having one felt like, hoping that if I could mimic the sensation, I could trigger something.
My mind drifted, but I kept circling around to Miss G and the demon. Miss G. The demon. Miss G. The demon. How could I separate them? Somewhere out in the world, there must be something or someone that could help.
The vision hit me like lightning: brief but earth-shattering. All it gave me was one name:
Beatriz Romo Reyes.
I gasped and nearly fell off the couch. Biscuit quirked his head curiously, momentarily dropping the TV remote he’d been chewing on. I lunged at the coffee table, seized my tablet, and did a web search for the name.
She had a website, and my heart jumped when I saw the heading. Beatriz Romo Reyes: Freelance Exorcist and Paranormal Consultant. My lungs expanded with joy, and shaky laughter escaped my mouth when I exhaled. This was it. This was the answer.
I stopped my mental victory dance and checked my excitement. The website didn’t look professional. Some of the fonts were too decorative to read, and the colors… Ugh. What if this woman was a fraud and couldn’t exorcise the demon at all?
Would her name have come to me if she was a con artist? I didn’t know enough about my abilities to say for certain. I did know I was out of options, so I called the number on her contact page.
Her voice had a lower timbre, and I couldn’t discern her accent from those two words alone. Was she from the South? I glanced at her contact page a second time but didn’t see an address.
I gathered my thoughts. It was all or nothing now.
“Hi. My name is Cassidy Chen. My friend is possessed by a demon, and I’d like to hire you.”
That was probably one of the top ten strangest sentences I’d ever said. I held my breath as I waited for her reply.
“Right,” she said, tone all business. “Walk me through her behavior. What makes you think she’s possessed?”
I bristled at the implication she didn’t believe me but then figured that was a reasonable question. So I started with the murderer and how Miss G had acted strangely after approaching his corpse. When I got to the part about my vision, her reaction was exactly as I’d feared.
Skepticism dripped from her words.
“Seriously?” I snapped. “You’re a professional exorcist, and you’re giving me grief about being psychic?”
“My job just means I run into loads of people who claim to be psychic but aren’t.”
Another vision cut off my angry rant. My abilities had my back for once.
“You need to clean out your van,” I said. “Those fast-food wrappers are days old, and the entire thing smells like stale French fries. And are you in the middle of the desert? My friend and I are in Atlanta. Can you make it here in time to help her?”
Several seconds of silence followed.
“Okay, I’m convinced,” Bea said. “And I can reach Atlanta by tomorrow.”
We went over more details, and I described my latest encounter with Miss G. Bea quoted her rates and got my email address to send an invoice. We ended the conversation with her planning to arrive by three o’clock the following afternoon.
When I hung up and transferred a down payment to her account, I wasn’t sure how to feel. Part of me feared she’d just swindled me and had no intention of showing up the next day. The rest of me felt an enormous rush of relief that I’d accomplished something and was making progress.
Only time would tell which reaction was the right one.
I’d like to say I didn’t encounter the demon again until Bea exorcised it, but that’s not the case. It woke me in the middle of the night—or rather Biscuit did. He jumped onto my bed and barked his fluffy little head off until I awoke with a groan.
“What?” I demanded, rubbing sleep from my eyes. “You better not have peed on the floor again.”
Then I heard it.
“Here, Biscuit. Heeeeere, Biscuit.”
I jumped out of bed, nearly knocking poor Biscuit to the floor. Where was she? Holy shit. Was she inside my apartment?
I scanned the dark bedroom for a weapon and saw nothing useful. Didn’t I have a softball bat in the closet somewhere?
And what then? Was I seriously going to beat Miss G with a bat? I could kill her. And imagine how that would look when the police arrived—a dead elderly white woman, me holding a bat and claiming it was self-defense. I didn’t need to be psychic to predict I’d go to prison. Or maybe a mental hospital if Buck told them I thought Miss G was possessed.
“Come here, Biscuit. Come to momma.”
Her voice sounded muffled and distant. Maybe she wasn’t in my apartment after all.
I crept cautiously to the bedroom door and peeked out into the open living/dining area. I hadn’t closed the curtains, and the view outside showed lights in the surrounding skyscrapers despite the late hour. Moonlight slipped into the room through the glass, but not enough to illuminate the inky shadows behind furniture and in corners. Miss G could be hiding anywhere.
