My eyes flew to the door, just as Claire DeVue walked in. She carried an admission slip from the office – from her doctor’s appointment, which I’d completely forgotten about.
She had a high school stereotype all to herself, the Quiet Artist Girl. Painfully shy, she hid behind a veil of long blonde hair at all times. Only now, it shimmered like starlight in the dark room. She must have noticed something was wrong, as her already-pale face turned phosphorescent white. The term puella candida came to mind: pale girl; but also, pretty girl.
Diego’s tongue lashed back from my mouth. He spun around with an inhuman growl, like a tiger provoked.
Air rushed back into my lungs. “Shut the door!” I gasped as soon as I regained my voice. “Shut it, Claire!”
She let it slam closed, feet frozen where she stood.
I’d always had a sneaking suspicion that Diego had a thing for Claire. He probably would have asked her out by now, if the poor girl didn’t succumb to social laryngitis every time he tried to talk to her. I can only imagine he made her even more uncomfortable now, with his mouth smeared in blood and eyes channeling all the darkness in the room straight into her livid face. It’s a good thing I hadn’t pulled it out of his pants, otherwise she’d have been really uncomfortable.
They spoke to her, the voices of many demons. Of course there were more than one, how could I not have known? They sounded like a menagerie of beasts howling and scratching at the bars of a cage. Yet, somewhere in that cacophony, I heard familiar words.
“’Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas.‘” Like a drunk idiot, he staggered toward her, pants nearly falling down.
The voices went backwards: “’… ibit meuq ihim meuq …’”
Claire glared at him, eyes transfixed between horror and shock. Like me, she’s a small, fragile girl. He could easily injure, if not kill, her. Then, I remembered the baculum. It had rolled away, to the wall behind me.
Careful not to make a sound, I lifted myself from the desk. I stepped out of my Louboutins, and my feet cramped in pain. Of course, I was used to it.
The demons went on with the poem: “’… finem di dederint, Leuconoë…’”
The most petty, vindictive side of me thought, “Why is he using the Carpe Diem line on her? It should be me!” I quickly ignored it, and lunged for the stick I’d marked with my own blood.
As soon as I grabbed it, I looked back at Diego and Claire.
Oh shit. Diego’s hands were yanking on her hair, lifting her off the ground. She cried out in pain as the demons cheered maniacally.
“What the fuck, Diego,” she yelled with a fervor I didn’t know she had.
Terrified, unable to run, Claire did the only thing that made sense in the moment. She twisted the top off the sports drink, and spilled it all over him.
For a moment, everything stood still. Then small wisps of smoke curled away from Diego’s skin. His hands let go of Claire; she kicked him in the shin for good measure.
Hateful demon voices hissed from every corner of the room. They snarled curses in Latin, reverse Latin, strange tongues I didn’t even recognize.
This puzzled me, until I remembered – that drink was full of sodium, electrolytes, alkali materials (at least, I think it was; chemistry was never my subject). It seemed strong enough to at least repel the demons. Diego’s skin seethed bright red, and tendrils of blackish steam rose from his body. He fell backward, writhing on the floor in pain. The miserable screeches issuing from Diego’s mouth weren’t his.
Nick Whattley turned around, as if awakened from a spell. He opened his eyes and saw the demons’ power was waning. They couldn’t threaten him anymore. He called the other students to attention.
“Hey, you guys,” he said, “you can open your eyes now!”
“Are you sure?” asked Shelby. She sounded like she’d been crying.
“Yeah,” said Whattley, “and I know what to write now.”
Reluctantly, they all turned around.
“What is it?” asked Trevor.
“I should’ve thought of this before,” said Whattley. “’Daemon i domum.’ Demon, go home.’ Everyone, write it!”
Since they had no other options, all the kids behind the desk-barrier listened. They wrote line after line, checking each other’s spelling. Chalk pieces carved up and down the blackboard like knife-points.
Daemon i domum.
Daemon i domum.
The sound pierced the inside of my ears. Unfortunately, this only seemed to upset the demonic entities.
All the damned souls in Diego’s eyes flashed open, and with a wildcat yowl he jumped to his feet. He sprang at me, fingers ready to claw at my skin. Before I could think about it, I swung the thick end of the stick at him. It hit him in the face, and he stumbled back.
Once I caught my breath again, I turned to my class. “No, you’re all wrong,” I said. “There are more than one demon. It’s plural.”
“Ohhhhhhhh,” they said, as the epiphany ran through them like electric current.
“It’s daemoni, then, isn’t it?” Whattley asked me. “Daemoni ite domum!”
“Yes,” I said. “Everyone write that!” I felt like an idiot; had the answer basically been in The Life of Brian this whole time? It almost seemed too easy.
Then again, a lot of things are much simpler than we make them out to be.
“How many times?” asked Erica. I wanted to say that quantity didn’t matter, but it probably did.
