Chapter 1: Haunted Memories
The first time I kept someone from selling his soul was during the spring of my senior year at Madison High School.
He was a marginal baseball player on the high school team who suddenly moved up from JV to starting varsity. That’s not exactly like having someone in grinding poverty turn into a millionaire overnight, but it was odd enough to investigate.
In earlier centuries, someone like me wouldn’t have seen these kinds of signs until it was too late. Luckily for the baseball player, demons had started combatting general unbelief by offering “no-obligation” free trials. It was easier to laugh off demonic promises if you didn’t believe but much harder if one of your dreams suddenly fell into your lap. Fortunately, such free trials were usually easy to spot.
For me, though, nothing was ever truly easy. I had never tried to rescue anyone before. I was book-smart about it, but I had zero experience. Even worse, as a lapsed-Catholic agnostic, I couldn’t use the faith-based methods that were the most effective. To compensate, I had researched the lore on herbs, stones, and other substances that might repel demons. I was like a soldier who couldn’t use a gun in the middle of a battle. I had to attack the enemy soldiers with compounds to which they might—or might not—be allergic. Pretty silly, but that was the best I could do.
A lesser problem, but still one most high school seniors would worry about, was the potential social awkwardness. I didn’t know this miracle baseball player. What if I made a complete fool out of myself by confronting him only to discover that he had just worked hard to improve his game?
Why was I willing to risk embarrassment, not to mention death, for someone I didn’t know? Because two people who didn’t know me, Carla and Gavin, had risked their lives a few months earlier to save my soul.
I stopped by baseball practice first, just to make sure. I’d seen a couple JV games the previous year, and he’d been glued to the bench almost the entire time. During this practice, he wasn’t warming the bench, though—he was burning those balls right over the fence. He was zooming around the bases. As a fielder, he was snagging every ball that came anywhere near him, even ones that looked fast enough to punch right through his hand.
I glanced over at the coach, who looked pleased yet surprised. No, shocked would be a better word for it. Apparently, the new wunderkind was outperforming even the coach’s recently raised expectations.
I was no baseball expert, but I doubted anyone could get that good that fast. This whole situation stunk of brimstone.
I hung around until after practice. I waited for the boy wonder to come out of the locker room and say good-bye to his teammates. Then I approached him, trying to seem casual.
Up close he looked suspiciously well-muscled. His clothes were bulging in ways that screamed demonic muscle-enhancement. Apparently, a matching wardrobe had not been part of the deal.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” I asked.
He glanced at me and gave me a yes-you-can-have-my-autograph smile. The smile vanished as soon as he recognized me.
My look was…distinctive, so I would definitely have stood out, but the guy didn’t know me at all. I should have run as fast as I could in the opposite direction, but I didn’t realize what was coming.
“You…you’re him!” He looked at me as if I had run over his little sister.
“What…who am I?”
“The one Kimaris said would come—and my worst enemy.”
Apparently, Satan’s gift to baseball wasn’t experienced enough to realize that demons didn’t like namedroppers.
“I’m not your enemy, dude.”
“You want to take what I have away from me.”
Well, he wasn’t wrong about that.
“What I want to do is help you keep your soul—”
He grabbed me roughly by the front of my shirt and threw me on the ground so hard my teeth rattled.
“I was nobody before. Now I’ll play in college, go pro—”
“Go to Hell is more like it,” I said, still on the ground.
“What would you know about it? Kimaris said you would lie to me.”
“Kimaris is a demon, and he’s the one who’s lying. You really like being his bitch that much?”
In hindsight, that probably wasn’t the most effective way to get through to him. He had his bat out of his bag and looked as if he was about to see how good a substitute my head would make for a baseball.
The bat smashed into the ground only seconds after I’d managed to roll out of the way.
The guy was faster than I was, and by the look of him, at least twice as strong. I had only seconds at most before the bat would crack against my skull. I doubted he was going to stop with one hit.
I might have been stubborn. I might even have been stupid—at least where my quest to free Amanda was concerned. However, I wasn’t a complete idiot. I had come prepared.
I managed to roll over before he could strike again. I tossed a bag containing some powdered osha root at him. Never having been in this situation, I had no idea how—or if—it would work.
He did recoil from it, but he looked more startled than frightened. If the herb had driven away his demon, it didn’t seem to have reduced Wunderkind’s abilities.
“What the hell?” he said, looking at me as if I was the crazy one.