“What are you so afraid of?” she asked.
Oh, thank God. I bent over and clutched my heart. Her voice came from the other side of the front door. She’d somehow gotten to the penthouse floor, but she was still in the lobby. She wasn’t in my apartment.
“I know you’re there, Cassidy.”
I choked on my own saliva.
“Give me my dog back.”
Biscuit whimpered, tail between his legs, and scurried into my bedroom.
“I don’t need you to watch him anymore.” The door rattled as Miss G tried the knob. “I want him back. He’s mine.”
Biscuit may have peed on my floor, and his fur was getting all over everything, but I wouldn’t hand him over to a demon.
A bang made me jump. Miss G was pounding on the door.
“Let me in, Cassidy. Let me in, and I’ll spare you.”
I stepped back, almost following Biscuit and hiding in my bedroom. Sweat drenched my nightshirt, and the air in my lungs turned cold. Should I get my softball bat after all? Could the demon break down the door?
“You can’t hide forever, Cassidy.”
The door rattled for a few moments longer and then went still.
Minute after minute ticked by, and nearly half an hour passed before I finally summoned the courage to approach the door. Shaking, I leaned slowly toward the peephole. My neck was tense, and I prepared to jump back at a split second’s notice. The demon could be only inches away, nothing but a flimsy wooden door between us.
Something seemed to block my throat, and I swallowed. Then I looked through the peephole.
Nothing. No sign of Miss G.
I could only relax a little. I stayed in the living room, watching the door cautiously for another hour. Then I went back to bed, not protesting when Biscuit got onto the mattress with me. But I couldn’t get back to sleep, my body too taut with fear. When the sun rose, I got up and started my espresso machine. Caffeine and nerves kept me conscious through the long morning and even longer afternoon until my phone rang.
It was Buck at the front desk, saying I had a visitor. I asked him to give her the elevator code and send her up.
When the knock came at the door, I checked the peephole again to make sure it wasn’t Miss G. Then I opened the door and let Bea inside.
I’d gotten an impression of the woman from my vision of her van, but it was different seeing her in person. She was tall with messy dark hair and light brown skin, tattoos covering her muscular arms. She had a battered duffle bag thrown over her shoulder, bulging with whatever tools exorcists carried.
Dressed in torn jean shorts, a halter top, and cowboy boots, she obviously didn’t care about making a professional first impression. I didn’t care about that either, as long as she got results. She gazed around the room, eyes lingering on the framed art, floor-to-ceiling windows, and grand piano. She wore a look on her face like she smelled rotten fish.
“You live here?” she asked disbelievingly.
“Yeah,” I said. “Problem?”
“I should have charged you more.” She rubbed her face. “I should have charged you way more. You’re loaded. Fuck!”
And this was my only hope of exorcising the demon.
“Can we talk about helping Miss G, please?” I asked pointedly, gesturing to the couch.
“Yeah…” She slouched over to the couch and threw herself on it, tossing her duffle bag onto the floor.
Make yourself at home, I thought.
I sat across from her, uncomfortable having another human being in my apartment. Should I offer her sweet tea and cookies like Miss G did whenever I came over? I didn’t have either of those in my kitchen. Would an offer of organic juice and whole grain crackers be the same?
Biscuit came out to investigate our guest, but as soon as he saw her, he froze. His fluffy tail shot straight up, and he growled at Bea.
“Hey!” I said. “Bad dog. Will you relax? She’s just—”
The world caught fire again, and I gasped. In my vision, Bea looked like a person-shaped firestorm. Heat scorched my skin, the flames so bright that I flinched away from her. But the vision sucked me in until fire and smoke surrounded me on all sides. Everything was burning. Everything was pain. The power was inescapable, and it burnt me to ash.
The vision ended, and I shot to my feet.
“What are you?” I demanded.
Bea just cocked her head. “Huh,” she said. “You know, most psychics just give me vague bullshit about romance being in my future. But you’re the real deal, huh?”
“What are you?” I asked again, phantom heat still on my skin. “You feel almost worse than the demon.”
“Good. Then there’s a chance I’m strong enough to beat it.” She crossed her legs. “Unless you want me to leave?”
