I gripped the rubber band hard, pulling it back and letting it snap against my wrist. Just one of the tricks I had picked up. It usually worked. Just not on the bad days. I prayed that this wouldn't be a bad day. I didn't think I could take another one so soon. The last was just last week. I knew, because I had started keeping a calendar like one of the books recommended. The same book that suggested the rubber bands.
I looked down at my wrist, at that place where my tan ended and the white pallor from thirteen years of long-sleeved shirts began. No, not thirteen years. When had it started? Six, I think. Yeah, I was six. That was when the bad days started. The bad thoughts that made them come out.
Oh, there he was. Dad. Father. Sir. Reverend. Taking the pulpit and flipping open that thick Bible from his days in Bible College. Big Red, he called it. Two different Masters degrees he had earned with that Bible. Theology and...something else. I forget. I knew that under the cover, there were pictures of me, Mom, Grandma. Maybe even our cat, Trinity. He took the stage like a soldier storming the beaches, and the second that thick red leather binding hit the pulpit, I felt it. Bad day. I could almost hear it now, slipping through the back of my skull. Too bad, you smooth talkin' sunuva preacha man. Too bad, I'm coming. I'm coming, and there's nothing you can do about it.
My fingers fumbled for the rubber band again, even though I knew it wouldn't do any good. It was almost getting to the point where I was immune to the snap of rubber to wrists, that sweet sharp burst of pain against my skin, even on good days. The thin rubber bands had already lost their effect. I had to use the thick kind, or use three or four thin ones at once.
I could feel Mom glancing at me from her seat next to me on the pew, so I let my shoulders shrink down so that my sleeves would cover the rubber bands. I don't know why I did it. It's not like she wouldn't know once the bad stuff started happening. Still, I knew she hated seeing it. Not that I blame her. I hate it, too.
Oh, everyone's standing. I stood up, too, pulling one of the hymnals from the slot in the next pew forward. I didn't hear which page I was supposed to be on, but it didn't matter. My hands were shaking now, so I couldn't read any of the words in the book anyway. Still, got to stand there. Got to make it look like you're trying. Can't let everybody see it. Can't let them know that the preacher's kid is some kind of psycho. Probably possessed by the devil. That's why he shakes in church - it's Ol' Scratch tryin' to get out. Yeah, that's it. After all, the Devil's everywhere. Hiding behind every tree, waiting to jump out and shout “gotcha!” the second you let your guard down, and what better target than the son of a Southern Baptist preacher? No wonder I still can't fall asleep without half the lights in the house turned on. A thirteen year old guy, still scared of the dark. Pathetic.
That made me think back to when it first started. Six years old. Six. Six. Six six six. Mark of the beast. Revelations. Seven heads and ten horns. Or was it ten heads and twelve horns? I guess it doesn't matter. Oh, I got sidetracked again. That happens a lot. What was I thinking about? Oh yeah, the first Bad Day. Yeah, I think that one's earned capitol letters. Six years old, eleven at night. Had to get up to use the restroom. That's how I thought back then, too. “Use the restroom”. Never “take a whiz” or “hit the john” or any of the other “vulgar” expressions the other kids used.
Anyway, I tried to get up. I tried as hard as I could, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. The lights were off. I had just finished reading one of those Jack Chick comic books - the kind where atheists are all big angry biker guys with swastikas on their hats and demons on their shoulders, and there are always evil spirits under every kid's bed, just waiting to get them. I couldn't do it. I don't think my parents realized how hard I had tried to get up. They assumed it was “just an accident”. Truth was, I was laying there wide awake and soaking wet the whole night.
From then on, I would always make sure to keep a flashlight and a St. Christopher necklace under my pillow. I wasn't Catholic, but they always used St. Christopher necklaces in vampire movies, and I figured that if it works against vampires, it should work against demons, too. As soon as my parents were asleep, I would break out the flashlight and go around the house, flipping on all the lights between my room and the bathroom. I remember hearing that demons were afraid of light, so if I had to fight one, I'd always have my flashlight ready. I even practiced using it like a club, just in case I got caught in the dark without batteries. I had to make sure that I would be able to beat up any demons that came after me. I knew they were coming into the house at night, because sometimes all the lights would be turned off when I woke up, even when I knew I had turned them all on.
I felt my Mom pulling on my sleeve, and looked around to see that I was the only one in the church still standing up. I sat slowly, hands still shaking. The hymnal slipped out of my hands and hit the floor loudly. Oh yeah, this was a bad day. Damn it. Oh no. Sorry sorry sorry, didn't mean to swear.
The sermon started, but I couldn't hear it. All I could hear was my own breathing, my own heartbeat. It felt like my whole body was jolting with every pulse. The walls...were they getting closer? Why didn't anyone else see it? Why couldn't they see what was happening? Oh no...no no no...can't stay here. Can't. Can't stay. No.
I must have been shaking pretty badly, because I heard Mom whispering my name. Can't answer. What if something else...something bad comes out? My fault, all my fault. I called them to me with my bad thoughts. That's why the rubber bands and the other things in that psychology book didn't help. Psychology was no good against demons. I hoped my eyes weren't turning red or anything. I couldn't let the people in the church see that I was possessed. My Dad would loose his job again. Can't have a preacher with a possessed son. What kind of example would that set?
I stood up carefully and slipped out through the back of the church. Downstairs, into the basement where they held the social events. Some of the tables were still set up from the last one. That didn't matter, though. I knew what was happening. It was one of the bad days. When my bad thoughts, my sinful thoughts...they called a demon to me, and now I had to get it out.
