Written by Trey Briggs || Art by Monté Miller
Every night, it’s a different thing. You lose one escape, you embrace another.
I don’t like the way Osh looks at me most of the time. It’s a small thing, man, but you gotta be there to see it. I open my mouth a little bit and Osh is glaring in it like I threatened his family or something. You’d think I sit around bad mouthing the man. Anybody else would get rid of him, put his ass in the ground, you know the deal.
I care about him. It’s a different feeling, so I hold on to it.
We leaned against the wall, waiting for another devil. My mentor, Mr. David, he’d finished cursing me out to hell and back earlier that day. “Make sure this one lives, Bylas. I’m not dealing with any more mistakes. Bring it back alive.” You don’t brush off Mr. David, not even a little, so I’d agreed. I didn’t feel like trying, though.
They were everywhere. There was a woman Mr. David was in love with named Autumn, and listening to her, you’d think people like me were the problem. She gave me work assignments sometimes, and was my doctor other times. I had to be careful around her even when she was smiling and being nice. Between Autumn and Osh, you’d think it was people like me that were walking around causing trouble. I don’t know, man. The older I get, the more I feel like I’m the innocent one. It’s like, the people like me, we don’t do anything but eat and exist.
I cocked the shotgun and tried not to look at Davey.
“Dude, did you see the thing about us in the newspaper? They called us ‘fanatics’ or whatever. It’s annoying as shit. I wish I were a fanatic for something instead of sitting around here stalking other Devils,” she said, bouncing. I started to say something but she spit at the wall, a thick glob of gunk that splat. I stared at it in disgust, swallowing.
Lou, Autumn’s daughter, was probably at home getting ready for our date in a few hours. I always had to navigate around what she’d told her mother about me. It was crazy how much the treatment I got changed based on how Lou felt. I could breathe wrong around her and she’d tell her mother, and then she and Mr. David treated me like shit. I tried to watch myself, to be a great man to her, but I hadn’t exactly chosen Lou in the first place.
It’s hard to explain.
One thing you could say about Lou, though, was that she was clean. Dainty. Lou smelled like a good future, like a nice neck to bury your face in after a long day. Davey wasn’t anybody’s feminine anything. You’d probably bury your face in her neck and smell more work.
“Do you have to do shit like that,” I asked, and I had to try real hard not to whine. Osh crouched down, watching the restaurant we were supposed to be staking out. I didn’t bother looking at it. Devils didn’t even try to hide, not the ones we went after. They didn’t have to worry about fitting in, or eating, or anything important. They sat around spitting at walls.
Davey was less of a good giveaway. You couldn’t tell by her short hair and trimmed nails that she wasn’t human. You swept her hair away from her face, though? Pitch white pupil. So she was another secret monster that had to slink around, like me, and I don’t know. It made me appreciate her a little more than the other devils.
That’s it, though. It was an appreciation. I love Lou or whatever.
“Girls can’t spit?” Davey leaned forward when she talked, and I could see straight down her shirt. She raised an eyebrow and smirked, shaking her breasts. The blood rushed to my face, and maybe a couple other places, but I just looked down at the shotgun instead.
Dirty as hell.
“You can spit. Anybody can spit. Spit on the floor.”
“Damn, didn’t realize you were so attached to the wall, By.” She moved over to it, right next to the gunk from her throat, and kissed the bricks. I felt my stomach lurch a little, but the way she bent over made me blush more. I turned to Osh, thinking about Lou eating, prim and proper. Lou smiling with her super white teeth, covering her mouth. Lou laughing when I mentioned the lipstick on her tooth. The girl wasn’t anybody’s ‘half bad’.
Davey stuck out her tongue, and the way it slid around her sharp teeth hurt my chest. I thought about Osh pulling me to the side one time, face scrunched up, and saying, “You want to get over her? Imagine how much dick you got left after she gives you head with teeth like that…”
It didn’t help.
“Chill.” The word came out more strangled than I wanted, and Davey blew me a kiss in response. Osh ignored us as usual, but I could feel his irritation. It vibrated from his skin.
I don’t like the way he acts around us, sometimes.
The woman walked down the street. It was obvious. Her heels were so high, I wondered if her ankles were breaking and healing with every step. Just obvious as hell. I had to hide in alleys and eat dinners in basements, and here this devil was with hair down to the fucking ground. Davey gave me a look, rolling her eyes, and sighed.
“Dude, come on. She’s a devil, look at the hair. She’s like me. Let’s just get her, Osh. Do we have to do all this extra stalking? The mermaid won’t care one way or another if she can’t make one of those parasite things.” I nodded, but I didn’t agree with her statement. Davey was a devil, yeah, but nobody was like her. Nobody smiled like her, nobody laughed with their mouth wide open, slapping everything in sight. Nobody spit on a wall like she did.