I almost told her to get out, terrified by those all-consuming flames, but where would that leave me? If she was still offering to help…
I sat back down, breathing heavily. Biscuit had run back into my bedroom, probably to get fur all over my sheets.
“So does your place take up the entire top floor?” Bea asked, looking around the room.
I still felt shaky, but I tried to push past the vision and focus.
“It’s the penthouse suite, so yeah. Why are you so obsessed with my apartment?”
“And your friend Miss G?” she asked. “Where does she live?”
My forefinger tapped impatiently against the armrest. Did the woman have a side hustle in real estate or something?
“Two floors down,” I said.
“Neighbors on all sides?”
“Then we should lure the demon up here.”
“What?” I yelped, the contents of my stomach roiling like the ocean in a hurricane.
“Exorcisms are noisy,” Bea said. “There’s screaming, banging, furniture getting thrown around. The last thing we need is apartment security—or worse, the police—showing up halfway through because of a noise complaint.”
I didn’t want a possessed Miss G inside my space. Having her banging at the door last night had been bad enough. I could only imagine the psychic impressions the demon would leave behind, the aura of monstrous hatred that would stick to my rooms like sludge. This was my home, my safe space, the one spot where I didn’t have to worry about triggering a vision filled with horror.
“My downstairs neighbors can hear things,” I said feebly.
Bea shrugged. “Still better than neighbors downstairs, upstairs, and on both sides like in her room. But if you can recommend an isolated spot in town where we could lure her, I’m all ears.”
Nothing came to mind. I didn’t leave my apartment enough to know the city that well.
“Fine,” I said. “How do we get her up here?”
“I was hoping you would have some ideas.”
I clutched my head. What was the point of hiring her if I had to do everything?
“What has the demon talked about?” she prompted. “Is there anything it wants that we could use as leverage?”
“I don’t… Wait.” I straightened up. “It wants Biscuit.”
Her face scrunched up. “Like biscuits and gravy?”
“No, Biscuit is the dog.”
I summarized my terrifying encounter with Miss G from the night before.
“Great,” Bea said when I finished. “Just call her and say she can come get the dog.”
It wasn’t that easy, since I didn’t have Miss G’s phone number. I didn’t even know her real name, so I couldn’t look it up either. After some thinking, I called the front desk and spun a tale about needing her number so I could ask a question about her dog. Buck answered, and I worried he wouldn’t give me a single digit after I’d told him Miss G was possessed, but he happily rattled off the number and told me to say hi to Biscuit for him.
Did nothing put a dent in his trusting optimism?
Bea went over her plan with me, and I nodded numbly as she set things up. It was a proper plan, not the half-assed exorcism I’d tried the day before. I prayed it would work.
I plugged Miss G’s number into my phone but couldn’t convince my forefinger to hit the call button. My mouth felt dry as I stared at the screen.
“You got this,” Bea said. “I’m here with you, remember? You’re not facing that monster alone anymore.”
It was a surprisingly sensitive, comforting statement given all the crap she’d said before. I hit the button and raised the phone to my ear.
After two rings, Miss G picked up.
“Yeesss?” she asked in a slow, taunting tone.
“It’s Cassidy,” I said.
“What do you want, dear?”
I swallowed. “If I give your dog back, will you leave me alone?”
“Of course,” she purred. “I have no interest in you.”
“Then come up and get him.”
“I’ll be right there.”
She hung up, and I wanted to lie down and take a nap. I felt like I’d finished a two-hour run.
“Good job.” Bea clapped me on the shoulder and then walked toward the bedroom, where Miss G wouldn’t see her until it was hopefully too late. “Remember what to do.”
“I remember,” I said in a hoarse voice.
Two minutes later, Miss G knocked on the door.
My palms had gotten sweaty again, and it took me a second to get a good grip on the door handle. When I opened the door, the sight of Miss G knocked the breath from my lungs like a softball to the chest.
Her skin didn’t have a green tinge anymore. Now it was ashen and papery, looking like it might rip off if something brushed it too hard. Clumps of her hair had fallen out, and what remained was oily and unwashed. Her clothes were a wrinkled mess, and a hint of the rotten egg smell from her apartment wafted around her.