“How can you go pro or even play at college if you kill me?” I asked, scrambling up off the ground while he was struggling to process what was happening.
“Kimaris is a liar!” I yelled. His mouth was open for his next word. I already had my flask out, and I splashed my special blend into his mouth: holy water, rosemary, ginkgo biloba, and mugwort. He swallowed some before he could stop himself, then looked at me again as if I were crazy.
“That’s holy water,” I announced, just in case he was a believer. I didn’t have the faith for holy water to be effective—but he might. “It should get Kimaris out of your head for at least a while.”
He looked terrified, which meant he believed. That would give me another way to persuade him if I could just get him to listen.
Or so I thought for a couple of seconds. He had fingers down his throat and induced vomiting so fast he caught me completely off-guard.
“Once the holy water’s touched you, it will work even if you throw up.” I hadn’t any idea whether that was true or not, but if he believed it was true, even that might be enough.
Unfortunately, the blend of herbs intended to induce mental clarity hadn’t been in him long enough for any of it to be absorbed. All I could do now was hope he was shaken up enough for me to get through whatever mental fog Kimaris had him in.
Boy Wonder was looking at me with murder in his eyes.
“I’m trying to help you.” I knew I couldn’t outrun him. If I couldn’t make him listen, my brains would be decorating the baseball diamond for sure.
“You’re going to destroy my future,” he said, taking a shaky step forward. His tan skin looked almost as pale as mine. Maybe it was the holy water. Maybe I had just psyched him out.
“Don’t you understand? It’s Kimaris who wants to destroy your future. You look like a smart guy.”
He didn’t really look that smart. Right now, he looked more like the steroidal version of a deer caught in the headlights. I figured a white lie in a good cause was worth it.
“Don’t you realize that once Kimaris gets you to sign away your soul, he won’t give a damn what happens to you. When you die, you really will be his bitch…forever…in Hell. You can’t possibly want that.”
Boy Wonder took another step in my direction, but at least he didn’t charge me.
There was still time before dusk, but the air right behind him abruptly darkened. That’s when I knew I was really in trouble.
What I had learned about demons suggested they couldn’t just go after most people. Someone who responded to their temptations, particularly someone in the process of making a deal, became vulnerable. Unfortunately, directly confronting a demon or one of its victims also left someone open to attack. The demons had come after Carla and Gavin when they had saved me last October. Now I was the one intervening, and someone had taken notice.
Boy Wonder looked back, though whether from fear or relief was impossible to tell from his expression. If he was smart, he’d run while there was still time.
Hell, the same could be said for me. If I fled now, though, Boy Wonder might end up selling his soul, and I was just beginning to rattle him. With just a little time, I could get him to rethink what he was doing—before it was too late.
The darkness behind Boy Wonder congealed from shadow into absolute blackness. From that sudden abyss rode a fully armored knight on a black horse. Though his armor wasn’t black, it absorbed light rather than reflecting it. I could barely stand to look at it.
If he had enough energy on hand to manifest physically, I was done for.
“Is this the guy you told me about?” asked Boy Wonder. His face was unreadable. Was he looking for reassurance or just playing for time?
The demon seemed about to charge me. I had visions of being trampled beneath the hooves of its horse.
Horse and rider noticed the bag of osha root at the same time. I knew the stuff was supposed to be powerful, but even I was shocked when both the demon and his mount screamed in unison. The horse reared, nearly unseating the demon. Then it galloped back through the abyss, which vanished as quickly as it had come.
I’d read that evil supernaturals couldn’t get too close to Osha root, but I was surprised at how rapidly and completely it vanquished a high-level demon like Kimaris.
Boy Wonder just stood there with his mouth hanging open. Knowing I might not get another chance, I pressed my advantage.
“Bet you didn’t expect your big, bad demon friends to run screaming because of a few herbs.”
Boy Wonder looked at me, then at the bat.
“You have to know something’s wrong with this whole deal,” I said. “Why am I such a threat to you that Kimaris needed to warn you about me?”
“I…I don’t know,” he said. He looked like someone just waking up from sleep.
“I don’t have magic like Kimaris. I don’t have muscle like you. I have the truth. That’s what your demon buddy is afraid of.”
Boy Wonder stopped trying to smash my skull, but he still didn’t really believe me. His certainty was beginning to crack, though, because he was willing to talk more.
Staying on the baseball field was too risky, so I suggested getting a bite somewhere.
