Everybody has a demon, most people just don’t know it.
I can see them.
They perch on your shoulders or ride piggy back, whispering in your ear. Sometimes they speak words soothing and sickly sweet, other times bitter and venomous.
Some people’s demons are tiny and innocuous, even cute. Others are brutes; stupid, foul, slovenly. Some are, in a word, abominations; twisted malevolent perversions who revel in misery and suffering. Those are the worst kind.
You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their demon.
My demon’s name is Jack. Well, that’s what I call him anyways. They *never* tell you their real names, and that’s OK by me. Jack fits him just fine.
I’ve known Jack for as long as I can remember, my whole life actually. He’s always been around. When I was lonely Jack would play with me. When I was sad Jack would crack jokes to make me laugh. When I was bored Jack would tell stories. Jack always knew the right things to say.
When I was young I thought my parents could see him too. They called Jack my ‘Imaginary Friend’ and my mother would tell the other moms about how *creative* her son Kevin is, he has such a *vivid* imagination.
Sometimes they would ask me questions about Jack, or they would ask *him* questions about me. He would always answer, but I began to notice something strange; they never seemed to react quite right. It was like they weren’t actually hearing him. They’d become smug and condescending and say things like “I think ‘Jack’ is telling you to finish your green beans, don’t you think so honey?” I’d think they were ignoring Jack on purpose and then I’d get frustrated and start to cry.
I was nine when I finally figured it out: they really *couldn’t* see him. They were just playing along, *they* were the ones pretending; not me. They were fools. I knew Jack was real, as real as anyone else. So I’d talk about him all the time, to my parents, my teachers, the kids at school; to anyone who’d listen. I’d try to convince them that Jack was real.
That’s when it stopped being cute and my parents started to worry about me.
Sometimes at night I’d lay in bed listening to them talking in the kitchen. My mother would get weepy and my father would speak quiet soothing words like balm. He’d say things like, “It’s just a phase. He’ll grow out of it. All kids go through this, it just lasts longer for some.”
I’d lay there in bed with Jack by my side, comforting me. “Why can’t they see you?” I’d ask.
“You have a gift. A special gift. They don’t,” Jack would say, smiling.
“Well why don’t they believe me? I’m their son! Why do they think I’d lie?”
“That’s just the way people are. You’re very young, Kevin. You have *oh* so much to learn about the world. But I’ll always be here for you Kevin, you can count on me. I’ll always be here for you.”
Around this time I started getting into trouble at school. The other kids would make fun of me when I talked about Jack. They called me ‘Crazy Kevin’ and ‘Baby Boy Kevy-Wevy’ and they would laugh and punch the air and tell me they were beating Jack up. They would taunt me and push me down, and when I tried to defend myself *I* would get in trouble. Kids can be so cruel to one another, and the teachers weren’t much better. They’d tell me, “Well, stop talking about your imaginary friend and the other kids will leave you alone.”
So I did.
I wasn’t a dumb kid. I knew they were making fun of me because I was different. They didn’t have ‘Imaginary Friends’ and I did; and even though *I* knew Jack was real, no one else thought he was. Imaginary Friends weren’t supposed to be real. The unknown scared them. I scared them.
So I stopped talking *about* Jack and stopped talking *to* Jack. I ignored him, pretended he wasn’t real.
Jack got angry.
Sometimes at night he would knock things over or throw things around my room to get my attention. Sometimes he’d break things in my house and I’d get blamed. Even worse, he started appearing in my dreams; tying me up and torturing me in strange primitive rituals; chanting and carving esoteric symbols into my flesh. I’d wake in a cold sweat, mind reeling. Jack would be hovering above my bed, quietly watching as I slept.
Finally, when I couldn’t stand the torment anymore, I started talking to him again; in whispers and only late at night while the rest of the house slept.
I explained the situation to him; about my parents, my teachers, the kids at school. When I told him he smiled, he understood. Jack always understood. He told me that ***EVERYBODY*** has a demon, just like me; they just can’t see it. They don’t know it exists. He told me I was special, that I had a gift.
I was still doubtful, but Jack wasn’t upset. He told me I was *so* special that he was going to get me another gift, just to prove it. Then he disappeared.
For the first time in my life I was alone. I felt so scared, abandoned, and utterly alone. I was miserable.
A week passed and still no Jack. Was this how regular people lived out their lives? So lonely all the time… how did they stand it?
