By Xyggurat

We didn't walk. We flowed.

Fused with my flesh and muscle, Shift imparted a smoothness to my movements, as if I were machine enjoying the sudden benefits of fresh oil. My reflexes were nothing short of extraordinary. I discovered this when I knocked a pen off my desk by accident. With preternatural speed and flexibility, I bent and caught the falling object before it hit the floor. Pretty keen.

My mind, too, was sharper. In Anthropology class, I was drawn to the sound of someone chewing on a pencil somewhere in the back row. I must have visibly spaced out, because the professor called on me to discuss the status of illegal immigrants in Southern California. In spite of my lack of focus, I riposted with a dissertation on the immigration debate that left my professor wordless and stuttering.

During the days after Shift merged with me, I learned to see again. The world was bright, new, and alive. I wondered if this new vivacity and wonder at the commonplace was Shift's or mine. The demon's presence in my body was a constant one, never entirely forgotten. In the midst of a test, a roiling undercurrent of heat would flush beneath the skin of my thigh. While in the gym, a sudden surge of strength would pour through me, leaving me feeling for hours like I could scale a building or lift a truck. Perhaps I could.

More worrisome were the black tendrils that would occasionally snake across my field of vision, like living sunspots. That last side effect caught me by surprise the first time.

It was on the day my revenge upon Reagan would begin.

I was standing in the dining hall line when it began. Dark blots trailed across the center of my vision. I leapt backward to avoid them. Enhanced reflexes or no, I lost my balance and fell. My tray and everything on it spilled backward at my sudden displacement. A searing tide of spaghetti spilled down the front of my shirt. I yelped.

I was aware of the heat, but didn't feel pain. For a moment, I thought it my numbness stemmed from shock. Seconds passed, and still I felt nothing. If it was shock, I reasoned, there should be at least a dim awareness of the burning sauce and noodles. Nothing. I looked down at my chest. My white button-down shirt was a loss, but my skin was undamaged.

A handsome boy in polo shirt and slacks knelt by me. I shivered as I looked at him, some nameless sensation making me intensely uncomfortable. Dirty blond hair framed his face, cut short and neat. He was taller than me, so I couldn't be sure, but it looked like his hair was thinning on top. His eyes were dark and intense, brown with rare hints of green.

He gave me a broad smile as he helped me to my feet, and despite his kind gesture, I started sweating. I needed to run, to get away from him. My eyes were drawn to his neck like a lightning rod. He was wearing the Sign, the--

It took me a moment to realize that the thoughts were the demon's and not my own. I forced down my disgust, the heartpounding terror that lanced through me at the sight of the crucifix around his neck. It was just a cross, like any others I'd seen a thousand times before. Shift mumbled madness in the back of my head, but his feelings stopped bleeding into mine.

I forced myself to return the boy's smile. He looked at me, unfazed by the procession of emotions that had erupted across my face. Perhaps he thought I was crazy.

"Thanks for helping me up," I said.

"You're welcome. I'm Richard Hawke."

"Johnny Ford."

He tucked his cross back into his shirt, and a part of me instantly relaxed. "You've got spaghetti all over you," he said.

"Yeah, I sort of do. It's getting cold." I scraped some of the pasta and sauce off of my shirt and right into my lap. I wiped the red ooze off on my trousers. My face flushed.

"Why don't you go get cleaned up? I'll head back through the mess line and grab you some food."

I grinned. "Sounds good. I'll be right back."

Shift lent me speed and stamina as I sprinted back to my room. I hurriedly stripped off my shirt, noting with frustration that it had looked better on me before I'd lost some of my muscle mass to my demon. Images of Reagan and Brent flashed through my head, along with a healthy blaze of resentment. I wondered if that came from the demon or my own rage.

I dodged by Candi-with-an-'i' on my way to the communal showers with a muttered apology. Several times in the shower, I almost dropped the soap, and only through my superior speed was I able to catch it. Shift rumbled with discomfort in the back of my head.

After the quick rinse, I yanked on a baby blue muscle t-shirt and some faded jeans. The trousers still fit me well, but they had more room in the butt than I was used to. I needed to muscle up and soon, or I was going to have to get a new wardrobe. I spiked my hair, feeling self-conscious, and again I thought of my nemesis. Both of them. Nemesises? Nemeses, maybe.

Richard waited for me at a table near the entrance of the dining hall. I sensed him a moment before a saw him. He had prepared a full plate of pasta for me, along with water and milk. He smiled, beaming with pride, as if he'd cooked the meal himself. I grinned back and waved.

Using one foot, he slid the seat across from him out as I approached. It squealed, and several people looked at us. A ghost-pale girl wearing too much make up made a face when she saw me sit down across from Richard. He pushed my meal toward me, his smile never wavering.

"What was that all about?" I asked, glancing over my shoulder at the girl. She had gone back to eating. All of her friends looked just like her, dyed black hair stark against their lily white skin.

"Goths," he explained. He leaned forward. "They don't like what I do."

"Really? You seem nice."

That was partially true. His smile reminded me of Donny Osmond's, and Donny and Marie were both near the top of my creepy list. What Richard lacked was the vacuous stare common to both siblings. His eyes were sharp, and I got the sense that I might cut myself on them if I pressed too hard.

"As far as I know, I am pretty nice. Have you attended San Cristóbal for long?"

"I'm a junior."

He nodded. "What all do you do on campus?"

"I pretty much keep to myself. Like going to the gym, though." Reading disbelief in Richard's penetrating gaze, I added, "I have a really bad metabolism."

"You know, you sound like you could use something to do with your time. Ever been interested in volunteering?"

"Sure," I said.

