The rectory doors slammed shut behind her and Cameron jerked back instinctively, jamming her elbow on the steel partition between the double doors. The only light in the kitchen that was on, the one above the sink, reflected in dozens of balloons; so many balloons, she couldn’t even see the stainless steel appliances her mother had insisted on upgrading to when her dad had become pastor and they moved in. Or the crappy faux marble counter tops. Her dad had drawn the line, and capped the “remodeling” budget, there. She couldn’t even see the doors on the other side that led into the adjoining church.
“Hello…” Balloons—red and yellow and blue and every color in between—shifted as though the one word had caused a breeze. “Mom? Dad?”
She hadn’t seen this many balloons since her twelfth birthday party, the last one her mother had ever thrown for her. There had been no more parties after Cameron’s eyes had started turning red. Her mother homeschooled her from that day forward. It was like everything had stopped, except church. Even then she made Cameron sit on a little wooden chair in the hall between the sanctuary and the kitchen, out of sight of the congregation. She’d snuck away and into this kitchen many times in the years between her twelfth birthday and this one, her nineteenth. Since the kitchen was so close to the sanctuary door, she could hear when services were over. That had been her cue to plant her butt in that hard wooden chair again.
Standing in the kitchen now brought it all back; daily baths in the tepid water of the baptismal font; holy water eye drops; her mother diligently standing over her, praying, until Cameron fell asleep each night.
She turned around and pushed the door open, desperately hoping to get back into the house and as far away from the church as possible, but paused on the threshold.
I never should have come home, not even for Kacey.
She felt trapped with her memories, but she’d never escape them, not even if she left. They would always be with her. She’d never be free, not really.
Tears sprang into her eyes. Fear. Guilt. Her niece’s first birthday party was something she just couldn’t miss. She had begged Lilly not to have it at the church, but her older sister couldn’t understand why. And if one couldn’t provide a good reason why a course of action was a bad idea (or a good one, for that matter), then Lilly did whatever she damn well pleased. That was just her way. Cameron never could bring herself to tell anyone, not even her therapist, that her mom had thought she was half-demon.
So she told Lilly she’d be here for Kacey’s first birthday party. She was Kacey’s godmother, after all. How could she say no?
Now, in the quiet, mostly dark kitchen filled with balloons, frozen in fear, she was regretting that decision.
Just memories. Stop it. It’s fine. Everything’s okay.
Cameron took a deep breath, then pursed her lips to force it out slowly. Closing her eyes, she took another. She opened her eyes to exhale and the breath got caught in her throat. The balloons were leaning toward her. Collectively. She let out her breath on a whoosh as though she’d been sucker punched and the balloons leaped back. They swayed and swirled for just a moment, then stilled again, thankfully held in place by strings all tied to various door knobs and drawer pulls. Those were fairly new as well. Somewhere around her fourteenth birthday, her mother had read that silver helped ward against demons. So instead of buying birthday presents with the money her dad had given her, her mother had replaced the hardware in the kitchen and made Cameron ‘test’ them daily.
The irony of a ‘good Christian woman’ seeking advice from pagan teachings made her doubt her mother for the first time in her life. It had also led her to seek those same teachings herself. But she had found nothing helpful about a person’s eyes turning red when they were in distress. Or going through puberty. After she turned eighteen, the red eyes thing had become much easier to control. Not that her mother had cared. She never ceased her daily ‘cleansing ritual.’
A surge of power starting at Cameron’s core, in her heart, shot through her body. As inexplicable as ever, a wave of sensations blasted over her. Perfect clarity in her mind. Exceptional vision; she could even see her reflection in the nearest balloons. She stared into the red one, ignoring her red eyes but not forcing them to fade back to brown. They were beautiful, in a way. Not wicked, as her mother had always claimed. Anger coursed through her veins and she clenched her fists.
Pain bit into her palms. The powerful sensations fled when she looked down at the claws, where her fingers should have been, hooked into her palms from balling her fists. They retracted immediately as the last of her strength and bravery left her. Trembling, she collapsed on the floor, the balloons above her wavering like waves crashing against a shore.
She drifted toward passing out, but fought it. Am I drowning?
