“Is this class ever going to end?”
My best friend, Brooklyn, draped her upper body across her desk in a dramatic reenactment of Desdemona’s death in Othello. She buried her face in a tangle of arms and long black hair for effect. It was quite moving. And while I appreciated her freedom to express her misgivings about the most boring class since multicelled organisms first crawled onto dry land, I wondered about her timing.
“Miss Prather,” our Government teacher, Mr. Gonzales, said, his voice like a sharp crack in the silence of study time.
Brooklyn jerked upright in surprise. She glanced around as our classmates snickered, either politely into their hands or more rudely outright.
“Is there something you’d like to share with the class?”
She turned toward Mr. Gonzales and asked, “Did I say that out loud?”
The class erupted in laughter as Mr. G’s mouth formed a long narrow line across his face. Miraculously, the bell rang and Brooklyn couldn’t scramble out of her seat fast enough. She practically sprinted from the room. I followed at a slower pace, smiling meekly as I walked past Mr. G’s desk.
Brooklyn stood waiting for me in the hall, her face still frozen in surprise.
“That was funny,” I said, tugging her alongside me. She fell in line as we wound through the crush of students, fighting our way to PE. I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t particularly enjoy having my many faults and numerous shortcomings put on display for all to see, so why I would fight to get there was beyond me.
“No, really.” She tucked an arm through mine. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”
I couldn’t help but smile despite the weight on my chest, a weight that seemed endless. “Which is why that was funny.”
I did that a lot lately. Smiled. It was easier than explaining why I wasn’t.
“You don’t get it,” she said. “This is exactly what I’ve been talking about. Everything is weird ever since … you know.”
I did know. Ever since Jared Kovach came to town. Ever since he’d saved my life after a huge green delivery truck slammed into me. Ever since we’d found out he was the Angel of Death and had been sent not to save my life but to take it. To tweak the timing. To take me sooner than nature—or a huge green delivery truck—had intended.
And ever since I found out I’d been possessed by a demon when I was six years old.
Still, that wasn’t the worst part of that day all those years ago. The worst part was the fact that my parents were gone. Vanished in a whirlwind when some guy—we still had no idea who—opened the gates of hell. And I’d led them straight to it. The fact that a demon—Malak-Tuke, to be exact, Lucifer’s second-in-command—escaped from his fiery pit and decided to crash at my place was just the icing on the cake. But I didn’t know any of this until two months ago.
I’d been living with my grandparents since the disappearance, but my semi-normal existence changed forever when I was knocked into the street by a skateboarder and hit by that truck.
That near-death experience taught me a valuable lesson: Never get hit by a huge green delivery truck if I can help it. But if I hadn’t, if my life hadn’t almost ended that day, then Jared Kovach would not have been sent. And oddly enough, Jared Kovach was definitely worth the risk.
The events that followed were both terrifying and life changing. I learned that there really was a heaven and a hell. That there really were angels and demons. That I was a prophet, the last prophet in a long line of incredible women, descended from a powerful woman named Arabeth. And I’d learned that I had a demon inside me, that I’d had him inside me for years.
Even Jared had never seen anything like it. Most people possessed by evil spirits were lucky to survive. People possessed by demons—a rarity, from what I’d been told—never survived more than a month. Ever. And yet here I stood. As possessed as a girl with a demon inside her could be.
And, yes, things had been weird.
“People are acting strange, and the world has dark, fuzzy edges,” Brooklyn continued.
Before I could suggest a visit to the school nurse, an arm snaked around my neck from behind and I felt something poke my temple. A quick sideways glance told me it was a hand shaped to resemble a gun. “Give me all your money,” Glitch said through gritted teeth, pulling out his best Clint Eastwood impersonation.
Glitch, a connoisseur of computers, skipping, and coasting through school with less than stellar grades, was our sidekick and partner in crime. We weren’t the greatest criminals, so we really didn’t partner up for such endeavors often. Glitch and I had grown up together. He was half Native American and half Irish American, and he had the dark skin and hazel green eyes to prove it.