But her body’s condition didn’t seem to bother the demon wearing it. She gave me an aggressive smile. “I’m delighted you called.”
“C-Come in,” I said.
She stepped inside and scanned the room. “Where’s the beast?”
Despite my survival instincts urging me to run out the door, I locked it behind her. “Probably hiding somewhere. Can I get you something to drink?”
I hurried to the kitchen before she could answer, grabbing the tray of juice glasses already prepped. Bea had drugged the one on the right. It was supposed to knock Miss G out, allowing us to subdue her for the exorcism.
My hands shook, making the glasses rattle and the juice slosh around inside them. I rushed back into the living area, where Miss G was searching behind the couch for Biscuit. Why did she suddenly want the dog back when she couldn’t wait to get rid of him before? I had a horrible feeling it was related to her desire for raw meat.
I set the tray on the coffee table, miraculously managing not to spill anything. Then I sat down and forced myself to smile. “Have a seat.”
She didn’t move, though her eyes narrowed. “I’m not thirsty.”
“A-Are you sure?” I asked. “No offense, but you’re not looking too good. You need to hydrate.”
She stalked toward me. “Where’s my dog, Cassidy? What are you trying to do here?”
“Nothing!” I jumped to my feet and backed away. “I’m just offering you a drink, same as you do when I come to visit. Southern hospitality, right?”
“I can smell your lies,” she said, getting closer to me. “Just like I can smell your fear.”
I angled myself toward the bedroom as I retreated from her.
“That’s pretty judgmental,” I said before I could stop myself. “Especially coming from someone who stinks like you do.”
Her wrinkled hand shot toward my face like she was going to claw my eyes out. I tried to lean back but realized instantly I couldn’t move fast enough. Then Bea stormed through the bedroom doorway.
She grabbed Miss G’s wrist, twisted it behind the woman’s back, and marched her toward the bed.
Miss G screamed. The cry sounded like it came from ten voices at once, painfully high-pitched and inhumanly low at the same time. The lightbulbs in every fixture flared before bursting, raining glass shards onto the floor. I flinched and threw my hands over my head. Biscuit whined and darted out of the bedroom.
“Let me go, you insolent fleshbag!” Miss G roared—and it was truly a roar, her voice guttural and reverberating.
Bea didn’t loosen her grip. We had moved the bed to the middle of the room so she could draw an incomplete circle of salt around it, and she shoved Miss G through the open spot. Manacles were already attached to the headboard and footboard, strange symbols carved into the metal. Miss G screamed again when she saw them. The sound was more fury than terror.
The drawers shot out of my dresser, and one of them smacked Bea in the shoulder. She stumbled but didn’t let go of Miss G. Every piece of art on the walls crashed to the floor, and the curtains thrashed in an impossible wind. My jewelry box flung itself at me, and I ducked just in time. The box smashed itself into pieces on the wall behind me.
Bangs and crashes came from the living room, and something pounded discordant notes on the piano. Biscuit barked frantically. What the hell was going on?
“A little help?” Bea asked.
She had one hand around Miss G’s wrist, trying to get it into the manacle. The other hand gripped Miss G’s neck, shoving the snarling woman back so she couldn’t bite her.
I rushed forward and snapped the manacle around Miss G’s left wrist. It took some struggling, but we shackled her other three limbs too. The pressure in the room eased, and Bea backed me out of the circle. Then she grabbed her salt container and completed it.
Everything went still and silent.
Miss G growled and tugged fruitlessly at the chains. I stood there staring, and Bea rubbed her shoulder where the drawer had hit her. All the online research I’d done on exorcisms had not prepared me for that chaos.
After a second, I leaned through the doorway and looked into the living room. A trip to an art gallery was in my future, since all the paintings had fallen off the walls in there too, frames broken and canvases torn. The piano’s lid had slammed shut, and the bench had fallen, but otherwise it looked undamaged. Books from the shelves were scattered across the floor, and my coffee cup lay in pieces. Poor Biscuit cowered behind a chair.
Miss G’s voice made me turn around. She sounded frail, and her lower lip quivered as she gazed at me.
“Don’t let her do this to me,” she pleaded. “I’ll die. Please let me go.”