The absurdity of the thought brought her a rush of frustration. “What the hell am I so scared of? Balloons?” She sat up, glancing at her hands. Not even a scratch. Like the red eyes and the strange emotional responses, she didn’t have an explanation for the healing, either. A brief dizzy spell passed almost as soon as it had begun, but she stood slowly, carefully, and faced the balloons once more. She could do this. She had to.
“Enough, Cameron.” She knew where the door to the church was. She knew there was nothing to be scared of in there. And she would face those things she was afraid of and take the power away from them.
She shoved against the double doors and into the hallway that led to the sanctuary. Cameron stopped half-way down the hall. A door in the middle led to the baptismal font. That was where she would start. She would cleanse herself, as her mother had tried to do so many times, but this time, she would free herself of the fear of what she was. She was just Cameron. That was it.
Turning the knob, she found the door locked. Anger like she had never felt before ignited a burning need deep inside. She lashed out at the door, swinging her arms wildly, catching glimpses of long, black talons and dark red, muscular arms. Beautiful, like my eyes.
Cameron stood before a shredded door, only one thing on her mind: within that pool, she would free herself from the fear of what she was or she would die trying.
Turning her gaze to the water, she spotted her mother’s body floating face down. Her mouth dropped open and she could only stare.
Her mother’s puritan black dress was pulled taught at the waist, the fabric extending down into the pool as though something grasped it. And she wasn’t actually floating. Her body was relaxed, but rested just an inch or so below the water’s surface.
And then it hit her: someone was holding her mother in the water, had held her like that until she drowned. And that someone was still in there!
She couldn’t make sense of anything else, but something inside compelled to move.
Cameron approached the edge of the pool.
She took the three short steps into the pool and approached the center of the small area.
With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and plunged under the water.
Help me, Aunt Cam.
Her eyes flew open and she stared into a pair of blazing red ones so much like her own.
Kacey let go of the black dress and reached out to Cameron, who gripped the child’s small arm and stood up, pulling them both free.
Three years later…
Cameron let Kacey push the buggie once they were inside Wal-Mart. She could almost find the birthday party supplies all by herself now. Her memory was remarkable, not just for a four-year-old but period. She remembered the night she almost died, the night she drowned her grandmother instead, though she was a baby at the time.
As smart as she was, Cameron still worried she would at least ask about Lilly. They had found her body, riddled with stab wounds, lying on the kitchen floor beneath all those balloons. Kacey never mentioned her mom, though, or her grandfather, for that matter. They’d found him in his bedroom closet, a shoe box with ammo between his legs and the gun he’d used to kill himself still in his hand.
Kacey had accepted the news of their deaths as if Cameron had simply said it was raining. And after a brief Q&A session with the local police, the killings were deemed an open and shut case and the two of them were free to go. If Kacey’s father ever came into the picture, Cameron would have to deal with that when, and if, it happened. She didn’t even know if Lilly had told him about Kacey and the little girl never spoke of him either. The only person she did ever speak of was her grandmother, and only when she woke screaming from a bad dream.
For hours after waking, she would cry, “I’m not wicked, granny, I promise. I’m not wicked.” And Cameron would hold her tightly and rock her until they both drifted back off to sleep.
In the light of day, those dreams were banished to the back of their minds. They were free.
“What kind of decorations do you want, little bug?”
As soon as the party supplies came into sight, Kacey squealed and abandoned the shopping cart. Cameron pushed it over to the Hello Kitty section and her niece started throwing pink paper plates and cups into the cart. She couldn’t reach the party favors, so Cameron grabbed those, her hand hovering over a pack of balloons.
She looked down at Kacey and raised her eyebrows.
The little girl shook her head. “I hate balloons.”
“Me too.” Cameron grabbed some candy to stuff in the treat bags with the toys and Kasey threw a table cover into the basket.
“Okay, little bug. We’re all set on the decorations. Now let’s go pick out your cake. You want Batman, right?”
Kacey stomped her feet in pretend indignation, but her eyes remained a calm, warm brown. “Aunt Cam!”
Cameron followed Kacey away from the party aisle, doing her best to ignore the mylar balloons, filled with helium, floating above their heads.
It’s okay, Aunt Cam. We’re free.
Do you enjoy stories about demons?
I mean real demons, the ones who thrive on suffering, those who have no boundaries. The worst of the truly wicked.
Check out Sin Eater, a dark urban fantasy serial co-written by P.K. Tyler and Jessica West (me). Try the first episode for only 99¢.