Polly and the Demon Pt. 5
By Lillian Fu
Note: As suggested in the title, this is part five of a series. It won’t make much sense if you don’t read parts three and four, which can be found in 2020-21’s Halloween and April Fools issues (but the first two parts are unnecessary and not titled the same way).
Polly had planned on quitting the Paranormal Research Club after junior year, no matter how hard Mo begged her not to, in order to focus on college apps and her more lucrative extracurriculars. So it was a personal defeat that not only was she now, as a senior, the president of the club, but that she was also donating her precious Veterans Day break (which she should be spending working through her regular decision colleges) to sit in Mo’s house in front of a bunch of freshmen and sophomores for an “official club bonding social.” A club bonding social that, as with all things Mo did, was designed to sap away Polly’s sanity.
“It’s not even Halloween,” she grumbled. “Why in the name of the Lord are we ghost hunting?”
Mo, who’d heard this complaint continuously for the past week, groaned. “For the last time, Polly, we’re the Paranormal Research Club. Ghost hunting is kind of what we do.”
Polly cast a pointed glance around the room, where teenagers sat huddled around lamps scattered around the floor of Mo’s mansion. The purple flame she’d enchanted in each lamp was the only source of heat and light in the house.
Mo’s family was filthy rich; after selling her company, his mother had moved back to the South, bought the plantation her great-great-grandma died on, renovated it into a pseudo-Victorian manor, then raised her son single-handedly as she accumulated more wealth trading stocks in her silk pajamas. She was an inspiration, a true self-made woman, but sadly her decorative tastes leaned towards stereotypical rich old person. Which is to say that the cavernous entrance hall they occupied was made entirely of marble and suited the twisting shadows cast by the teenagers a little too well. Ink monsters writhed against the walls with each flicker of the flames, and the room glowed violet like they sat at the bottom of Dionysus’ goblet.
Polly turned her pointed look back onto her dunce of a co-president.
“Does this look like a school research club to you, Mo?” she hissed at him. “This is a cult!”
Mo rolled his eyes. “This is a bonding activity. It’s just a little bit of fun, stop being so dramatic.”
Polly huffed, drawing herself up for an insult that’d show him how dramatic she could be, but she was interrupted by—typical—another teenage boy. Alonso, the school’s star basketball player who’d joined the club with sparkling eyes after Polly’s mother exorcised his aunt of a particularly pernicious poltergeist, dropped down on Mo’s other side. Polly’s best friend became instantly useless—more so than he already was, which shouldn’t even be possible. He’d had a crush on him since middle school, and she was certain this entire trip was just an excuse to get him and Alonso together in a dark room.
“This place is huge,” Alonso said. “I got lost, like, four times coming back from the bathroom. And what’s up with the hallway full of paintings of turtles wearing hats?”
“Ahhhhh ummm uhhh t-tur—”
Polly tuned him out to preserve her sanity. She did not deal well with secondhand embarrassment.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), a distraction presented itself immediately.
Poooooooollyyyyyyyy, whined the voice of a certain flame-headed demon in her mind.
She closed her eyes and scowled. What?
I’m boooooooored. When can I stop this?
Of course, the club wasn’t actually hunting for ghosts. Polly’s family had exterminated all the vengeful spirits in the city already, and the other ghosts were docile and didn’t deserve to deal with a bunch of teenagers messing with their afterlife. Alex, offspring of Satan and Polly’s demon familiar (Girlfriend, corrected said familiar in her brain. I’m your girlfriend, stop calling me your familiar, why are you so mean to me—) was acting as their “ghost” tonight.
So Mo was not only a wannabe cult leader, he was also a scammer. Polly needed better friends.
Keep it up just a bit longer, she responded. Accordingly, a howl of wind a bit too reminiscent of a wailing man’s voice shook the windows, and a few shrieks burst from the high schoolers in the room. It was nearing midnight now; Alex had been steadily cranking up the intensity and frequency of horror movie occurrences over the last few hours, and Polly’s club members were pissing their pants. It was hilarious, the only saving grace of the night.
You know, when you invited me out on a date I was picturing something a bit more romantic than this. And I’m not really a traditional demon, you know I’m all for ‘pushing the boundaries’ and ‘new perspectives’ and ‘not devouring the souls of the innocents,’ but I don’t really think this counts as a date. Strictly speaking.
