Spooktober Prompt # 23 – Frenzied Family
“My Family Doesn’t Know Our Guardian Angel is a Demon”
by Penny Tailsup
My family thinks we’re blessed with a guardian angel. I’d thought the angel was made-up to make Conti kids behave… until my mother died. She passed the “Glory” on to me with her dying breath. With the “Glory”, I’ve learned the terrible truth: our guardian angel is a Fallen. We weren’t blessed with an angel, we were cursed with a demon.
For generations, the Conti family has prided themselves on the Blessing, standing tall as beacons of Goodness. Most Contis pat themselves on the back for being so Holy. I might be a secret atheist, but even I know that arrogance is sinful. My family’s cult-ish worship of our alleged angel made a doubter of me.
If God exists, he must be laughing. Now I’m the only person who can see the Fallen’s shadow and hear his voice. I haven’t told my family yet. I don’t think I should, even though the absence of “our angel” has left the family in chaos.
I could see the dysfunction in action at dinner. As I sawed through a gooey casserole, I listened to Father and Grandma argue. Through it all, the demon would pace at my back, restless and angry. He always had something to say.
“You’re tearing your family apart. Why haven’t you told them?” his voice felt like electricity. I pretended not to hear him, the mashed potatoes far more worthy of my attention. Dinner was extra tense; we’d been staying with Grandma but Father announced we were going home tomorrow.
Grandma wasn’t taking it well. Not because she was sad her daughter died, but because no one has claimed the Glory. She’s convinced one of her grandchildren must have it… and she’s not wrong. I’m keeping my mouth shut because I think it’s better not to say anything until I know more about this demon. If I tried to tell everyone the truth, they wouldn’t believe me.
“You’re not blood, Barone-Conti!” Grandma yells at Father. He doesn’t even look up from his plate.
“Neither are you, Benita. Your husband had the Glory, not you. You married into this family just as I did.” Father replied calmly. Grandpa Deangelo had the Glory before Mother, which was something Grandma took great pride in. I think she married him for it, but I can’t be sure.
“I took the name! I fully committed, which you never did!” she replied, so angry she was spitting. I wouldn’t be having more mashed potatoes after all.
“Of course you took the name, that’s the norm.” my father rolled his eyes, sick of the same argument. “I’m a man. That I took Conti in any form is a concession on my part. Also remember: I was man enough to accept when Angelica didn’t want to change her last name. I don’t deserve your opinion of me. I also don’t care.” he set down his fork, standing up. “Excuse me, I’m going to start packing. Kids, finish your dinner.”
He left. Grandma followed after him so she could continue arguing with him. I looked at my siblings who were unusually quiet. Angie hadn’t eaten any of her peas. I gently reminded her to finish them, which earned me a glare.
My brother’s plate was empty, so he stood up and made to leave. “It’s your turn to do the dishes.” I reminded him, but he kept walking like I hadn’t said anything. Teenage boys are annoying, especially when they’re your brother.
While this happened, the demon laughed. It’s hard to tell when he laughs, it’s more of a feeling than a sound. It comes from below, like I’m standing over a great black pit. My knees get weak, like I’m about to fall.
As usual, the “guardian angel” had something to say.
“They won’t respect you until you tell them you have the Glory.” The demon still paced and vibrated behind me. I’ve noticed that the shape of the shadow changes a lot. If I look directly at it, I see a tall figure with sharp wings. If I look from the corner of my eye, I’m not sure what I see. If I try to focus on it, it changes back.
“Children like that won’t go to Heaven.” he warned me. I almost replied in anger, but fortunately Grandma’s nasty casserole was quite glue-like. The demon likes to provoke me. I know he hopes I’ll accidentally out myself.
“I’ll do the dishes, Sera.” Angie said, “If… you eat my peas for me.” Normally, I wouldn’t humor Angie’s request. I reached across the table and took her plate. A scoop of peas wasn’t a hill I wanted to die on. There was enough fighting going already! My little sister smiled for the first time in days, hopping up and dutifully clearing the table while I finished eating.
I was already done with my chores for the day. I’d cleaned the stained glass windows in the grand entry. Grandma was so proud of the glass she’d commissioned, like we were a church or something. The angel depicted on the colored panes was nothing like the shadow skulking at my back. I wonder what Grandpa Deangelo thought of the windows. He’d never said.
As I walked up the stairs to go pack my things, I heard Grandma whispering on the phone. Even when she whispers she’s too loud. My foot froze before it reached the landing. I heard her say:
“He pushed her. He told me he did… he’s responsible for Angelica’s death! You must come to arrest him right away. The children are in danger.”
