Chapter 5: Death

Colin waited anxiously for the end of the day. The rest of his classes seemed like a blur, but they took forever. He didn't hear any of the lectures, couldn't concentrate on the lessons. All he could think was: Why did she change her mind?

That night, he checked himself in the mirror more times than was strictly necessary. Normally, he didn't really care about his appearance, but this was Jennifer Check. Finally, he got Jennifer's text: "Rdy," followed by directions from the Devil's Kettle market near his house.

He got in his dad's car and started driving, cranking the speakers all the way up, the window open, feeling the wind on his face. He felt awesome. He had a date with Jennifer Check; who else could say that? Well, except for that Roman guy… he was a year or two older than Jennifer, already a police cadet, but everyone knew they were fucking. Roman was far more what Colin would imagine her type to be: a chiseled chin, muscles, light brown hair in a crew cut, eyes that he'd heard girls deem "dreamy." Colin thought he looked like a Ken doll. But even though Roman and Jennifer were having sex, they weren't actually dating. Maybe she didn't really want someone like Roman. Maybe… maybe she wanted someone like him.

As if to punctuate this thought, one of his favorite songs started playing. He was listening to a CD he'd burned himself, and this track was Screeching Weasel, doing a screamo version of "I Can See Clearly." He sang along, loudly and joyously and out-of-tune, tapping his hand on the steering wheel in time to the song.

"I can see clearly now the rain has gone! I can see all obstacles in my way! Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind! It's gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day!"

It would be, he could feel it. Everything was great. The wind whipped onto his face, the song pulsed through the car and pounded in his blood, and it felt great just to be alive.

But as he turned onto a dark street, he began to feel a little creeped out. The street seemed totally abandoned. There were no lights anywhere. It was ominous.

He got another text from Jennifer: "242 camerford. Trn lft and your there. C-ya! Xoxo Jen." How did she know where he was? Could she see his car? That must be it. He turned the car left, saw the house number, guided the car to the curb, and turned off the engine.

The feeling of apprehension grew. All the windows in the house were dark, except for one on the top floor, where he could see flickering light, like fire, through the shade. He looked at the house, confused by how empty it seemed, suddenly feeling like he should just turn around and drive away, as fast as he could, and never look back. But then he shrugged it off, checked his lip ring in the car mirror, and got out.

He walked across the street. The house was obviously deserted. There were wood planks hammered over the door. He tried it anyway, but it was locked. He knocked, and heard faint rattling and thumping noises from upstairs. Definitely weird.

He couldn't fully explain why he did what he did next—a sense of adventure, or the lure of Jennifer waiting for him, or what—but he kept looking for a way in. He found a large hole in the wall, covered by a heavy sheet of plastic to keep the rain out, and jumped in. It was set a few feet above the floor, and he put out his hand to cushion the fall. He landed awkwardly, grinning, feeling cool and brave.

But when he stood, shaking his rosary back into place, that sense of foreboding assailed him again. Inside, he could see that the house was really just a skeleton of a house, with wires poking out of rough wood supports. It was still under construction. Maybe the whole street too, he thought, recalling how empty it had felt, how there were no other cars parked outside. A new half-built community, or something like that. He realized that if he was right, no one could hear him, should he scream. He called softly, "Hello?" He realized he was frightened.

Music, very faint, coming from upstairs. He couldn't distinguish the words, or even the notes, but he heard the beat. The house creaked. "Jennifer?" he said, afraid that maybe it was someone else, that somehow he'd stumbled into a crack den or something. He pushed through another sheet of plastic with a crackling sound, and the music got louder. It was a kind of smooth R&B that he'd always found a bit annoying. A man's voice in the music sang repetitively: "I wanna love you, love you, you already know..."

He started up the creaking stairs. A dark shape suddenly flew at him, screeching like something loosed from Hell itself. He saw a flurry of claws and pitch-black wings. He gasped and covered his head protectively with his arms, his heart pounding in his chest, nearly falling down the stairs.

But it was only a raven, disturbed by his intrusion into its roost. Colin wanted to laugh it off, but he couldn't help but feel like the bird's cawing had sounded almost like a warning. Quoth the Raven, Nevermore.

Panting a little from his fright, he continued up the stairs. Following the music, he found the one room in the house with signs of life. It was lit with the soft, warm light of dozens of flickering candles, set all over the unfinished floor, clustered on a worktable. The music from the CD player was irritating, but it was a love song, kinda. This had to be Jennifer's attempt at romance. He smiled, relieved, and pleased that she'd gone to all the trouble. Despite the music, it was beautiful.

He stepped into the room. He didn't see Jennifer there. The candles guttered a bit, as if in a breeze. Suddenly, a voice behind him said, "You made it."

He jumped and whirled around. But it was only Jennifer. He tried to laugh off his fright, feeling dumb. "What's goin' on?" he said, by way of a greeting, offering her a small grin.

She only stared at him, unsmiling. He didn't like the tilt of her head, or the look in her eyes: he felt like a mouse, cornered by a cat.

He tried again, if only to get her to speak, to break the silence that was somehow terrifying. "This, uh—this isn't really your house, is it?" He licked his lips nervously.

"No, baby," she said. "This is our house, just for you and me." She advanced on him slowly. "We can play Mommy and Daddy." She unzipped her hoodie and threw it aside, revealing a skimpy white tank top barely covering the round, perfect shapes of her breasts. All her words and actions spoke of lust.

