The Devil You Know
This story takes place on the second Saturday of Year 3 of the Addergoole School.
The First and Second Cohort students were running wild in the halls. Callista had poked her head out of her room at breakfast time to find the halls dark, lit only by a couple dimly-glowing reddish emergency lights. She'd assumed it was a temporary outage, and decided that the cookies she had stashed in her dresser were more appealing than bumping around in the dark to try to find the dining hall, and, besides, the halls had been silent, empty of people, even the lounge quiet, as if everyone, even the older students, were hiding in their rooms.
Her room still had power, that was the strange thing, but maybe just one fuse or circuit or something had blown? This wasn't home, where she could go into the basement and flip the circuit breaker, so she contented herself with re-reading the dense chapter of History homework and munching on cookies.
By lunchtime, however, cookies were proving to be not enough to satisfy her now-growling stomach, so she ventured out of her room again. The lights were still off, but she could hear talking and what sounded like laughter in the distance so she, like others she could see dimly in the thin red light, ventured out.
As she drew closer to the stairs, however, the noises grew clearer; not laughter, per say, but hoots and hollering, punctuated by a few whimpers; just as she reached the stairs, the ever-increasing cacophony was cut by a scream. Callista could make out a few people on the stairs ahead, where the scream had echoed from; flickers of orange-red light cast shadows that looked creepily demonic in the dim light.
She wasn't all that hungry, was she? She turned around, intending to head back to the relative safety of her room, only to see more flickering lights coming down the hallway, malicious laughter echoing off the walls. The side hall, maybe? A set of eyes, seemingly disembodied in the inky blackness, glowing a sickly neon green.
All three directions looked chancy, so she took a risk and trucked it up the stairs, dodging around the laughing students.
She got a fleeting glimpse as she passed by; they had caught a girl, a skinny blonde Callista thought she recognized from a couple classes - Angela? Angeline - and she was struggling between a nearly-invisible demon with improbably black skin and glowing red eyes, and another with red leather pants and white skin and eyes. That one grabbed at Callista as she ran by, getting the hem of her shirt, but she kept going anyway, struggling out of the shirt.
The halls on the main floor were as dim as the floor below, echoing with yelling and laughter and chanting. She hadn't thought there were that many students here, but every hall she darted down seemed filled with monsters. Angeline wasn't the only Third Cohort they had caught, and others were faring worse; one dark-skinned boy was down on the floor, his nose bleeding, pinned down by a girl half his size.
At first, she thought if she kept running, no-one would take the time to notice her, involved as they were with those they had already caught, but, just when she thought she’d reached the safety – she hoped it would be safety – of the dining hall, she heard a voice yell behind her, “Get her!”
Feet pounded after her, and she forced herself to run faster, her feet pounded relentlessly on the sound-muffling carpet, ricocheting off walls like a mad pinball, ducking down passageways she hoped she was remembering properly. In the dim light, this place was like a maze.
She ducked into a hallway, the noises of pursuit growing closer and closer. This should lead to the library; she could cut through there to the classrooms, and maybe find one of those random access stairways back downstairs, and sneak back to her room…
…the hall ended abruptly in a dead end. She spun back the way she’d come, wondering where she’d gotten turned around. Close by, someone hooted. She heard drumbeats, thudding closer and closer.
“Psst!” She whirled, nearly hitting the boy who’d come up behind her.
“Where did you come from?” she hissed.
“Right here.” He indicated a small niche in the wall, like a doorway with no door. “There’s room enough for two, if you’d like.”
He looked harmless enough, normal and forgettable and human, and the drums were just about to round the corner. “Yes, I’d like. Yes!” She pressed herself against the wall in his little hidey-hole, and he crowded in after her.
“I heard, if you say you belong to someone, they’ll leave you alone,” he murmured.
“Like, I’m dating the captain of the football team, that sort of thing?” she whispered back.
“I guess,” he shrugged, but then her pursuers were coming down the hall towards their precarious sanctuary, and they both fell silent.
There was no way they would get passed by, none at all. The shouting got closer and closer – and went right past them, out of her line of sight over the boy’s shoulder. For a moment, she thought they were actually in the clear, but then one girl at the back of the pack, her muzzle elongated and her nose flattened into something more animal than human, stopped, sniffing the air. She turned back towards their hiding place, and shouted,
“Hey! Someone’s being sneaky!” The idea seemed to affront her, and she stalked towards them angrily while the mob turned back around, stumbling to a halt. The white-skinned monster with red eyes stalked to the front of the crowd, looking over the two of them with exaggerated disdain.
“What have we here?” he sneered. “Mice? Well, I guess it’s time for an extermination.” He pulled a wickedly curved and barbed blade from a sheath on his belt, and moved towards Callista, who found herself frozen in place. He held her gaze, smirking maliciously as he closed in. The world narrowed to the white orbs of his eyes.
Callista was shaken back into awareness as the boy shouldered his way in front of her, blocking her completely from the monster, and spread his wings wide, completely -
- wait, what? But they were there, entirely engulfing her field of vision, slick black bat wings like something straight from Hell, complete with the little bone-spur-like claws at the top. "She is under my protection," came his voice, deeper and thicker but still the same voice. "She belongs to me."
"Well, isn't that interesting," the demon chuckled. "This pretty little mouse belongs to you, Ib? Is that true, mousey?"
The crazy man had a knife. Ib - Ib?! - only had wings. And maybe claws. But he was protecting her. "Um.. yes." The whirling panic in her stomach refused to subside. "Yeah, I ..." she forced herself to sound firm. "I belong to Ib." And, with that, the panic vanished. She belonged to the skinny kid with the demon wings.
"So be it, then." Callista couldn't see anything from behind Ib's wings, but she could hear the mob moving off, looking, she supposed, for some other Third Cohort to torment. A moment passed, and then Ib folded his wings and turned to face her.
His eyes were a solid glowing green, and his skin was black, covered with a belt of very very short fur, but his features were still the same as the boy who had pulled her into his hidey-hole. “Neat,” he smiled, his eyes raking over her. “I live in room C-4. Go back there now. I’ll be back there sometime tonight.”
She blinked at him. She was going to go get food, if she could avoid the monsters long enough to get there. Then she was going to go back to her room and study, and hope the madness was over by tomorrow. She was hungry, after all, and she was ...
...going to go to room C-4, and wait for Ib. “Okay.” He was still in her way, so she couldn’t leave. She waited for him to move, but, instead, he pulled from his pants pocket a short length of braided leather cord. “I didn’t think I would need this today, but it looks like I will. Hold still.” She held still, and he stepped up until his chest was nearly touching hers. She took an involuntary step backwards -
- except that she didn’t move at all, as he brushed his lips across her earlobe and tied the cord around her neck, just tight enough that she could feel it when she swallowed. “That will make them leave you alone. Go. I’m gonna go have some fun.”
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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