Lou, dumbass, think about Lou.
Lou was a problem for me, but I tried not to look at it that way. I couldn’t get rid of her. No matter what I did or said, no matter what I was like, Lou forgave me. No matter how much I pulled away, Lou waited. I didn’t even think I was all that attractive or interesting. Lou was determined.
Earlier that day, she’d tried again to get my attention.
“I had sex with Osh. I was mad at you because you… because of Davey. I’m sorry.”
“You’re lying again, so it doesn’t matter.” Lou stared up at me, hair rested in my lap. She had her legs on the arm of the couch, curled up so we could watch movies. Mr. David used to make us meet up, make us talk and hang out. It was more of my responsibility to do it now, and so I planned these little movie nights. It was cool to get out of the basement. I didn’t ever actually watch the movies, anyway. I thought about whatever else had happened that day, sometimes I felt her up, sometimes I just sat. Lou talked, and she had one of those highly ignorable acid-washed voices that went up at the end of every sentence.
“What if I wasn’t lying? Or what if there was someone else in general? Would you be mad?” I sighed.
“Nah. You do what you want.” I didn’t believe she was doing anything with Osh. He wouldn’t dare. She’d made the same confession two other times. Davey laughed when I mentioned it, and I felt more about her laughing than I did Osh’s entire existence. Davey just had this laugh…
“Okay. I’ll just keep doing it, then.”
“You don’t have to do this lying shit to make me like you, Lou. You’re beautiful. I love you, I told you that.” We watched the show on TV for a minute, and I let my hand glide over her stomach. It was hard to tell how Lou was feeling at any given moment. She always had the same slightly cheerful expression. You could tell her you were going to strangle her to death, and she’d just nod and smile.
“Thanks. I’ll remember that. Noah actually answered the phone and talked to me today.” I tried to look interested.
“Damn, that’s cool. Is she coming home?”
“Nope. She was very clear that I was annoying, and mom was a bitch, and she was never coming home. She’s never coming to get me.”
“Well, let her live her life. You’ll get out of here soon, anyway. When we get married or whatever.”
“Or whatever. Right.” Her tone changed, and when I looked down at her face it was blank. The glow from the TV made her look like a zombie.
“You’re not going to marry me, Bylas. Nobody ever comes back for me, By. Or fights for me. They don’t even pretend they would.”
“I would,” I said, laughing a little. Lou adjusted, moving my hand from her stomach.
“Oh yeah? Would Davey ride with you, or would she wait at the house?”
“I don’t love you, By. It’s not a big deal. Love Davey all you want. Just get me away from these people.” I felt a stab of guilt. It hit me right in the chest, sunk down to my ego. When I started to speak, Lou’s face twisted into an expression I couldn’t define.
“I don’t want Davey, I want you. And how the hell am I supposed to help you escape? I can’t even leave Mr. David’s basement without sneaking.”
“You haven’t even tried. You’re the strongest person alive, I knew it the minute I saw you. Even if you aren’t, you’re in the same situation I’m in, Bylas. We’re stuck wherever we go. But you know who your mother is, and she could…”
“Lou, come on.”
“You all think I’m some pretty idiot. Maybe I am. Maybe I’m only good for a few fucks and some laughs.” She sat up, fixing her clothes. I tried really hard to think of something to say.
“That’s… not true. You’re worth more than that.” She cut her eyes at me.
“Of course I am, you fish. You think I don’t know that? You all think me and my momma are going to sit around helpless. I hope Noah chokes and dies with her new husband. I hope she wakes up and finds him dead one day. You, too. I hope you fall asleep next to Davey, and you wake up and her entire head is gone.”
“Don’t talk like that.” I didn’t say anything else, but I tried. I wanted to help Lou. Shit, I wanted to take Lou and get the hell out of there, put her someplace safe and beautiful. If anybody deserved it, she did. Would I stay there with her? Maybe, maybe not. I felt like it mattered more that I wanted to do that for her, though. I could save her without wanting to be with her.
I grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back onto me. Lou barely struggled, meeting my lips when I turned her face. Her breath smelled like roses somehow, like something light and breezy. I kissed her until she gasped a little, but let her go when she moved my arms.
Lou stood, stretching. The smile filtered back onto her face, into her eyes, transforming her entire appearance. She pulled my hand up, kissed it, and made her way to the door.
“Sorry. Today was bad, I didn’t mean to take it out on you. Don’t forget to meet me tonight, okay? I- I mean it, I need to relax. I want diner food so bad. Promise me.”
“Promise me again, and I’ll believe you.” I laughed a little, irritation building in my stomach.
“I promise, Lou.”