“As many as it takes,” I said. Then I pointed to Claire. “You too.”
She ran to the opposite chalkboard, the one that wasn’t obstructed by desks. Without being told, she erased the uncanny demon-face drawn in chalk. I realized I probably should have done that.
Claire’s commands were probably the most effective, since she had the neatest handwriting. Even her entry into the room made us a group of 9 – a number of powerful significance if you’re into numerology. I hadn’t even thought of that until now.
Actually, I don’t think we would’ve overpowered the spirits at all if she hadn’t walked in. We might actually owe our lives to her.
“Nine times,” I said. “We all should write it at least nine times.” I wasn’t sure, but it was worth a try.
Then I heard a low, agonized moan from the floor. Diego’s whole body reeled, and he coughed up a frightening amount of blood.
Was he back to being himself again? There was only one way to find out. I slowly approached him, as he convulsed like a cat choking on a hairball.
“Diego?” I prodded him with the baculo.
His gaze jolted up at me, blood trailing like snake venom from his mouth. Son of a bitch. The demons glowered at me from his eyes, spewing faintly-audible curses.
“Daemoni ite domum,” I shouted, striking him repeatedly with the stick. “Exīte meam cellam! Reddite meum Puerum Scelestum! Statim!” (I figured I should say, Get out of my room, and Give back Wicked Boy right now, just to avoid any confusion.)
When I finished my tirade, Diego’s body collapsed again, face-down in his own blood. He lay still for a moment, and I began to worry that I’d seriously hurt him.
“Diego?” I felt tears spring into my eyes.
I heard a faint groan – in his own voice this time. He slowly lifted his face from the ground.
I ran to him, slid down to the floor to help him up. My skirt soaked up his blood as well as my own, but I’d worry about that later.
Honestly, I wish I could have collapsed into his arms and sobbed. I wish I could have shown every emotion I had for him in that moment. But there were rules, and I’d already broken enough.
“Come on, up we go,” I said briskly, swiping my tears away before he saw them. I let him use the stick to prop himself up.
Just then, he noticed his belt was still undone, and that his pants were halfway down his boxer shorts. I looked away before I could notice any more unnecessary visual information.
“Oh, shit,” he murmured under his breath. “Miss Spence, I’m so sorry.” He hiked up his pants, re-did his belt buckle.
Still looking away, I tried to keep my face expressionless. “How much of what just happened do you remember, Diego?” I asked.
“Oh, God…” his utter remorse told me he remembered everything. “Miss Spence, I’m so sorry. I can’t even tell you how sorry I am. Please don’t tell my parents.”
Those were some seriously fucked-up demons, forcing him to consciously experience the whole episode. I shook my head. In reality, I should probably be begging him not to tell his parents.
“I won’t tell them,” I promised.
When I knew he was going to be okay, I tried to turn the lights back on.
The room stayed dark.
“Shit,” I muttered. I tried every light switch, flipping them up and down. Still nothing.
By now, a dark presence was massing by the windows, choking out the sunlight.
How the fuck are they still here? I wondered, heart racing into a panic. I glanced at Claire. She was just finishing her eighth Daemoni ite domum.
Nine times. We all had to write it nine times.
I ran up next to Claire, finding my own space on the board.
“Diego, get over here,” I said. Quickly, I handed him a piece of chalk and told him what to do.
In a matter of minutes, every space of chalkboard very closely resembled Brian’s handiwork from the movie. I looked at the windows and held my breath.
It seemed like the room itself shuddered, as the demon voices made one last departing hiss. Every window rattled. Chunks of glass broke off, as if they’d been stricken by a hail storm.
“I thought that was shatterproof glass,” said Trevor.
“It is,” I said. “Or at least, it’s supposed to be.”
Then, the darkness leaked out through the broken glass. A cloud of flies formed outside, and quickly swarmed away.
The lights flickered on – weaker than before, but at least they worked again.
I looked around the room. “Guys,” I asked, “is everyone alright?”
The students nodded, most of them too on edge to speak.
Then, I realized my shirt had been torn open that whole time. I frowned, walked calmly to my desk, and grabbed the cardigan hanging on the back of my chair. Turning around, I glared around the room, challenging anyone to comment. No one did.
I slipped back into my Louboutins and click-clacked to the front of the massed-together desks.
“Put these desks back the way they were,” I ordered, with no acknowledgment of how they got there. Without a word, the students obeyed.
The harsh scrape of desks being realigned, of order being restored, was almost soothing. I paced around as they all took their seats, and stopped in front of Nick Whattley’s desk.
He had a sheet of notebook paper shut in his textbook.
“Open your book, Nick.”
The shock on his face told me he’d forgotten what was even there: the infamous Charlie, Charlie diagram. I snatched the paper away and stiletto-marched back to my desk.
In a bottom drawer, I found a lighter I’d confiscated from one of the Latin III kids. I opened a window, careful not to cut my hands on the glass shards. Then I lifted up the window screen, and held the lighter out far enough that it wouldn’t trigger the fire alarm.
