There Be Demons
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Britt Kelly leaned against the jamb between the cramped kitchen and living room of her new home in the projects. I feel like a sardine stuffed in a can.
Her anger churned. If her father hadn’t abandoned his family for his bimbo boss, she’d be back home in her own bedroom, chatting with friends about the new school year. Instead, she was stuck in her older half-sister’s apartment.
Many prized the apartments in St. Edmund’s Towers for their size, but Britt refused to see it. She looked at the walls they had painted as a trap. Her mother and sister were sleeping in each family’s respective bedroom. Her two small nephews smeared jam on their faces in the living room as they waited for the cartoons to start. Her two younger brothers, Carlos and Darin, whispered in the bathroom, forgetting their argument over who got the sink first might wake their sleeping mother.
Welcome to another merry day in the projects.
The teen huffed as she waited for her brothers to get ready to sneak away to go see their father uptown. Her thoughts switched to getting revenge on her absentee father. He’d missed his last two court-ordered visits, but she’d get him today, even if her mother forbade them to annoy him. The court said he could see his kids every third Sunday of the month. See them he would. Her brothers had a right to visit him even if his new wife hated them like cooties. Britt was going to make sure they did.
Wish I could make him suffer for the visits he’s missed.
A vision of Britt sticking him with a knitting needle in each hand like his Granny Nan made her smile.
No. That’s not vicious enough.
A vision of a steamroller with thousands of pins on its roller popped into Britt’s mind. In seconds, the machine squashed her father into the ground. When he emerged from underneath, he was a bleeding mess.
A low volume fanfare announced the TV news. Just as she was about to yank her brothers out of the bathroom, her favorite reporter came on. Jessica Hawthorne of the The Trebridge Channel wore a stunning form-fitting green outfit that Britt coveted. The color would go as well with her dark hair as the reporter’s blond, blue-eyed looks. Hawthorne took a deep breath, ready to deliver her morning spiel.
Britt swallowed hard. Before the Divorce, Britt had worn expensive clothes like Hawthorne’s, not thrift shop junk like she wore now. When they lost their uptown apartment after her mom got sick, the county sheriff had dumped all their belongings on the sidewalk. Most of their stuff got stolen.
Dad could’ve helped us. At least buy us some new clothes for school. He’s still got plenty of money. Mom couldn’t help getting sick.
The small living room swallowed Jessica Hawthorne’s breathy voice. Britt strained to hear her over the bratbies’ sporadic giggles as they shoved pieces of toast in each other’s faces.
“Enough about the underage Crown Prince of Andor getting caught in a strip joint when he should have been at school. Closer to home and our thought for the day. The Guarda assures the citizens of Trebridge the new curfew will end the vandalism and muggings. Stronger measures are needed, I tell you. Scores of people appear at hospitals with the most dreadful wounds and can’t remember how they got them.”
The reporter blathered on, an earnest expression knitting her brows. “We need more guarda on the streets, especially in the river districts. These hoodlums need to be stopped.”
Britt concentrated harder, not daring to turn up the volume while her mother slept. She worked the swing shift now and didn’t get home until four in the morning. Someday I’ll look that polished again, I swear. Granny Nan would bawl Dad out for how we live now if she were still alive.
Britt shut her complaints down, feeling embarrassed at how proud she had once been to be called her daddy’s ‘little princess’.
“While the guarda say their investigations are ongoing, I don’t see any results. Why have so many people disappeared? The police haven’t a clue.” Her lip curled. “You’d almost think we’re being invaded by demons and our fine protectors are too scared to investigate.” Her contempt poured from the screen.
Britt tapped her foot, wishing her brothers would stop giggling. She wished she lived uptown where she still had a room of her own. Granted, they didn’t live on the streets, but four people stuffed in one bedroom in her half-sister’s apartment was torture. Her father deserved to be kicked in the ass. Britt wanted revenge. Her father needed to pay for abandoning his family and her.
The noise in the bathroom grew louder.
Those buttheads better not wake Mom up.