I wasn’t sure what I’d done to deserve either of my two best friends. Even when they found out I’d been possessed—was still possessed—they didn’t bail on me. That was true friendship. Or insanity. Either way.
I shook off his arm and tossed a grin at him from over my shoulder.
“You cut your hair,” I said to him, noticing his blond highlights were missing. The trim left only his jet-black hair, spiked as usual with just enough gel to make him almost cool. He was too much of a geek to be genuinely cool, but he was getting there.
“Yeah.” He raked his fingers through it. “So, what’s up with you two?”
“Brooke feels fuzzy.”
He bounced around until he was facing us, walking backwards with his backpack slung over his shoulder, his brows drawn in concern. “Fuzzy? Really?”
“I didn’t say I felt fuzzy. I said the world has fuzzy edges.”
He looked around to test her theory then back at us. How he managed to walk backwards in this crowd was beyond me. And rather awe inspiring. If I’d tried that, I would soon resemble a pancake covered with lots of footprints.
He furrowed his brows again in thought. “I don’t think it’s so much fuzzy as nauseatingly yellow, a color that is supposed to calm us, I’m sure. But did you hear?” he asked, suddenly excited. “Joss Duffy and Cruz de los Santos got in a fight during third.”
Brooklyn pulled me to a stop, her expression animated. “What did I tell you? Joss and Cruz are best friends. Everything is turned upside down.”
As bad as I hated to admit it, she was right. I’d felt it too: A quake. A disturbance in the atmosphere. Everyone seemed to have short fuses lately. The slightest infraction set people off. We’d been warned about an impending cosmic war. Was this how it would begin?
With a sigh, I started for PE again. Maybe we were reading too much into it. Or maybe the moon was full. People did crazy things when the moon was full. And besides, I didn’t want everything to be turned upside down. I’d had enough of upside down when I was hit by that truck. When I was possessed by Satan’s second-in-command. When my parents disappeared.
Some days I was almost okay with the fact that a demon had slipped inside my body when I was six, nestled between my ribs, curled around my spine. Other days that fact caused me no small amount of distress. On those days, I walked with head down and eyes hooded as my vertebrae fused in the heat of uncertainty and my bones writhed in sour revulsion.
Today was one of those days.
I’d awoken in a panic to the sensation of being crushed, unable to escape an invisible force, unable to breathe. The remnants of a nightmare still ricocheted against the walls of my lungs, squeezing them until air became a precious but fleeting commodity. At first I thought I was having an asthma attack, then I realized it was only a dream. The dream.
And the dream was always the same. In it, I would float back to that day so long ago and inhale the beast all over again, his taste acidic, his flesh choking and abrasive. Since I was just a kid at the time, one would think it was a small demon, possibly a minion or a lower-level employee. Like a janitor. But I’d seen him that day. How his shoulders, as black as a starless sky, spanned the horizon. How his head reached the tops of the trees. “Small” was not an accurate descriptor.
And now, thanks to my pathetic need for sleep, I could relive that memory over and over. Yay, me. On the bright side, I’d ditched that other recurring dream I’d been having since I was five. The one where bugs scurried under my sheets and up my legs. That thing was messed up.
Still, if not for all that, Jared would never have come to Riley’s Switch. We may be only a tiny speck on the map of New Mexico, hidden among juniper trees and sage bushes in the middle of no and where, but we were important enough to warrant an extended visit from the Angel of Death. Surely that meant something in the grand scheme of things.
“And Cameron has been acting strange too,” Brooke continued, mentioning the fifth member of our posse, if you included Jared. Which I did. But I hadn’t seen Cameron in a couple of days, which was odd.
“That’s because Cameron has a crush on you,” I said without thinking. I cringed when Glitch’s eyes widened a fraction of an inch. He caught himself instantly and turned away.
“No, seriously,” she said, oblivious. “He keeps asking if I’m okay. If you’re okay. If Glitch is okay.”
Glitch whirled back around and glared, but Brooke missed it once again.
“We need to practice,” she said, pulling a compact mirror out of her backpack. “Try again to get a vision, only try harder this tim...