“Abba. Father.” I whispered, falling to my knees in front of one of the concrete support columns. No...this room was getting smaller, too. Spinning. Running out of air. My mind flashed back to that illustration in the comic book - the demon with his fist clenched tightly around the guy's neck. The chart of the demons' names. Adultery, Theft, Murder. Those were the easy ones. I didn't have any problem with them. The hard ones were some of the...what did that book call them? Dukes? Principalities? Some of those. Lust. Masturbation. Homosexuality. I didn't even know what that last one was, let alone that it was one of the worst sins out there, until last year. Can you believe it? Holding hands with my friend James was one of the worst things out there, and I didn't even know it! No wonder the demons were able to get me. It's okay though, I stopped talking to him. Still, I think about it sometimes, and sometimes I...well, you know. Do bad things. And then I spend all night apologizing and crying into my pillow until I wake up with cuts on my palm from holding my St. Christopher necklace too tightly.
It was my fault, all of it. The bad thoughts had called the demons to me, and they gave me the bad days. I read that I was supposed to cut off my right hand if it made me sin, because it's better to lose your hand and go to heaven than to keep it and go to hell. Sounded logical to me. I tried once, but it didn't work. As soon as I saw the blood, I remembered that cutting your wrists can kill you, and suicide is a sin, so I had to stop. Still, even if I had cut it off, it wouldn't stop the bad thoughts. And the bad thoughts would bring the bad days again. Like this one.
“Abba. Father.” I said it a bit louder this time. My head hurt. Good. Maybe the demon's leaving. Maybe it's hurting him, too. I wrapped my fingers around the concrete column, and pulled hard. The room exploded as my head connected with it, everything turning black and flashy for a few seconds. Upstairs, I could hear the congregation singing. Yes, yes, sing louder. Sing so loud that I don't have to think. My head felt like it was splitting apart now. I felt something wet on my cheek, and had to catch it on my finger and look at it to see if it was blood or tears. Blood. Yeah, I had assumed as much.
I stood up, the room still spinning and my head still throbbing. Yeah, take that, you stupid demon. Try that again and I'll do it twice as hard. I didn't say it out loud, but that was okay because demons can read your thoughts, so I'm sure he still heard it. I went to the bathroom and checked my head in the mirror. There was a long cut across my forehead where I had his the column, but once I had washed it and blotted it with a paper towel, it looked better. I'd probably get a huge bruise there, just like last time, but I can just say that it's from falling or walking into a low doorway or something. That always worked. So long as they didn't find out the real reason, I was fine. My Dad could keep his job, and I wouldn't have to be tied up and read bible verses until the demon left. I'm pretty sure that's how they do it. The Catholics have holy water and crucifixes and stuff, but my Dad says those are false idols and cursed things. The Bible says if you bring a cursed thing into your house, then you're cursed, too. I hope my St. Christopher necklace isn't cursed, because I need that in case something comes to get me at night, like a demon or a vampire.
I was happy now, though. I hardly ever had a bad night after a bad day. Maybe all the bad thoughts get knocked out of my head when the demons leave. I went back upstairs when I heard that the service was over, and found my parents. Mom had a funny look on her face, and Dad looked away when I walked up. They were standing at the door, shaking people's hands as usual. I don't shake hands with people. I don't like it when people touch me. It makes me nervous. Just like people looking at me. That's why I always wear long sleeves and long pants, even in the summer. Even when I'm alone. The only person I ever let touch me was James when we used to hold hands and sometimes hug each other, but that was bad so now no one touches me. Sometimes I think that I miss it, but then I remember that it's just the Devil trying to trick me, so I start spinning pennies or tapping the wall or humming Bible songs until I forget about it.
Once everybody else was gone, Mom started asking me some questions. I don't remember what they were, but they were hard. I didn't know the answers, so I sat down and covered my ears and started humming “Love Lifted Me”. Dad yelled something. I couldn't hear it because my ears were covered and I was humming really loud, but I could tell he was shouting by the way his face got all twisted up. I think Mom said something back, but I couldn't tell because she was standing behind me and I couldn't see her face. She bent down and put a hand on my shoulder, but that made me scream so she jumped back up and I started humming again.
That night, Mom and I went to Grandma's house. Not Dad's Mom, but her Mom. I like it when we stay there, because I get to sleep on the floor of the guest room while my parents sleep on the bed. I don't have to leave the lights on then, because I never have bad nights when my parents are in the room. I think the demons are afraid of them. This time, though, Dad didn't come with us. Mom said that they needed to work out some stuff. I didn't know what that meant, so I just went outside to play with Grandma's dog, Captain. He's brown with a black spot on his eye that looks like a pirate eyepatch.
That was all two weeks ago. I'm still at Grandma's house, but she lets me sleep in the basement. I haven't had any bad nights yet, but I've been keeping a flashlight under my pillow just in case. I don't think I'll need it, though, because Grandma says that her house is safe. In fact, when the woman in the suit came to talk to me, she called it a “safe house”. I think that means that demons can't get in, even if you do have bad thoughts. She took some pictures of me, but only wanted shots of my head (which now had a big ugly bruise on it) and my arms (which also had some bruises, but those weren't from demons). I don't like getting my picture taken, but she said that I had to if I wanted to stay in a “safe house”. As much as I don't like getting my picture taken, I don't like demons a lot more, so I said it was okay for just this once.
They had me talk to another woman in a suit, too. This one had me sit in a really puffy chair and talked really slow so I could understand everything and not get frustrated and start humming. It took a while before I felt safe talking to her, but once I did I told her about the demons and how they would get me. Suit woman told me to write this all down, because it would help her understand how to help me. I don't know what she plans to do about the demons (she doesn't even have a Bible in her office!) but I did it anyway because I don't want to disappoint her. Whatever she does, I think I'll keep my flashlight around. Just in case.