Britt twitched the draped folds of her new V-neck blouse wishing she had the boobs to fill it out. It did have a designer label, just the thing she needed to sneak into the posh condos where her father now lived.
Just like the boys can’t wear their grubs today.
“I want to wear a T-shirt to Dad’s, Britt.”
Quarrelsome Darin whined behind her, making her jump. He had become a total pain since their parents’ divorce. Britt hoped seeing their dad would stop his constant bitching. Britt didn’t feel any guilt for disobeying their mother’s orders. The boys deserved to see their cockroach of a father. His ice-blooded new wife could just tough out their visit.
Britt’s muscles tightened in the cold, funny way they did when something bad was going to happen. She shook her head, forcing herself to ignore the bothersome feeling that was happening too often for comfort.
Glancing at the closed bedroom doors, she put a finger to her lips. Mom’s going to blister our ears if we wake her.
Darin opened his mouth. Lifting her hand to smack him, she brushed back the thick fall of hair across her eyes instead. If she hit him, Darin’s screams would wake their mom and Pietra, their half-sister.
Keeping her voice low, she said, “Get your butt in gear. You’re wearing what you’re wearing. End of questions, comments, and complaining.”
Darin did not give up. “My tees are clean. Dad don’t like fancy either. He sat in front of the TV with his shirt and shoes off all the time. In summer, he only wore his boxers. Remember? Mom always got mad at him for leaving beer cans on the coffee table. Always.”
“Shh. Don’t wake Mom or Pietra.” Britt held a finger to her lips. “Get your shoes on, and we can talk in the hall.”
“I don’t like dress shirts either.” Carlos, her older, calmer brother, carefully left the bathroom door partly ajar. “It’s not fair to make us wear them. You’re just a kid like us even if you’re taller. Being a high school freshmen ain’t no bigger deal than being in fifth grade.”
“Stop being buttheads, both of you.” Britt jerked the apartment door open. “You begged to visit Dad. I’m doing the best I can to see you do, so shut up and move your ass before Mom wakes up.”
Her mother did her best to push their father out of their lives. Britt refused to let her have her wish. Since the messy divorce and his marriage to the Ice-Bitch, Timothy Kelly had seldom spent more than an hour with them. Their dad mostly offered excuses when his visitation weekend came.When he did see them, they barely ate a fast lunch before he sent them off to a movie on their own. The last time was three months ago. Britt missed him and his compliments terribly.
He’s not going to escape today.
Britt remembered their one visit to the posh high-rise, so different from both their suburban and project homes. The pristine rooms, sprinkled with figurines and trinkets, made her nervous enough to get the cold crawls down her back every time she moved. The Ice-Bitch’s rat-dog had barked and snapped at them the whole time.
Carlos didn’t mean to break the stupid shepherd figurine when he jumped. The damn dog would’ve bit him if I hadn’t kicked the yapping rat in the head. I don’t care if the cabrona told us never to come back again. It’s our right to see him.
Outside the apartment, the hallway reeked from years of cooking in the eight apartments of the fifth floor, B-wing. In spite of the blinking light of the security camera in its wire cage, someone had tagged both sides of the hall. Thankfully, they left the picture Britt called the “Tree of Life” undamaged. Someone had painted a huge tree with birds flittering through the leaves. No one told the artist that real trees didn’t grow alone, especially the big ones. Britt missed the trees lining the streets of their lost home, and the painting’s survival gave Britt hope she might survive living in the slums, too.
Be glad you don’t down near the docks.
The thought of trees made Britt smile as memories of her summers at Granny Nan’s flitted through her mind, the pines sighing in the breeze while the oaks rustled with a brisker note. Her huge white dogs slipping out of the house to silently disappear into the tree-covered hillsides. Granny Nan standing lost in thought, rubbing her hidden necklace with the tips of her fingers until the gems glowed, when she thought she was alone. The three guard dogs, Nan called her guardians, licking Britt’s face.