"I'm part of a youth group on campus. You should come to one of our meetings. Tuesdays and Thursdays at seven."

"I dunno. I'm a bit of a loner."

"Right," a voice said from by my ear. "I'm his only friend in the world." Isaac leaned into our conversation, draping a solid arm over my shoulders. "Little buddy, you need to hit those weights a bit harder, you're getting skinny."

Richard looked distinctly uncomfortable, so I introduced Isaac to him. I wondered if it was my imagination that made my new acquaintance's impenetrable smile look a little weak.

"Dick Hawke," said Isaac, with uncharacteristic coldness. "I know who you are."

It suddenly occurred to me that maybe dislike for Richard extended beyond the goth crowd. Shift continued babbling in the back of my head over the boy's cross and how its presence burned him. It was beginning to give me a headache.

"Well, I should be going," said Richard, breaking a long moment of silence. "Give it a thought, though. Room 338 in the arts building." He swept out of the hall quickly, almost jogging away.

Isaac settled himself across from me, glancing down at Richard's untouched food. He made a face and slid the tray away.

"What was that all about?" I asked.

"Guy's a huge asshole."

"He seemed nice enough. Creepy eyes, though."

"Trust me, just stay away from him."


Isaac rolled his eyes. "The guy is like Jerry Falwell's and James Dobson's love child." My face went blank for a second. "Fundy Christian. You know, abortion clinic bombings? Doom prophesies? Ex-gays?"

Weakly, I joked, "Is that anything like X-Men?"

Outside, I might have been smiling, but in the wake of Isaac's announcement, my stomach had rattled around inside of me and dropped about a foot. A wave of dizziness made me thankful I was sitting down.

Shift, recovered from the sight of Richard's crucifix, hissed at me. Moron.

You weren't much help, what with the cringing and hiding. What was that all about, anyway?

Christian symbol. Demon. Figure it out for yourself.

"You all right, buddy?" Isaac asked, resting a callused hand on one of mine.

I nodded. "Don't worry about me, Isaac. I'm not going to go straight on you."

"Yeah, I can't be the only fag on campus," he said, laughing. He gestured with his pinky finger over to the drink machines, where a stunning blond boy was struggling with the change slot. "Hey, there's a damsel in distress. Don't wait up for me."

I didn't.

The rest of the day passed in a dizzy haze, with Shift mocking me as I went through the motions of college life. His barbs almost felt good-natured, and soon the niggling fear left over from the demon's reaction to the crucifix subsided. As noon deepened into dusk, however, a whole new set of worries arose. Despair consumed me as the appointed hour arrived. I knew that, after this, there would be no going back.

He's earned this, the demon prompted. And [B]you've[/B] earned it. Think of all the harassment, the pain, the embarassment.

"I know," I whispered. "I know."

Then give over to me.

I exhaled, long and low. "All right."

It took only moments. A numbness snatched at my limbs, as if all of them were going to sleep at one time. Abruptly, awareness of them vanished. I tried to gasp, but I no longer had control over my lungs. Panic welled up within me. We had discussed the process a thousand times, but nothing had prepared me for the experience of another being taking over my body. I could still see, but all of the connections between me and my physical form had vanished.

No, they had been commandeered. I felt my body rise from my bed, effortlessly. Its head turned to glance at the mirror. It took a long look at me, clad only in a skin-tight black tanktop and clinging dark jeans—the choice in garb had been the demon's, not mine—and rushed for the window.

I screamed inside my skull as my body leapt out of the window. Air whistled past us as we plummeted toward the ground. We hit with a thud. I had been expecting a snap of bones, and wet, hot pain.

"Coward," oozed my voice. I had never heard such a honey-coated sound come from my vocal chords. It was a voice that could send a lover into a frenzy of passion.

Heck, it would've given me a boner if I had a body.

Shift sprinted through the night, a crow flying on human legs. Students still wandered the campus, although midnight loomed near. None paid me a second glance. I wondered if Shift's choice of clothing had not partially been for stealth.

They see what they want to see, he told me. I make them not want to see me.

Handy, I thought back.

It would have taken me fifteen minutes, at a jog, to reach the freshman dormitories. The clock on the campus belltower professed that only three had passed. We weren't even breathing hard. The demon was better at using my body than I was. Perhaps he was better at everything than I was.

Of course I am, Shift confirmed. We came first. We were His perfect children.

So, I prompted, eager to get on with the vile deed. Are we just going to stroll into his dorm room?

In a matter of speaking, said the demon.

My legs bent, and we leapt. We soared through the air, ricocheting effortlessly off of the side of the building, and spiraling toward a nearby tree. My hands caught the trunk of the tree, and Shift maneuvered us up into the old oak's branches.

Showoff, I shot at Shift. He did not answer.

Our eyes seized on an open window. With Shift enhancing my body's senses, I could see two beds within, a figure lying in each. The entire scene was bathed in carmine luminescence, as if a blood-red sun hovered somewhere above us. Each of the sleeping figures shone silver with virility. I thirsted for that strength and power. I knew as soon as I saw those tantalizing beacons searing my hungry soul that I could not turn back. I deserved this.

One of my fingers left the bark of the tree, gesturing toward the dreamer in the right-hand bed. Its glow dimmed, settling into a dull shimmer.

He will not wake until we are done.

And Reagan?

I want him to be awake.

We leapt again, catching the open window's ledge and swinging up onto it soundlessly. We crouched, a devil's smile on our face. One minute until midnight.

He won't remember, anyway.

I want to hear him scream.

That was where things began in earnest; where I walked—no, ran—down the path to damnation. Even now, thinking back, I can't sort out where that train of thoughts came from: me, or the demon.

We were wed in vengeance. •

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