Satisfied, Lou walked through the door. She could move, man, the way her hips waved when she walked was chaos. Lou was more of a woman than any I’d ever met. There was something so amazing about the way she carried herself.
I wondered if anyone else knew how sad she was.
It hit me too hard throughout the day that Osh could’ve fucked Lou. It was the way he glared at me. The way he looked at me when we crossed paths. You can care about someone all you want, but that doesn’t mean they feel the same way.
I learned that from Lou.
We followed the woman up the street, and this agitation built in me. Osh always wanted to protect the devils unless, of course, he was mad. Then we had to let him rip them to shreds. Osh wanted to do things his way in general. You wouldn’t know I was the oldest there. You wouldn’t even know Osh was the newest member of our little group, that he was a simple human.
Mr. David used to keep me and Davey at his house, but he gave us up to keep Osh. He left me and Davey to live in the basement at our job, got a whole new apartment to take care of Osh. That was years ago, yeah, but it popped into my head every now and then. I wasn’t supposed to feel anything about it.
“It’s not personal. It makes more sense this way, Bylas.”
I won’t say if I do feel something about it or not. But I cocked the shotgun, and I laughed, “What are we looking for, Osh? Why don’t I just shoot her and see what happens?” Davey grimaced at me, walking slow behind him. Everybody cared about Osh’s feelings.
When Lou told me she was fucking him the first time, she did it in a sort of sing song way. You could hear the excitement in her voice. I think she wanted me to be angry about it. She wanted me to smash his head through a wall. I didn’t, and the unspoken thing in the air was louder than anything she could’ve done.
“I guess it doesn’t matter what I do, does it?”
Osh could beat a man to death with his bare hands in front of us. Osh could mess around and stomp some poor woman to death just because she’s like me, she’s a Shadow. Osh could do some terrible, strange shit to his wife, some shit he admitted to you when he was drunk one night. Nobody that knew batted an eye. You think Autumn told me to be careful around his ass? You think they gave me as much room? Osh was human, so he was redeemable. You think Mr. David felt anything about plopping me down in the basement and finding a whole new life to raise Osh in?
Davey bit her lip at me. Can’t make Osh mad. Can’t ruin her chances of figuring out who she was. Everything was a secret, everyone was tip-toeing along.
Every night, we navigated through a different whisper.
“Shit, I mean, she knows we’re back here now.” Davey slapped my neck and pushed herself up, walking along the wall, balancing on my shoulder. She put one hand in her pocket, too damn strong for a girl her size. I felt the blood rushing again and tried to pay attention to the woman walking faster in front of us. I could tell she wasn’t what we needed. The ones that we were after weren’t that flashy.
They lived like me and Davey. They hid.
Davey’s eyes changed like they did when she was concentrating. The left one went from brown to grey, the right one already pure white. It was a different eye sometimes, but one of them was always white. I tried to look at her while I walked.
“Not yet,” Osh whispered, and I fought the urge to put my foot through his back. The woman stopped and turned around, and I could see the fear and anguish on her face. Must suck to finally face your end. “By, can you see her pupils?” I could, and they were normal. The woman sucked in a breath and turned to run.
For a minute, I didn’t want to kill her. Osh hesitated, suddenly not able to hand out commands. Davey gave me a look, so close she could’ve kissed me. I gulped.
“I’m bored,” she said, and her breath smelled like blood. I gulped again. Davey pushed herself up, kicked off the wall, and went flying through the air. Her foot smashed into the woman’s back, and the sound of her spine snapping hit me hard. The sound of her chin hitting the ground was worse, the way her blood sprayed out was worse. All of it was terrible. I moved around Osh before he could say anything, worried for him.
It was the same every time. I wanted to hurt him, but I didn’t.
The woman twitched, the front of her shoes scraping against the ground. There was a sick feeling in my stomach as I watched, the joy sucked straight out of me. Another monster like Davey down. Just another monster wiped from the face of the earth. I kept my face straight, glancing at Davey, and she had her hand on her stomach, face frozen in grief. The woman let out an odd groan, and I lifted the gun and shot her before it could bother Davey too much.
At the end of the day, the woman was just another devil in a sea of them.
We were all quiet for a second. Osh approached, and his voice pulled me back to reality. I fought the urge to smash the gun into his jaw when he asked, “Fuck. She a devil or not?” I watched the red blood flow out of her, waiting for it to turn to powder. Of course, it didn’t. You could tell Davey regretted it without looking at her. The girl loved hurting people, she lived to kill things, but she always hated hurting other devils.
Davey’s gonna be sick about this shit later.
“Yeah, she’s at least that. But she’s not immortal. Liquid blood and all that.” I watched the blood run down into the drain, holding still. The woman looked only a little older than us. Davey bit her lip, staring at me, and I put the shotgun down. Osh just stood there angry like usual, always in his damn head, always too good to be around us. The blood hit his shoe but he didn’t move, fists balled. Davey fixed her face and stared ahead.