Britt’s heart clutched when she recalled their goodbye last summer. Granny Nan had bustled about the kitchen, packing a lunch with extra snickerdoodles for the drive back to Trebridge. Just before she shoved the paper bag into her hands, she rose to her tiptoes to kiss Britt on the forehead.
“Cheer up, my girl. Next summer will be loads of fun. You’re going to learn all sorts of new stuff. Our secret now. Remember.”
The last word had held force as she tapped Britt’s forehead. She’d loved Granny Nan. Staying with her was always fun, except when she trained Britt in self-control. Britt had looked forward to her coming summer, not ever imagining the old woman would die.
Britt shoved the memory away because it hurt too much to remember. Won’t learn anything now since she’s dead.
A shuffling noise on the stairs put Britt on alert, living in the projects wasn’t as safe as Uptown. The head of the girl from across the hall appeared, followed by some older guy with broad shoulders carrying a sack. The girl took one look at Britt and dropped her gaze before scurrying toward her door.
On her way, the girl said, “Hi, tree.”
“Why do you always talk to that silly tree, Sara?” asked the guy following her. His gaze rested on where Britt’s boobs should be and sank to her crouch area.
When he smirked, Britt was glad her skirt was loose, happy she did not share Pietra and her mom’s busty figures.
The dark-haired Tejano girl pushed the door open after unlocking it. “Gerome, Hurry up. Mama wants that milk yesterday.”
He scooted into the door, throwing a backward glance at Britt. “Okay, Sara. Okay.”
Carlos slipped into the hallway, pulling their door shut without closing it. “Okay, Britt. Now tell me why I gotta do the dress-shirt shit before school starts.” He stopped and folded his arms across his chest. His expression mirrored his father’s when the old man was ready to start a tantrum and throw things when something didn’t go his way. “I’m not going to move an inch until you let me go back and get a t-shirt.”
“Yeah,” said Darin, joining them.
“We gotta sneak by the co-op’s security, buttheads. If you don’t blend in, they’ll check their list of undesirables and bounce you out the door faster than you can spit. So, you’re wear prissy clothes. Comprendes? Or are you guys totally too stupid to understand?”
“Dad don’t like you speaking Spanish,” said Carlos.
Darin parroted in the high-pitched voice that grated her patience raw. “Yeah, we’re Andorians. Have been forever. You can even join the Daughters of the Kingscourt.”
“Shut up, or go watch TV with the bratbies.” Britt gave him a cold stare. Her fifth-grade brothers hated being lumped with Pietra’s pre-school sons. “Carlos and I’ll visit Dad by ourselves and get bigger ice creams afterward.”
Carlos gasped. “You won’t really leave Darin behind?”
Britt’s glare heated. “Damn sure I would, if he don’t stop whining like a baby.”
“Okay, but I still don’t like dress shirts,” said Darin. “All the guys around here wear tees.”
“Duh. Wear a tee to school tomorrow. Now move your ass. We gotta catch the tram.”
Once on the street, the boys forgot the argument in a game of shoving and giggling. Was I ever so young? Maybe before Pietra fell down the stairs and everyone blamed me for pushing her.
Memories of her father’s great-grandmother who lived back in the hills flooded through her mind. Longing pulsed through Britt as she thought of the summers when she lived with her.
Britt should’ve hated the old woman, but she loved her. When she was nine, Britt had been sent away because everyone thought she shoved Pietra down the stairs, breaking her leg. Pietra had been teasing her by lifting her Mr. Pongo over her head, and she had been jumping trying to grab him away. But she slipped. Pietra had fallen down the stairs when Britt had grabbed her for balance. No one believed her when Britt said it was an accident.
The summer after, Granny Nan had invited her back. She did teach her to “control” her temper. She taught her imagination games. Made her use her use all her senses to examine the world around her. Taught her to sing in descant during the long evenings with the mages who came to visit her. Granny Nan was a Dissenter who disliked the Kingscourt and all it stood for. Still, Britt had loved Granny Nan’s mountain valley. The summers had been the most wonderful of Britt’s life.