A Demon Made Me Do ItBy: Penelope King
Demonblood Series #1
Chapter 1. Liora
Whoever says Hell is the worst place imaginable obviously never spent a day at Dove Creek High School. There needs to be an inscription on its front gates reading, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Somewhere in the back of my mind is the soft hum of my teacher’s voice, but I pay no attention to his words. The clock on the wall ticks by so slowly I swear it actually stops a few times. I close my eyes and try to imagine a happier place—anywhere but here, doing anything but wasting my life pretending to belong in a world that hates me.
“According to Dante, the eighth circle is reserved for those who have committed treacherous acts of fraud and deceit…” Mr. Sodenberg drones. I love how he has the ability to make a journey through Hell seem less interesting than a trip to the dentist.
To be fair, I’d already read Inferno when I was eight years old as part of my early demonhood education. Although that was nearly nine years ago, I still have perfect recall of each and every word, as with anything else I’ve ever read. Listening to it being discussed in class is as exciting as re-learning the alphabet without all the fun of singing the catchy tune that goes along with it.
I half-open one eye to peek outside the window. Bare bones of tree branches tremble in the wind. Soon it will be winter. Soon the snow will come. Then, not only will I be stuck inside a classroom for most of the day, my lazy afternoons in the woods will be limited even more. I’ll be trapped in the small cabin I share with Tatiana, my guardian.
Trapped. Story of my life.
Trapped in this classroom, trapped in my body, trapped in the daylight, trapped in this false world. Trapped in limbo with no escape in sight.
It’s cold outside, so when my skin starts suddenly warming up, I know something’s wrong. As the sun-burning sensation slowly spreads up my neck, I begin to panic.
Oh, no. No, no, please no.
“Liora Greyson!” Mr. Sodenberg’s angry voice and a book cracking against his podium snaps me to attention. I raise my head from the cradle of my arms and shoot him an icy glare.
“What?” My voice doesn’t belong to me anymore. It sounds like me, but it’s not.
He scowls at me from behind his reading glasses. “I’m sorry if our discussion on Dante’s Inferno is interfering with your naptime.” The rest of the class titters, except for my friend Corrine Wilson, who looks at me with concern.
“Yeah, mind keeping it down? Whah Whah Whah. That’s what you sound like.” I can’t stop the words coming out. My heart sinks and I close my eyes. Realizing I still have some control over my own body, I place a hand over my mouth. But it’s too late; the damage has already been done.
Shocked gasps mix with nervous laughs and disapproving sneers. Mr. Sodenberg’s face puffs up red and his normally squinty eyes look like they’re about to pop out of their sockets.
“Principal’s office. Now.”
Great. What else is new?
“…and you tell him that you are no longer welcome in my classroom. I will not tolerate this type of behavior.”
“Yes, sir.” My hand rises to my head and gives a snappy salute before I’m able to force it back down. I grab my book bag, ignoring the superior looks from my classmates. They enjoy seeing me get in trouble, as if watching the weird-freak-girl getting punished for being a weird-freak-girl makes them feel better about their simple, ordinary lives. But no matter how strange they think I might be, they’d be terrified if they knew the real truth.
As they should be.
A cool blast of air stings my face as I trudge down the school’s breezeway. I zip up my jacket and debate walking right past the principal’s office and right off campus.
I lean against a rusted locker while weighing my options. Either deal with a smart-mouthed demon hijacking my body and getting me in trouble, or, face an angry witch waiting for me at home if I ditch again.
Dante never covered this part in his guidebook through the nine circles of Hell. He only wrote of going to a place where demons punished sinners after their deaths. Nowhere does he mention the personal hell of having to share a body with a living demon who could torment at will, but I’m sure he would have appreciated the cruel irony. Perhaps this could have been his ‘tenth circle’.
After a few moments I decide to take my chances with the principal. My body temperature feels back to normal, so I think I’m safe for now. I can only pray. The secretary, Ms. Fleming, doesn’t even ask why I’m in here, she just gives me her usual hateful glare. I take a seat on an ugly orange chair, stare at the old Civil War photographs on the wall, and ignore her dirty looks.
Principal Winters opens his door and clears his throat. “Miss Greyson, come in.” He definitely isn’t happy to see me. But that’s the reaction of most people. Some, like Ms. Fleming, openly despise me. Others try to act nice, but I can always tell they feel uncomfortable. It’s all about the eye contact—or lack thereof. People tend to look off to the side when speaking to me, or just glance for a nanosecond before averting their gaze. Maybe eyes really are the windows to the soul, and they don’t want to see how ugly mine is.
“So, Liora, what brings you here today?” He relaxes in his chair as if we’re going to have a nice chat about the weather, his eyes focusing on the wall behind me.
I actually like Mr. Winters. He sort of reminds me of Santa Claus, and unlike his repulsive secretary, he genuinely seems to care about the students. I even give him some credit for trying to be nice to me.
“I may have nodded off in English class. Mr. Sodenberg wasn’t happy about it.”
“Ahh, yes.” He nods as if he understands completely. “Are you feeling all right?”
“How are things at home?”
His smile fades. “How is your grandmother these days? I know you take care of her by yourself and that must be quite a burden for you.”
“She’s great. Absolutely no trouble at all.”
He frowns, determined to solve me…to fix me. Yeah, good luck with that.
“Are you bored in your classes, Liora?”
Why, yes. Yes I am, Principal Winters. I am bored out of my freakin’ mind! This place makes me stupider by the minute!
“No, I’m fine. Academically challenged. Intellectually stimulated.”
He ignores my sarcasm. “I’m going to be straight with you, Liora. I’m becoming very concerned with your behavior lately…”
That makes two of us…
“…this is the fourth time you’ve been sent here in the last two weeks. Skipping classes, the incident in gym…”
“I told you, that fight wasn’t my fault,” I interrupt, but there’s no point in arguing. I’m pretty sure he won’t buy my ‘a-demon-made-me-do-it’ excuse, but I’m half-tempted to say it anyway. But then he’ll just send me to the school guidance counselor again, and she’ll tell Tatiana she’s concerned with my mental health again. Tatiana will have to smooth things over again and get mad at me again. Pass.
He leans forward in his chair and shuffles some papers on his desk. “There is no question you are academically gifted. Your test scores are consistently the highest in your class and your grades impeccable, despite your apparent lack of effort. Your future is wide open for any number of incredible educational and professional opportunities, if you so desired. Yet you don’t appear to care at all, and this concerns me. You seem to enjoy mocking anyone who tries to help you. I just wish I knew where this poor attitude of yours comes from.”
Trust me, you don’t want to know. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better. More caring, less mocking. I promise.” I force a smile and hope that’s the end of it.
But my optimism quickly turns into dread when the familiar stinging creeps up from my stomach, over my chest, and down my arms and legs. She’s back.
I need to get away from here. Unfortunately, Principal Winters still wants to chat. He opens a file and carefully peruses its contents. I shift uncomfortably in my seat and take several deep breaths, focusing all of my energy on remaining present and in control.