“That’s not her.” Bea gave me a sharp look. “It’s the demon.”
“I know,” I said, unable to look away from Miss G. Knowing the demon controlled her didn’t make it any easier to hear her beg.
Bea rolled her neck and stretched her arms. “Right. So I’m gonna get started. Stay in the room if you want, but don’t distract me. No big deal if you need to leave.”
I nodded but didn’t move, feeling like I owed it to Miss G to stay. I’d hired Bea. I was gambling Miss G’s life on her skills. The least I could do was witness what happened.
Bea moved to the foot of the bed, careful not to brush the salt circle with her boots. Facing Miss G, she widened her stance and inhaled slowly.
“This isn’t your body.”
On the surface, nothing about her words sounded special. She wasn’t speaking Latin or anything, and her voice hadn’t changed in the slightest. But I could feel the power behind each syllable. On the bed, Miss G jerked.
“This isn’t your plane of existence.”
Miss G thrashed, and the air pressure in the room intensified.
“Go back to where you came from.”
“No!” Miss G roared, and her skin rippled, giving a glimpse of the demon underneath. “This mortal is mine! You have no power over me!”
“Oh, I think I do.” Bea stood tall, her posture calm and confident. “Now get out.”
Miss G twitched and twisted inhumanly fast, and the pressure in the room built until my ears were about to pop. I leaned closer to the bed despite my terror. Miss G’s face was screwed up in pain, but that was good, wasn’t it? Bea must have been close to exorcising the demon. If she could just—
A knock came at the front door.
“Miss Cassidy?” Buck called. “Everything okay in there?”
The pressure in the room deflated like a month-old balloon, and Miss G sagged against the mattress in relief. Bea scowled in the door’s direction.
“I’ll deal with it,” I said, and rushed off.
Damn it. Someone must have made a noise complaint after all. Couldn’t my downstairs neighbors mind their own business for once?
I cracked open the front door and found Buck in the lobby, his bright aura flickering with worry.
“Not a good time, Buck,” I said.
“Oh.” He blinked. “Uh. Is everything okay? We got a report of things banging and crashing up here.”
“Everything’s fine. I’m just moving some furniture around. I’ll be done s—”
Miss G’s scream cut me off.
Buck’s jaw dropped. “Oh my God.”
I tried to shut the door, but he pushed past me and barreled inside. Of course he went straight for the bedroom.
“Oh my God!”
I dashed after him. From an objective standpoint, I could see how having an old woman chained to a bed looked bad.
“Buck.” Miss G put on her feeble, pleading voice again. “Sweet Buck. Thank goodness you’re here. You’ll save me, won’t you?”
Buck’s normally friendly face sent me a glare of accusation. “Cassidy, what the f—”
“Knock it off,” Bea snapped.
The words lashed out like a whip. Miss G flinched, revealing the monster hiding under her face.
Buck shrieked and grabbed my arm.
“I’ll kill you!” Miss G roared in an inhuman, echoing voice. “I’ll kill you all!”
Her body levitated off the bed, only the manacles keeping her from soaring into the air like a bat. I jerked back, and Buck nearly fell.
“And you,” she snarled at Buck. “I’ll snuff out that light of yours if it’s the last thing I do. I swear it.”
Buck’s hand tightened painfully around my arm. “Holy shit.” His voice came out high-pitched. “She’s possessed by a demon. You were right!”
“I’m always right.” I pried off his hand. “It’s a curse. Now be quiet and don’t interrupt again.”
Bea looked between us, checking whether we would distract her again. Then she squared her shoulders and stared down the demon.
“Let the woman go. Now.”
Miss G’s body dropped back onto the mattress. Her head turned slowly, and when she looked at me, tears leaked from her eyes.
I gasped. Miss G hadn’t called me “sugar” since she’d gotten possessed. The demon had called me “dear.” Did that mean the exorcism had worked?
“Miss G?” I asked shakily.
“Just let it kill me,” she said.
It felt like someone had hit me in the chest with a rock. “Wh-What?”
“I don’t deserve to live,” she said, shaking with sobs. “I’m a terrible person.”
“You are not!” I rushed forward, barely remembering to stop outside the salt circle. “You’re the nicest person in the entire building. You’re nice to me even when I’m an antisocial jackass.”