Madisonville had only one restaurant, a diner on Main Street, but Boy Wonder didn’t want to go there. He didn’t say why, but I knew. He was afraid some of the other players might be there, and he didn’t want to explain why he was hanging out with a nerd like me. Instead, I ended up driving him clear to Merced—far away from prying eyes and overly inquisitive ears.
We ended up at the Applebees on Olive, mostly because I knew where it was from my visit to UC Merced. It also had the virtue of being crowded, and thus an unlikely spot for a demon attack. As far as I could tell, demons kept a low profile whenever they could. Aside from the retrieved osha root, I had a bag with dried rowan berries and dill seeds under my shirt. These should have been protection enough. Even so, I didn’t want to ask for trouble by going to some isolated location. The background noise in a crowded place would also be a good cover for our conversation.
Boy Wonder looked as if he wanted to order a beer, but even he looked too much like the high school kid he actually was to get away with that. Instead, he ordered a lemonade and stared into its depths as if he were trying to read his future in it. What he was really doing was avoiding making eye contact with me. I got one of those Mountain Dew-raspberry combos, then cursed myself for forgetting Mountain Dew has caffeine in it. My nerves were taut as piano wire as it was. I gulped some anyway. Maybe being a little more hyper would get me through what promised to be a difficult conversation.
I didn’t feel like eating much, so I ordered a house salad. Boy Wonder got two orders of spicy buffalo wings and started devouring them as if they were about to be outlawed. That gave him an excuse for not talking to me. If I hadn’t heard him agree to come, I would never have figured out he’d consented from watching him.
“I know what you’re going through,” I said.
At first, the sound of Boy Wonder munching on the wings was the only response I got. I had a sudden impulse to get up and leave, but I decided not to give him the satisfaction.
He glanced at me as if he’d forgotten I was there. “You? You’re kidding, right?”
He was looking me over now, making me uncomfortably conscious of just how unathletic I was. “Success in sports is not the only thing demons offer, you know. For me it was love. Suddenly, I had the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen as my girlfriend.”
I couldn’t help but remember Amanda when I talked about her. I saw her long blonde hair, eyes that flashed like emeralds, alabaster skin, sincere smile, ample and inviting curves—
I was jolted out of my daydream by Boy Wonder’s snicker. It was a yeah-you’d-have-to-sell-your-soul-to-get-a-girl snicker if I’d ever heard one.
I should have been more patient with him. Inside that smirking exterior, he was probably scared. Pushing me away might be his way of avoiding the abyss he was standing on the edge of.
Knowing that was one thing. Holding on to that knowledge in the face of his subtle bullying was something else. I was trying to save his soul, dammit, and my thanks was a huge serving of his contempt.
“Do you want my help or not?” I wondered how my salad would look on his head.
The smirk flickered as if he was trying to decide what he wanted. The smirk won out. At some point during the trip over, his earlier denial had reasserted itself.
“You don’t know a thing about me,” he replied. “Not one thing.”
“I’ll take that as a no.” I got up, but I didn’t have the satisfaction of storming out as I had planned. I remembered he’d come in my car. At the time, separating him from his bat seemed like a good idea. Angry as I was, though, I couldn’t just strand him this far from home.
Doing my best to act as if I had planned the move, I threw some money at him. “That’ll cover the check and an Uber ride back to Madisonville,” I hadn’t planned on paying for his snack, but now it seemed a small price for getting away from him.
His mouth hung open stupidly, but he didn’t say anything. I turned and headed out the door as fast as I could.
I didn’t move fast enough to make it to my car before regret began to hit me. Sure, he was being obnoxious, but did he really deserve a one-way trip to Hell? My hand was on the door of my Prius, but I hesitated. Maybe I should go back and give him another chance.
I heard the scratch of claws on concrete and looked around. No pet dog had made that noise. Something bigger was in the parking lot with me.
Nobody else was in the lot at that moment. There was traffic on Olive, but I had parked far enough back that someone driving down the street probably couldn’t see me very well.
I spotted the source of the scratching. Racing across the lot toward me was a beast something like a panther, but larger and with glowing red eyes.
From my reading, I knew demons often took animal forms. Whoever this was probably wasn’t Kimaris, but with those claws and teeth it didn’t need to be. It was more than powerful enough to strew my guts all over the parking lot.
My instinctive response was to run, but the demon could obviously move faster. I grabbed for my bag of osha root.
It wasn’t in my pocket. I must have dropped it in my hurry to get out of the restaurant.