Polly’s scowl deepened. Her irritation had been building all evening (all week, really. All month. All semester) and she could feel the thin threads of her patience fraying. But she was doing this thing called “working on her temper issues” that her grandma had suggested, so she took a deep breath instead of snapping at Alex. She pictured her happy things: her bookshelf, a bowl of stew, an acceptance letter from Princeton, Alex’s laughter as she flew them through the night sky, the stars above them, city lights below, a hand firm under her knees and another around her shoulders.
The warmth of her crackling fire hair, which didn’t scald but brought heat to Polly’s wind-whipped cheeks when she buried her face in it. The way moonlight silvered her onyx skin, embroidered her leather wings.
She sighed. I know I haven’t been a very good… female companion lately—
Please, baby, just say ‘girlfriend,’ you’re breaking my heart here—
—but I promise I’ll have time after my deadlines. I’m ahead of schedule so I’ll probably be able to submit my apps early, then I’ll take you out on a real date, okay? I’m sorry for making you lonely.
Alex went silent. She was never silent, always chattering or flying loops in the air or poking Polly’s cheeks, so the quiet now set off alarms in Polly’s mind (though she had an idea what caused it. It wasn’t often that she talked like this to her). She peeked an eye open, scanning the room before her with a frown. Alex?
I just have to scare them, right?
Before she could respond, a tremor shook the house, the lamps wobbling and the shadows slanting like trees under a gale. Alonso looked up from making Mo pass out with small talk. “Earthquake?”
Mo resurrected briefly to sit up and look at Polly. She grimaced, then nodded. “No,” he said, a grin blooming across his face. “The ghosts.”
Just as the last syllable left his mouth, lightning struck. A heartbeat of silence rung in her ears, then one by one each window lining the walls slammed open, the curtains whipping against the wind, rain splashing onto the marble within. From somewhere inside the house, an organ began playing an off-tune melody that, despite the wind and the rain and the screams of her club members, still managed to ring clear through the cacophony.
Polly gritted her teeth. Alex. I said to scare them, not traumatize them. What are you doing?
The idiot hellspawn gave no answer. Before her eyes, the shadows of her classmates thickened and unstitched themselves from the walls to loom over their trembling masters. Another strike of lightning drowned out their shrieks, the organ climbed to forte, smiles widened the shadow’s faces, and Polly ditched every meditation lesson she’d taken from her grandmother to clench her hands against her legs and let loose her rage.
WHAT THE—Polly proceeded to use every cuss word she’d ever learned from both her casino-hopping mother and Satan himself when she visited him for Halloween “meet-the-parents” dinner a few weeks ago.
Alex only laughed. Polly geared up for another round of tongue-lashing before she registered that she heard that laugh not from inside her head, but from her ears. Polly had only time enough for a sharp inhale and a shiver before a pair of arms, hands tipped in claws, wrapped around her shoulders, and a pair of lips, full and familiar, pressed a shock of heat against her right cheek.
And the thing is, Polly isn’t someone who lets go of anything. Not dreams, not memories, and certainly not grudges. She’d once hexed a group of guys who’d been bullying Mo in middle school with Mad Imp Disease for a solid week before her mom found out and made her stop. And she’d only obeyed until she finished creating a curse that would pass under her mother’s detection.
So it made no sense at all that the sound of Alex’s voice, the warmth of her arms, the tickle of her flickering-flame hair brushing against Polly’s face, should loosen her grasp on her anger so easily. But then again, she was getting used to things making no sense when it came to Alex.
And yeah, she had missed her.
“Shut up,” she said. As the wind and the rain and the thunder quieted down, as the shadows returned to their owners, as the organ resolved its chilling melody into something brighter, Polly leaned back against her girlfriend and let her warmth engulf her.
“Love you too, babe,” Alex said, grinning against her cheek.
Alonso woke at 5 am sharp just like always. He blinked in the early dawn light, only recognizing his surroundings after a few seconds of confusion as the marble mansion where he’d had the [redacted] scared out of him last night. The scion of the mansion lay curled against his arm, his glasses knocked into a slant against his face. Alonso took them off for him, then pulled the blanket up over them both from where it’d slipped to their waists.
Just as he was settling in to fall asleep again, he glanced past Mo and his eyes found the tip of a black claw against the floor. It was a testament to what he’d seen that his first thought was Oh, must be another ghost before it was a prayer for his life. Then he traced that claw up along an equally black arm and shoulder and neck into the molten eyes of what could only be described as a demon staring right back at him.
She smiled, one hand stroking the hair of the girl burritoed in a blanket on her demon’s lap, the other rising to rest a single finger against the her lips. Shh.
Alonso started praying.