“Sorry, Osh. By, fucking take her body already, don’t just let her rot on the ground. You’re making the kid mad.”
“The kid needs to calm the fuck down on his own before I shoot his ass, too.” Osh turned and walked off, hands in his pockets, staring up at the sky. I thought about him fucking Lou, maybe actually having fucked Lou, and fought more urges.
“By. Come on. You could kill him in a second. You know that, I know that, he knows that. If you’re not gonna kill him, don’t threaten him. None of us are happy out here.” Davey was glaring at me, but I kept my eyes on Osh. Man, he actually could’ve talked Lou into having sex with him. It felt like something he would do. Everything was a competition. Every woman was his prize, or his collateral, or something for him. He wasn’t even that attractive, the man was more hair than body.
“You killed her. I put her out of her misery. The fuck is his problem…”
“So what? Are you finally gonna kill him? Give everyone else more excuses to hate us? By. We’re the monsters, right? You have to control yourself. He’s a brat, but he’s escaping this shit just like we are. I’m glad Osh gets to go home after this, but where do we go?” Man, I felt the lump growing in my throat and had to stop myself from whining.
“Right. Shit, you have it better than me! You get to sneak out with your pretty human doll tonight, right? Where do I go?”
“The basement.” I was quiet for a minute, taking in her anguish.
“I screwed up again, By. Stay with me tonight? You’re my best friend, I need you. Or is your doll more important?” A little bit of hope sparked in me, and I hated myself for it.
“We can play cards when we get back. I’ll stay with you until you fall asleep. I promise.” She nodded, still staring down at the woman.
“Thanks. Get rid of the body, and let’s go eat. Don’t bother the kid. Let him pretend he’s a good guy. We all need to sometimes.”
I tried to get a message out to Lou. Seriously, I did. It’s hard when you live in the basement of an unoccupied house. Most of the time, we were where we were until Mr. David or Autumn came to get us.
As soon as Davey went to sleep, I snuck out to go see Lou.
Lou sat at the bus stop by Mr. David’s house, her face plump with tears. I stopped as far back as I could, watching her. We were supposed to meet at 8pm, and it was close to 3:30 in the morning, and she was still sitting there. The wind snapped by, cold as hell. Lou was in a pretty dress, arms bare and covered in goosebumps, hair pinned up. I wanted to turn around and curl up next to Davey and forget I’d ever known Lou.
Be a man.
I walked up, smiling, and Lou wiped her face. She took a deep breath.
“How was your night, By? Do anything cook at your secret job? Do anything nice with Davey?” Her voice shook a little, but otherwise she was fine. I pulled my coat off and pulled it over her shoulders.
“I’m sorry, Lou. It’s not you…”
“No. Of course it isn’t. It’s not me, you just really love Davey. Right?” I sat back on the ground. The little light above us at the shelter flickered.
“I love you. I always will.” She gave me a radiant smile.
“You know, you used to be a dream. I mean that. I thought about you every night, By. Every bad thing that happened, I swallowed it all up and let you vanquish it in my dreams. That’s what makes me pathetic, isn’t it?” Lou spoke but her face was so pleasant and beautiful that I wondered if I was imagining the words.
“It’s been so long, By. Noah’s gone, my momma’s going crazy from the grief. Nobody ever wonders what I’m doing. Nobody ever wonders how I feel.” Lou let a tear fall, and I moved to wipe it, but she grabbed my hand.
“I know you never wanted to be with me. Nobody ever asked if I wanted to be with you. But you’re my way out, By. And I don’t care what anyone says or does. I’m getting out. If you think…” She finally sobbed, squeezing my hand.
“Lou, I won’t abandon you. I promise.”
“If you think I’m going to let you all forget me, and leave me out by the trash, you’re wrong. I don’t care what happens, By, if I have to hurt you or get rid of Davey, I don’t care. You all can save each other, and destroy each other. You’re an idiot if you think I won’t do the same for myself. You’re going to hate yourself when you see what I do, you idiot. You don’t have to worry about being on time, anymore. We don’t have to go through the motions.” She stood, zipping up my coat. I tried to move but she lightly held my shoulder.
“You’re not a prize. You’re the ending that my momma couldn’t save me from, sweetie. I tried to make the best of it because it was the only clean option, I really did. I don’t need you anymore, okay? I’ll save myself.”
I sat and watched her walk off like a woman. Shoulders back, head high, every step waving with her hips. A loud noise filled my head while I watched, and I finally realized I wasn’t breathing. I took in a deep gulp of air and went back home to Davey.
Every day, it’s a different thing. You embrace one escape, you lose another.