Then I awoke one night and he was there standing over my bed like he’d never left. I was so happy.
“Where did you go, Jack?” I asked.
“To get your gift of course.”
“But… where is it?”
“You already have it,” Jack answered.
“But where? You didn’t give me anything!”
“Shh, quiet child. It will all make sense in the morning. Go to sleep now Kevin. Go to sleep child.” He sang me a lullaby in some ancient tongue as I drifted off.
I awoke the next morning as excited as a kid on Christmas, ready to run out of my bedroom and see my new gift; but Jack grabbed me by the arm and spoke to me sternly.
“You must make a promise to me Kevin. Whatever you see out there you must promise NEVER to tell anyone about it. You must never speak of it aloud. Otherwise your gift will disappear. Otherwise *I* will disappear.”
“Promise me three times,” Jack said. So, I did.
“You’ve promised me thrice, never to speak of what you see. Do not forget your promise, Kevin.”
We walked into the kitchen and I stopped dead in my tracks.
There at the breakfast table sat my mother and father. On each of their shoulders perched a demon. On my mother’s sat a large puffy creature, a mix between a bunny rabbit and a giant marshmallow, but with huge doughy eyes and long silver fangs. On my father’s sat a long skinny worm-like creature with hollow eyes and the face of a bat. It was was blue and translucent like ice, a cloud of steam rose from its body. Its tail was coiled around my father’s neck.
I yelped in surprise and eight eyes turned towards me, four human and four demonic. I made some excuse to my parents which calmed them down, but the demons stared at me wide eyed; at first I thought they were angry, but then I recognized that they were actually afraid. Afraid of me. Afraid that I could see them. The bat-snake hissed something I couldn’t understand, but Jack barked back in a gruff guttural language which echoed in our tiny kitchen. My parent’s demons cowered before him submissively.
From that day forward I saw them everywhere I went. It was scary to be sure, but at least I knew I wasn’t the only one. Everybody has a demon.
Still, it could be overwhelming. There were so many, and *they* all knew that *I* knew. They would say things to me, horrible things. They would brag about all the twisted and perverted acts they had convinced their people to commit. They would tell me about their people’s evil thoughts and dark secrets. The demons delighted in recounting these tales in graphic detail.
Sometimes Jack would stop them, but sometimes he wouldn’t, or even worse he *couldn’t*. Some of them were scarier than Jack, *stronger* than Jack, and there was nothing he could do. Sometimes I would catch an evil glint in Jack’s eyes, and I could tell that he was enjoying hearing about the all the wicked and foul deeds other demons had convinced their people to do. He almost seemed jealous.
It became too much, I had to make some changes. I would walk to school, instead of riding the bus. I began avoiding crowds, and started spending my free time alone in my room or out hiking in the woods; but it was no use.
I started falling behind in school. It was impossible to concentrate in class with all those demons glaring at me, whispering to me, laughing at me. I told Jack about this, but he shrugged it off. He reminded me that this was a *gift*, that I was special. He promised me that one day I would be glad I had it. I trusted him. Jack was always there for me. Jack always took care of me.
Sometimes I felt afraid. I could always tell who the really bad people were by the size and nastiness of their demon. I could see all the liars, the adulterers, the rapists, the murderers, and the child molesters. They walked the streets, mingling in secret with the good people and the normal people, like wolves among sheep; and nobody knew but me. You’d be surprised just how many of them there are, and there was nothing I could do about it.
At least, not *yet*.
That changed in the 10th grade when I met Elijah. Elijah was a bully, and he didn’t try to hide it. He was a fat, ugly, hulking slab of a boy. He was stupid too, atleast book-stupid, or willfully ignorant at the very least; but when it came to bullying, he was a genius. He had an uncanny ability to find a person’s greatest joy in life, and turn it against them. He seemed to make it his personal mission to torment the smaller, smarter, weaker, and more introverted kids, of which I was one.
He also had one of the nastiest demons I’d ever seen. It was a massive hippopotamus-looking beast with twisted horns and breath like the grave. It lay across his shoulders, making Elijah slouch when he walked.
The popular kids ignored most of us, but they *despised* Elijah. In his mind that was our fault, and he made sure that we paid for it. He loved to trip kids in the hallway, knock their books out of their hands, snap girl’s bras, fire spitballs in class and generally make our lives a living hell.