The demonic panther would be on me in seconds. I had to hope the herbs hanging from my neck would be enough to protect me.
“Stop!” yelled Boy Wonder. He must have followed me into the parking lot.
The panther awkwardly halted its charge. I was pretty sure it had been ordered to attack me only if no one else was around.
“Go back inside,” growled the panther in a decent imitation of human speech. It must have recognized Boy Wonder.
Not too long ago the athlete had tried to brain me with his baseball bat. Now he stood there as if the panther had turned him to stone. He wasn’t trying to rescue me, but he wasn’t following the demon’s instructions, either. Looking more closely, I could see the indecision in his eyes.
“Go back in!” the panther repeated, this time more loudly. “This does not concern you.”
“I…I don’t want you to hurt him.”
He wasn’t sounding decisive, but at this point, I’d take whatever help I could get.
“This is the one of whom Kimaris warned you,” said the panther. “You did not kill him, so I am killing him for you.”
“Go away!” said Boy Wonder, making a shooing motion.
“This is not your decision.”
“I offered to bargain my soul for athletic fame. Letting you kill people was not part of the deal.”
Kimaris might have had a more persuasive answer, but judging by the demon’s frustrated growl, it was at a much lower pay grade. It had orders to kill me, but not in front of anyone. Kimaris hadn’t specified that people involved in pacts didn’t count. Nor had Kimaris’s orders indicated what to do if the potential soul seller objected.
“Your pact did not need to specify this because you are not being asked to do it yourself. I am doing it on your behalf.”
“What if I don’t want you to?” Boy Wonder took a couple steps toward the beast. I had to give him props for not being frightened of it. It made me wonder if he was so cool because he’d dealt with demons a lot.
“I do not require your permission,” growled the panther, baring his teeth at Boy Wonder. “Go back inside, or I will tell Kimaris of your interference. He will surely cancel your pact once he knows.”
Without replying, Boy Wonder raised a sack I recognized as the lost osha root powder. He used his empowered throwing arm to toss the bag right in the panther’s face. The throw had enough force to split the bag, sending powder across the beast’s face, into its eyes and up its nose.
The demon reared up and filled the air with its screams. Panther flesh flowed like melting wax as the demon lost control of its physical form. Overcome by the osha root, it was forced to abandon that form completely. In seconds, it was gone, leaving only a powdery smudge on the asphalt.
I walked slowly over to Boy Wonder. When I got close enough, I noticed he was shaking a little.
“Not that I’m complaining, but what changed your mind?” I asked.
“I didn’t—at least not yet. I had the weirdest feeling when you left, though. I felt…oh, I don’t know. I felt as if hope was walking out the door with you.”
“It looks as if you made a choice,” I said, pointing to the smudge that had been a demon only a minute before.
“I could probably patch things up with Kimaris if I wanted to.”
I could almost see the wheels in his head turning. They were trying to turn in opposite directions at the same time.
“I just don’t know,” Boy Wonder said as the wheels got stuck. “I do know I don’t want you to die.”
I decided against reminding him about his recent attempt to kill me. Despite his earlier rudeness, something I’d said or done must have gotten him to reconsider.
“That girl you mentioned before…you really loved her?”
“I gets worse,” I said, trying to smile. “I still do.”
Boy Wonder’s jaw dropped. I hoped I hadn’t overshared enough to scare him back into his deal.
“Can we go back in and finish?”
“The wings?” I asked, hoping I was joking.
“Yeah, but I meant the conversation. I told the waitress we’d be right back.”
I went back in with him and made the best pitch I could. He accepted that I’d gone through something similar, which made him a more receptive audience. Ever wonder why the speakers in antidrug presentations in high school are so often former drug abusers? People take advice better when it comes from someone who knows what they’re talking about.
He didn’t say so directly, but watching the panther prepare to make me his chew toy worried him. He should have known that selling his soul wasn’t going to end up being all rainbows and ice cream, but it’s easy to lose sight of that when you have what you’ve wanted all your life dangling right in front of your nose.
Snacks ended up turning into dinner. We both called home and got permission to eat out. He told his parents he was celebrating with the team. I told mine a friend of mine needed help. That was true—expect for the friend part. Maybe someday.
I found myself doing most of the talking and him doing most of the eating. Either he was a stress eater, or Kimaris had revved up his metabolism. After finishing his wings, he somehow had room for a six-ounce sirloin with maple pecan mashed sweet potatoes and garlicky green beans. To my amazement, he topped that off with a triple chocolate meltdown.