I lit up the paper, and watched the Charlie, Charlie shrivel and burn. The wind took it away, and I watched it fizzle out into ash. Yes, I realize it could have started a fire somewhere else. At that point, I didn’t give a fuck, as long as it wasn’t here.
Then I turned back to face my class, giving everyone my most disappointed frown.
“The next person who plays that game,” I warned, “gets an automatic F for the entire semester. Does everyone understand?”
They nodded like trained monkeys.
“Good.” I shut the window, ignoring the sprinkling of glass that fell. I’d clean it up later.
Then, a loud beep nearly gave us all a heart attack. I looked up, and breathed a sigh of relief. It was only the intercom.
“Miss Spence?” said the Dean’s voice, filtered through the sound system. He sounded irritated.
“Yes?” I called, completely innocent.
“What is going on in your classroom? I’ve been getting complaints of excessive noise.”
“We’re reviewing for the Final,” I replied. I kept my voice calm, as if the past hour had never happened.
“Oh,” he said, finding no fault with my statement. “Well, make sure you do it quietly.”
“We will,” I assured him. “Sorry about the noise. It won’t happen again, Mr. Eckels.”
“All right,” he said, and hung up the intercom phone on his end.
I wanted to laugh at the sudden absurdity of all of this, but we stayed frozen in silence. Blood was still all over the floor, all over me, and all over Diego.
Then the bell rang. Class was out for the day, but no one moved.
“Does anyone have an extra jacket?” I asked.
“I do,” said Iosephus, “in my locker.”
“Go get it,” I said. “And shut the door behind you.”
He got up from his seat, and did just that. We waited for three unbearable minutes as the hallway filled with the clamor of departing students. Then the doorknob twisted, and Iosephus walked back in with the jacket he used for football practice.
“Give it to Diego,” I said. He tossed it and Diego caught it. Diego was slightly taller, but it still fit him. For now, it was enough to get him through the hallway without suspicion.
“All right,” I said. “Class dismissed. Everyone, study your imperatives. The Final’s on Monday.”
My Latin IV class got up from their seats. They were still a bit nervous, and rightfully so.
Only Diego spoke up. “Um, if you guys could keep this whole thing on the D.L…. If this gets out, Northwestern might withdraw my acceptance letter.”
Jenna sighed in annoyance. “Oh my God, don’t be an idiot. No one would believe us anyway.”
Northwestern. I couldn’t be prouder of my favorite student. My frown melted away, and I almost cried again. Almost.
Claire was the last to leave. She paused at the door, taking in the whole catastrophic state of the room.
“Miss Spence, do you need help cleaning up?” she offered.
I smiled at her, just briefly. “No, I’ll be alright. Go ahead, Claire.”
She nodded, and carefully shut the door so it wouldn’t slam.
Long story short, I spent the next three hours cleaning up the mess. I used paper towels and soap from the girls’ bathroom to scrub the blood off the floor. Luckily, my black skirt and black cardigan didn’t show any stains. The blood wouldn’t show up on my black Louboutins either, but that didn’t stop me from sanitizing them obsessively. I wiped the blood off my desk, threw away the bloody papers. Then I cleaned my dried crimson fingerprints off the baculum and returned it to its rightful place beside the blackboard.
Lastly, I e-mailed a request for maintenance to fix the windows. They’d still repair them even if I didn’t list a reason. At least I had the entire weekend to think of a bullshit explanation for the shattered glass, if anyone even bothered asking.
Time crawled by in the Emergency Room, even after the doctor came in. I barely noticed when she gave me a local anesthesia, stitched me up, and gave me a series of other injections. All I wanted to do was take off that starchy gown, change back into my bloody clothes, bind my sore feet back into my Louboutins, and get the fuck out of there.
The doctor made some more notes in her clipboard. She looked up at me, eyes heavy with concern.
“Rowanna, you’re in a safe place,” she said. “You can tell me anything. Is someone hurting you?”
“No,” I said. “This was all consensual.” Consent was a valid defense in the State of Illinois. They didn’t need to know his age.
The doctor sighed. “All right.” I could tell she wasn’t satisfied with my response, but she wasn’t going to get a better one. “I’ll write you a prescription for some antibiotics and painkillers. You might also want to try some of these over-the-counter anti-scarring creams.” She pointed to a list, but I didn’t read it. Then she told me that if scar tissue did form, I could come back in a few weeks for a plastic surgery consult.
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Of course, I knew this was a lie. If those wounds scarred, which they probably would, I’d keep them as my own secret memento. Is that weird? Probably. Still, whatever Diego Menendez ends up doing someday – whether or not he’s elected Governor, or President, or becomes a billionaire, or even a dictator – that kid is definitely going places.
Then, if I ever need a favor, all I have to do is remind him that I have his teeth marks all over me.