Elijah’s specialty was stealing lunches, and he did it with aplomb. I never once saw him buy a lunch or bring his own, he’d simply go from table to table taking what he wanted from the ‘nerds’. He always made sure to take my milk. I don’t even think he liked it, but he knew that *I* liked it; so he’d take it, chug it down, and throw the empty carton in my face, laughing all the while.
Jack started whispering things to me. Telling me what a horrible person Elijah was. Telling me all the nasty things he did when he was alone. Telling me how he reveled in torturing and killing people’s pets out in the woods. Telling me about the things he would do to his little sister late at night. Telling me all the horrible things he *would* do in the future. Telling me that if Elijah died, no one would miss him.
I tried to ignore him; but the longer it went on, the more sense Jack seemed to make.
The final straw came one day when Elijah caught me alone in the bathroom. I was standing at the urinal peeing when I heard the door open and heavy foot steps come up from behind.
“Aww look at this, is wittle crazy Kevy-wevy having a wittle pee pee break?” He sneered. His breath was hot on my neck, like a foul breeze wafting from a garbage dump on a scorching summer day. I ignored him, trying to finish the task at hand as quickly as possible.
“What’s wrong faggot, you deaf or something?” He asked. I continued ignoring him. Big mistake.
He kicked me hard on the back pack, smashing my chest into the urinal and my face into the concrete wall. I saw stars and fell to the ground, my member still in hand, still urinating.
“Ohhhhh noooo, look at that. Wittle Kevy fell down and wet himself! Here, let me help you with that” I lay on the ground in a daze, and heard pants unzipping somewhere above me. Then a warm putrid stream was pouring over my backpack and down my legs and Elijah was laughing. I covered my head and pretended I was somewhere else. When it was over I heard the door slam shut and from the hallway Elijah yelling, “Hey everybody, check it out. Crazy Kevin pissed himself!”
I looked up and there was my demon, Jack. He was staring at me with a smirk on his face.
“Ok, you win. Tell me what I have to do.”
Jack’s smile widened.
“Easy,” he said. “Switch to almond milk.”
For the next two weeks I packed my lunch with almond milk instead of my regular 2%. It tasted disgusting, but I hardly ever got to drink it anyways. Elijah stole it from me every single day without fail, and he really seemed to enjoy the taste.
Then one day after school, a knock came at my door. It was a stranger, disheveled and wild eyed, dressed in a cheap suit. His demon was a snake, red as venous blood, venom dripping from its maw. He didn’t say a word, just handed me a crumpled paper bag and walked away.
I opened the bag and pulled out a clear vial with a strip of masking tape on the side. On the masking tape, in clear black sharpie marker, one single word was written.
Jack was grinning again. “Tastes like almond,” he whispered.
I mixed it into my milk for tomorrow’s lunch, and the next day I ditched the empty vial in a dumpster on my way to school.
A few minutes after drinking my milk, Elijah was convulsing on the floor. I sat and watched, casually munching on a taco. A few minutes after that he was dead. I wasn’t sad; I actually felt good. Better than I had in a long time.
The cause of death was determined to be cerebral hypoxia, likely brought on by a stroke. Very few mourned his passing.
I started missing more and more school, and a few months later I dropped out completely. Not that I felt guilty, or thought I might get caught. No way. I just had other more *important* work to do.
I got a job in a rough part of the city, working in a crumby old book binding factory. The work was monotonous, but easy, and I soon saved up enough to buy a used car and rent a shitty studio apartment. I worked second shift at the factory, from 3pm to 11pm. Most guys hated the hours, but I found them perfect for supporting my *extracurricular* activities: finding bad people, and killing them.
My demon helped me. Jack was a real natural when it came to this. He helped me track down people with particularly nasty demons and he’d tell me all the vile things they had done. We stalked them like hunters, learning their patterns and routines. Then he’d tell me the best way to kill them, and how to get away with it.
And I always got away with it.
Pimps, rapists, drug dealers, child molesters, human traffickers, I did them all. Sometimes I made it look like an accident, or a suicide, or a robbery gone wrong. I beat, stabbed, strangled, shot, and drowned. I even pushed one fat fucker on the third rail of the subway. He fried just like bacon, even *smelled* like it.
Jack was always there for me, protecting me, making sure I got away with it.
The best part was, I never felt bad about it. Every person I killed was a wretched excuse for a human being; they deserved it. I was making the world a better place. Some might even say I was a hero. My conscious was clear, I slept like a baby.