When he saw my expression, he said, “Condemned man ate a hearty meal.” It was the first time I’d heard him joke. Judging from the expression in his eyes, he was afraid it was the last time he’d have anything to joke about.
“Don’t worry, I’m paying,” he added, throwing my money back at me. “I got a good allowance bump when I made varsity.”
His voice broke a little on “varsity.” Within two minutes, he started backpedaling toward selling his soul again. I wouldn’t have expected to feel so much sympathy for him, but I did. I wanted to press him, but I decided against it. He was paying lip service to the deal now, but I could tell it was half-hearted at best.
It was two or three days before he finally made the choice to dig himself out of the hole he’d fallen into. During that time, I convinced him to drink my special blend regularly. I was relieved to discover it actually worked, at least well enough to keep Kimaris out of his head. Evidently, Boy Wonder’s faith was enough to make the holy water work. The herbs alone might have done the trick, but they would have taken a while to kick in.
While he was going through demon detox, I went to the baseball practices and the one game that happened during that period. I figured he could use a friend, and I was right.
Boy Wonder still had his sports superpowers at that point, but he was a little off his game. I was the only one who knew why. I could see the haunted look in his eye that everyone else missed.
It was the look of someone who has tasted success he knows can’t last. Or maybe it was the look of the addict about to enter rehab. I’d never known an addict, so I couldn’t be sure.
After every practice or game, I talked to Boy Wonder. I reminded him of what lay ahead for him if he didn’t give up his baseball prowess.
He cried the day he made the choice. I could tell he wasn’t a hugger, so I didn’t try that. I just waited until he was done, and we both pretended nothing had happened.
That night we went to Constitution Park just before midnight. It was the place I had made my futile bid to free Amanda, but I wasn’t going to twist that particular knife. Madisonville was a small town, and the park was normally empty that late. That made it a good place to confront demons—just in case things got out of hand.
Boy Wonder wore a cross and carried a flask of holy water, both of which should work for him. Just in case, though, we both “herbed-up.” Each of us had a bag of osha root and wore around our necks the mixture of dried rowan berries and dill seeds.
As a final layer of protection, I created a circle around us using holy oil, in this case olive oil mixed with cinnamon, calamus, cassia, and myrrh. It was a good thing so many concoctions like that could be bought online, or I would have spent all my time mixing them. I didn’t even have to do some Hollywood-style raid on a church to get holy water, which seemed to be on sale everywhere. The way I was going through the stuff, that was a very good thing.
My preparations nearly proved to be overkill. We had ourselves so demon-proofed that Kimaris could barely appear in response to Boy Wonder’s summons. When the demon finally clawed his way into our world, he kept his distance. That did not prevent him from shouting threats at Boy Wonder, but I had to give him credit—the guy stayed strong. His voice didn’t betray fear or sadness when he insisted on canceling his free trial.
Kimaris turned to me, his eyes glowing with hatred. “You will die for this!” it screamed, and its horse stamped the ground impatiently.
“Not today,” I said, tossing my osha root in his direction. Boy Wonder and I had the satisfaction of watching both demon and horse flail around for a few seconds before giving up and fleeing from the herb again.
Boy Wonder’s extra muscles faded right before my eyes, and he cried again. This time I did hug him, and he didn’t object.
Gavin, an excellent athlete, was naturally on the varsity baseball team, and fortunately the next day he returned from a family funeral. I couldn’t tell him the whole truth. He and Carla had both warned me about how dangerous keeping myself on Hell’s radar could be after having such a close scrape. He wouldn’t have understood why I was taking such a big risk. All I told him was that something was up with Boy Wonder. He would need support for a while to make sure he didn’t get lured into another deal, and Gavin would understand what he was going through much better than I. Needless to say, I had sworn Boy Wonder to secrecy, so he told Gavin an edited version of his story that didn’t include me at all.
Unfortunately, Gavin had been right about staying clear of demons. The nightmares started right after that.
Chapter 2: Haunted Dreams
I awoke trembling from yet another nightmare. Like most of them, demons chased me through the fires of Hell. My nightmares seemed almost real, but fortunately I always woke up around the time my skin started burning. Even after waking up, though, I could sometimes feel heat on the nightmare-burned spots, as if the fire had tried to pursue me into the “real” world.
I sat up in bed and listened, but I didn’t hear anything. That probably meant I hadn’t screamed this time, which was good. The manager might already doubt my sanity—and I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire.