He wanted her, but there was something wrong here. She had barely noticed he'd existed all year. Now she was ready to fuck him? He tried to put it into words: "Do you even know my last name?" He was half-smiling, like he was kidding, but he looked into her eyes, letting her know he was serious.

She chuckled darkly. "Silly. I've been sending you signals all year. Couldn't you tell? You gave me such a wettie." She kissed his neck, slowly, sensually.

She was lying and he knew it, he could see it in her eyes. But he wanted it to be true, so very badly. The feel of her breath, surprisingly hot, on his neck; her soft lips; her tongue on his skin. His rosary dangled loosely from his wrist, nearly forgotten.

She pulled away from his neck, and kissed him on the lips. He kissed her in return, and between their sweet kisses, he looked at her. Her face glowed in the candlelight, soft and lovely; he saw every smooth line, the delicate curve of her black eyebrows, the gentle shape of her jawbone underneath the skin. He saw her, all of her, body and mind and soul. In that moment, he loved her. They kissed, and it was beautiful and it was right.

Suddenly, he heard a horrible high-pitched squealing. He pulled away from her in shock at the rats streaming across the floor. "Jennifer!"

She looked at the rats, casually, unsurprised and unafraid, then turned back to him, creasing her brow in mock confusion. "What? Are you scared?" She smiled meanly. "I mean, I thought boys like you were really into vermin and death and shit." She pulled at his belt as she spoke, in rough, cruel motions. She unzipped his pants and pulled them down around his ankles in one harsh, fluid movement. "Well, here you go." She cast an appraising eye over the bulge in the front of his boxers, and smiled approvingly. "Nice hardware, ace." She kissed him again.

When they pulled apart this time, she seemed to feel his gaze on her. She looked at him from under her long lashes, a cruel smile on her face. Suddenly, her eyes changed. All the color in her irises was sucked away, leaving only the pupils—too dark, like doorways to a deep black abyss, floating in a dead-white expanse. These new, awful, dreadfully pale eyes were bloodshot with red malice.

He stared at her, unbelieving, but knowing it was true. Suddenly, it all made sense. The change in Jennifer; the coldness; why she wanted him. He didn't know how it had happened, but he understood an evil presence had taken hold of her, possessed her. It was all the evils they spoke of in church, and all the things they didn't say. It was deep and black and pure in its darkness, its evil. Demon, he thought, understanding fully for the first time what the priests had tried to convey.

She wasn't going to murder him… no, murder was a human thing. This was going to be so much worse. He tightened his grip on his rosary, praying desperately, wanting so badly to stay alive. He couldn't scream. His mouth opened of its own accord, and he heard himself say, "No way." A hollow, trite phrase; if someone had said that in a horror movie he was watching, he would have laughed at the absurdity of it. But now it contained his deep, fervent wish that this wasn't happening, couldn't be happening… and his knowledge that it was.

She changed her eyes back to the false ones, the eyes that masked her true form, the eyes of the Jennifer he had loved. He couldn't look away. He started to back away, as fast as he could, unable to take his own eyes from hers. He had never really feared death before; he always knew it had to happen someday, that it was just part of God's plan. But now? Tonight? Oh please dear Jesus, not tonight. Faced with the prospect of imminent death, he felt every breath in his throat, every hair on his skin, every beat of his pulse. He treasured it all. He was only human, and he was afraid.

He backed into a sharp metal tool that was lying on the table, and felt his skin rip as it entered the flesh of his arm. He howled in pain. "Shit!" He looked at his arm, where a deep wound puckered like a mouth, not even bleeding yet. Then, almost instantaneously, the blood began to flow, profusely, a rich torrent of red.

"Ooh! Puncture wound!" Jennifer cried gleefully, grabbing his arm. She looked at it almost tenderly, then up at him. "God, that is so… EMO!" She grinned widely and broke his arm—he felt his wrist fracture into a hundred pieces, felt the shards of bone tear into his flesh from the inside. He screamed. She twisted her hand easily, applying pressure that should be far beyond human strength without even breaking a sweat, and he felt his forearm shatter. She did it again, and he screamed and screamed and screamed. His arm was a useless limp thing, rubbery and filled with splinters of bone, and the fiery water of pain filled it, throbbing and pulsing.

"I need you frightened," she said through her teeth, bared in a grin. She was enjoying this, more than he'd ever seen Jennifer enjoy anything. She loved to kill.

She threw him onto the floor with that superhuman strength. Colin felt his body slam into it, far too hard. He felt everything. All the sensations were heightened, as though his body knew it only had a minute left, as if it wanted to experience everything fully, even the agony. He was amazingly clear-headed, and each felt separate pain, throbbing dully or rippling like flame in its localized area.

She dropped down on top of him and straddled him. "I NEED YOU HOPELESS." Her voice wasn't human anymore—it was still Jennifer's voice, it was coming through her vocal cords, but it echoed from deep caverns somewhere below everything he knew.

Her eyes changed again, and she raised her head. Her mouth opened and began to stretch. She made a sound in between a scream and a roar, like some prehistoric beast, a sound that could have been from pain or joy or both. Her mouth kept stretching, making a terrible cracking sound, until her human skin couldn't take it anymore and her cheeks tore open. Blood spurted from her face in ripped ribbons. The demon looked down at him. Her new mouth was a shark's maw, filled with rows of razor-sharp fangs leading back into a deep, dark gullet. He looked into that endless darkness inside her, feeling like he was being drawn into it. The darkness swallowed his gaze.

Then she struck like a cobra and bit into him.