Killing people become normal, fun even. It was my hobby and damn was I good at it. Eventually I didn’t even think about it anymore. I just did it.
And that’s when it all came unravelled.
I was out on patrol one night, following the SUV of a mid-level drug dealer as he made his pick ups. He must have made me because as we came to an intersection, he slowed down and waited until the light was just changing from yellow to red, then floored the gas pedal. I tried to follow, but I must have been a second too late because a black BMW going the other way smashing into the side of my car, T-boning me and sending me spinning through the intersection. My head must have slammed into the steering wheel because I briefly lost consciousness. When I came to my ears were ringing and stars danced before my eyes. Smoke drifted from the front of my car.
Then I heard another noise: angry, screaming and cursing. The owner of the BMW was striding towards me; a mountain of a man, face red, fists clenched, arms swinging, spittle flying from his mouth as he screamed. I lurched from my seat to face him, blood pouring from the gash on my forehead.
Straddling the man’s shoulders was one of the most horrific demons I had ever seen. It was huge, round, pale white, and bloated like a corpse. Puss oozed from a thousand sores covering it’s corpulent body. It had no arms or legs. Instead its entire mass was one giant face consisting of two tiny beady black eyes, and one enormous gaping mouth filled with row upon row of razor sharp teeth. A forked tongue slithered snake-like through its fangs, flitting through the air searching for a victim. I felt bile rising from my throat and fought it down.
As the man surged towards me I felt my rage rise, and I found myself thinking about Elijah; about all the times he had teased me, tormented me, humiliated me. I thought I heard a subtle whisper in my ear.
My mind went blank. My vision went white around the edges. I felt like I was trapped behind my eyes watching, unable to control what was happening. The man was close, screaming in my face, he meant to hurt me. I reached into my pocket. Then a flash of chrome in the street light. A hot torrent spraying me in the face. The man’s eyes bulging with rage one moment, now rolling back into his skull. His body slumping to the ground, my knife buried in his throat.
I looked to Jack for help, but he was laughing. Laughing like a madman, and screeching something in that foul ancient language.
Realization set in. I’d done this man. Done him out in the open, at a city intersection, under a street light, with no planning or forethought; with no escape route and no plan for clean up. I turned on Jack in a panic.
“Are you just going to stand there laughing? Help me! Tell me what to do! How do I fixed this?”
He was howling now.
“This one was all you, I had nothing to do with it. The man you just killed was a politician, a city councilman. Perhaps no less of a criminal then the pimps and gangbangers we normally kill, but this guy did it under the guise of law and order. I didn’t make you do this, you chose this.”
I could almost feel my face go white as a ghost and the world began to spin around me. I was stumbling towards the car, trying not to vomit, when I heard the noise behind me.
*BWEEP bip bip BWEEP*
Followed by the scream of a siren. A cascade of red and blue light reflected off the windows of my car and the shops around me. The cruiser peeled out from the gas station across the intersection and rushed towards me.
I sat in the interrogation room for hours. Jack stood next to me smirking as the detectives worked me over. It all came out. They found everything; enough evidence in my car and my apartment to tie me to dozens of murders. They said it would be a miracle if I got life in prison. The D.A. would go for the death penalty on this one for sure. Then they were laughing, and their demons were laughing, and Jack was laughing too.
My court appointed lawyer was a mousy man with thick glasses and mustard stains on his suit jacket. His demon was a small skittering cockroach with the sallow face of a dead baby. He did not seem optimistic about my chances. The only hope to avoid the death penalty, he said, was to claim ‘guilty but insane or mentally ill’.
“Have you ever felt like you weren’t in control of your actions? Have you ever heard voices in your head telling you to do things? Someone speaking to you? God, the devil, or demons?”
I pondered that for a moment. Jack was smiling but his stare was black. “Don’t forget your promise,” he whispered. “You swore to me. You swore three times, never to tell anyone.”
“I remember,” I replied. “But this is no gift. It’s a curse, and I’m glad to be through with you.”
My lawyer looked confused. “Who are you talking to?”
“My demon,” I said. “Everybody has a demon, most people just can’t see them. My demon is named Jack, and yes… he tells me to do things.”
Now I’m alone. Jack is gone, gone forever. I sit here in a straight jacket, within these four padded walls, waiting for my pills. Waiting to forget. I’ll never see the sunshine again.
Everybody has a demon. Everybody, except me.