She shook her head, eyes tightening against more tears. “You don’t know the things I’ve done.”
“Yes, I do,” I said softly. “Psychic, remember?”
She squeezed shut her eyes and looked away.
My breaths turned shallow. Could Bea help Miss G if she didn’t want to be helped? What had that goddamned demon done to her?
It couldn’t win now, not when we were so close to saving Miss G. I had to do something. I had to convince her to fight.
“You jumped to stop Buck’s murder even though it wasn’t your problem,” I said. “You saved me from getting stabbed. That’s what a good person does. Don’t listen to that thing in your body. It’s lying—it’s literally evil!”
She didn’t answer.
“You can’t die,” I said desperately. “We have to make that Vegas trip, remember?”
“Yeah.” Buck stepped forward shakily, but his bright aura blazed with warmth and hope. “You can’t leave us, Miss G. What would Biscuit do without you?”
She turned back to us and sucked in a shuddering breath, eyes still shining with tears. But she didn’t look so hopeless anymore.
Bea must have sensed an opening, because she thrust her hands forward and shouted, “Get out of that body!”
Miss G screamed. Her back arched, and inky black smoke poured out of her pours. It coalesced in the air above her in a writhing cloud that slowly took the shape of something horrific. Long-fingered hands. Glowing red eyes. I wanted to run but was too scared to move. Why hadn’t I thought this through? An exorcism got the demon out, yes, but where did the demon go after that?
Bea raised a hand, and I thought I was having another vision when flames burst to life in her palm. Then I realized the fire was real.
She blasted the demon, vaporizing it. It vanished with an ungodly shriek, leaving behind only a few wisps of smoke.
For a second, we all stared in a mix of horror and relief. Was it really over? Would Miss G be all right?
Then the smoke set off the fire alarms.
I had to bullshit apartment management with a story about scented candles too close to my bed, but Buck backed me up, and I didn’t get more than a patronizing lecture about fire safety. The important thing was that the demon had left Miss G. If I’d needed confirmation of that fact, it happened when Biscuit jumped into her lap and licked her face enthusiastically.
Miss G is doing better these days, though she still moves slower and needs frequent rests. I’m not sure she’ll ever fully recover from the ordeal, but she stays in good spirits. We meet for tea at least once a week and gossip horribly about the other apartment residents.
We never actually made it to Vegas. With her health trashed, she didn’t feel up to a long trip. Or maybe it’s unfair of me to put the blame on her. I hate airplanes and hotels, so I didn’t want to go either.
Instead, we took a day trip to a casino about three hours outside of Atlanta, and we cleaned up.
Buck is the same as always. If learning that demons exist traumatized him, he doesn’t show it. His aura is still weirdly bright, and I just hope it doesn’t attract any more monsters.
And then there’s Bea.
After my meeting with apartment management that day, I caught her in the lobby on her way out. Her duffle bag was slung over her shoulder, manacles, salt, and other supplies packed inside. She didn’t look the least bit shaken, like this had been a normal day on the job for her—which I guess it was.
“Hey,” I said. “Um, thanks for everything. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”
“That’s me,” she said with a sigh. “Saving the day and getting terribly underpaid to do it.” She gave me a salute and headed for the door. “Take care of the old lady, okay?”
I stared after her. I wasn’t entirely sure I even liked the woman, but…
“Wait,” I called. “You’re right. I didn’t pay you enough for what you did.”
She stopped and turned around.
“I’ll owe you a favor,” I said.
Her eyebrows rose. “I’d prefer cash.”
“Really?” I crossed my arms. “Because anyone can give you money. Who else can see the things I do? That’s more valuable, don’t you think?”
Her lips pressed together as she considered it, and I fidgeted with my sleeve. Would she scorn my offer? I’d never suggested using my abilities for another person before—mostly because no one believed my abilities were real.
After a second, Bea shrugged. “Sure. What the hell. I’ll call you when it’s time to collect.”
“Great,” I said. “Uh, talk to you later, then.”
She nodded and walked out, but it wasn’t the last time I saw her. It wasn’t even the scariest supernatural threat we faced together.
In hindsight, I should’ve just given her cash.
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