I noticed it, lurking in the shadows at the far corner of the room, its glowing, blood-red eyes staring at me. It reminded me of the old expression about looks killing.
A demon had followed me back—again!
“Christopher Patrick Murphy,” it whispered in a voice like fingernails on a chalkboard.
A few months ago, I would have been terrified. Even now I was unsettled, but I had this kind of visitor so often these days that I was almost getting used to them.
“Christopher Patrick Murphy,” it whispered again, slightly more intensely.
“What?” I asked. “What do you want?”
“Oh, I know,” I interrupted. “I must cease interfering with you demons or face the wrath of Satan himself. Blah, blah, blah.”
I couldn’t really see much of the demon except for its eyes, but I had the feeling my reaction caught it a little off guard. Probably it expected me to scream, cower in fear, beg for mercy, or something similar. However, I had enough experience with this kind of intruder to know he wasn’t physical enough to harm me—at least so I hoped.
It tried again, sounding increasingly angry. “If you do not—”
“I’ve heard it all before,” I said. “If you want me to stop so badly, make me.”
“You will regret this!” it shouted at me. It vanished, leaving behind only the smell of brimstone—with which I was by now quite familiar.
I tried to go back to sleep after that, but finally gave up. Most nights I was lucky to get four hours. Tonight would be closer to two, but I couldn’t help that. My instinctive alarm system kept me awake.
Around five in the morning, I gave up, ate what little breakfast my nervous stomach would tolerate, shaved, and, once it was late enough not to wake up my neighbors, showered.
I was so distracted I could barely feel the warm water hitting my skin. I tried to figure out if I could do any more to stop the nightmares than I was already doing.
When they first started after my rescue of Boy Wonder, I tried a lot of folk remedies, like rosemary in my pillow, but none of them helped.
By the time I started college, demons began appearing when I woke up. I had studied a lot more by then and knew they probably couldn’t hurt me. Their war with me was strictly psychological.
That didn’t stop me from creating two circles around my bed: one with holy oil and one with the blessed salt used by exorcists. I wasn’t sure how effective those would be, given my lack of faith, so I also started wearing my rowan/dill mixture on a regular basis. I sprinkled angelica in the four corners of the apartment. I burned sage. I took about a dozen other protective measures every day. I was an herbalist’s dream.
I didn’t stop either the nightmares or the demonic visits, but at least none of the demons had been able to hurt me—yet.
After I’d pondered any other protective steps I could take, I tried remembered the two people I’d saved. Remembering my past triumphs didn’t cheer me up as much as usual. I could tell this wasn’t going to be a good day.
Sleep deprivation was starting to wear me down, but even more discouraging was my failure to make any real headway in my quest. Saving people whose deals were not yet final was one thing. Saving someone like Amanda, whose soul had been lost long ago, was something completely different. No source I had consulted offered any hope at all.
Even worse was the fact that I had no one to talk with about it. The two people who knew enough about the supernatural to believe me would scold me for taking such risks. Anybody else would dismiss me as crazy.
Maybe I was crazy. Plotting to rescue someone from Hell wasn’t exactly the height of sanity, but that didn’t matter. I had to try.
I had barely looked at myself while I was shaving, and as a result, I had a couple nicks on my chin. I took a minute to look now, though, and I didn’t like what I saw. My red hair, garish as always, needed cutting. My skin, pasty on a good day, was looking chalky, and my green eyes were bloodshot.
I had never exactly been a babe magnet to begin with, and my current appearance just made the situation worse.
Not that such things mattered anymore. The only girl I cared about was in Hell—and it was my fault.
It was Saturday, so I didn’t have to go to UC Merced for classes, but I should get some work done. I looked guiltily at my textbooks. I had a ton of reading to do before Monday. I was starting to fall behind, and I couldn’t let that happen. After all, it might take years to fulfill my quest, and I needed to have a life in the meantime. Besides, I didn’t want to lie to my parents about my grades. But if they found out those grades had dropped, they were bound to start asking questions I couldn’t answer.
On the other hand, the books on demonology hidden away under my bed kept calling to me. I had read all of them from cover to cover, but I kept hoping to find some new clue on how to liberate someone from the clutches of Satan.
Perhaps a little fresh air would bring me clarity and help me to do something constructive with the rest of the day. If nothing else, I could take a quick trip over to my favorite used bookstore in Merced. Some new primary source on demonology might just have arrived.