That liar. Choked with rage, I stood there for a long moment. Grandma was talking to the police. They were still investigating Mother’s death, even though it was a suicide. They were suspicious of Father, they’d questioned him for a long time already.
“Lying in a sin.” the demon breathed, “You should pass judgment on her.” each word crackled in my ear and made my tongue tingle. I grit my teeth together, shaking my head. I made myself keep walking.
“Tell her who you are. Tell her about me. You can make her sorry.” his sickly-sweet inflection made me want to hurl. I shook my head again, the thunder in my ears made it easy to drown out Grandma’s lies.
“I can make her sorry, if you let me.”
No. It was going to be okay. The police weren’t going to listen to Grandma. For one, Mother hadn’t really fallen in the tub like Father said. She didn’t know what really happened, it would be obvious she was making things up.
“The police already suspect him. You love your father, don’t you? You need to protect him.”
Grandma stepped out of her bedroom, she spotted me standing there and quickly put her phone in her pocket. “Sera! Did you finish your dinner?” she asked. I wanted to hit her, but I knew better. I put my hands in my pockets.
“Yes. The casserole was awful.” I said. Before she could say another word, I marched past her. Grandma must have known I’d overheard her because she didn’t come after me. I felt her eyes boring into the back of my head, but she didn’t say anything. In my room, I quickly began shoving my clothes into my suitcase.
“That’s it?” the demon huffed. “Push her down the stairs. I never liked her anyway.” For a moment, the image came to me– a jolt of red, a twisted body at the bottom of the staircase. I tasted iron and rain. The image felt good, but only for a moment.
“NO!” I slammed my suitcase shut, taking in a deep breath and fighting back the urge to be sick. My knees hit the carpet, and I pressed my forehead into the mattress for a moment as I tried to collect myself. My blood boiled and my lungs burned with heat. This wasn’t just anger, but it wasn’t sickness either.
“What are you doing to me?” I whispered to the demon. I knew it was responsible. Grandma started knocking on the door, calling ‘Sera, Sera!’. I couldn’t raise my voice, though I wanted to yell at her to go away.
“I didn’t do anything.” said the demon. “I only made a suggestion. You liked it… that’s all. Maybe if you followed through, you’d feel better.”
“I didn’t like it.” I lied. I felt it laugh, so I closed my mouth. Grandma was still knocking. Angry, sick and scared, I got to my feet and pulled the door open to glare at her.
“What do you want?” I asked. Her wide-eyed look gave me some satisfaction. I crossed my arms, waiting for her answer. “I’m going to bed in a minute.”
“I heard you yelling.” she said, “I was worried for you, dear Sera. Is… is he in there?”
“Who?” my temples tightened. I was suddenly aware of a cold prickle, like something sharp was being run gently over my skin.
“You know. The angel.” her conspiratorial whisper made me angrier.
“If there was an angel in here, would I really be yelling at it?” I screamed. The words came with such force I could swear they echoed through the house. I started to sob; not because I was sad, because I was frustrated.
“Deangelo used to yell too,” Grandma replied. “Oh, how he’d yell! The walls would shake. Tell me, Sera. Why are you lying? Are you afraid? It’s okay to be afraid.” she reached out, clasping my hands in hers. Her hands were cold. “You shouldn’t lie, Sera.”
“I’m not lying. You’re projecting. You’re a liar.” I pulled my hands out of hers. I wanted to wrap my fingers around her neck, but I put my hands back in my pockets and tried to breathe deep. Each breath felt like fire. I started to cough and had to lean against the door frame for support.
“I didn’t lie. Your father is a dangerous man, Serafina…” she insisted. “He told me it was an accident. That he pushed her, and she fell and hit her head. He was angry. It was an accident, I’m sure he wasn’t lying about that. But a man with anger like that? He can’t be trusted with you kids! I’m looking out for what’s best, though it might not seem like it right now. I know you’re grieving. You’re going through a lot. But it’s okay, because the angel will protect us and guide us as he always has. This is all part of God’s plan.”
I could still feel the laughter of the Fallen. It rose up, and I thought I might be swallowed up by the pit of its mirth.
“Stop lying to me!” I screamed. I heard thundering footsteps from down the hall. I looked to see Father, his grimace of concern froze me.
“Father, she… she called the police!” I sobbed, “She said you killed Mother.”
“Sera, it’s okay.” he reached for me, giving my shoulders a comforting squeeze. “You know it’s not true. The police will know too. It’s okay. Everything will be okay.” he shot my Grandmother such a look that it was a wonder she didn’t drop dead, but he smiled for me and gave me a hug.
I couldn’t stop crying. He squeezed me tighter and told Grandma something in Italian I assumed was incredibly rude. I don’t know much Italian, but I still laughed through the tears. I’m not sure what would have happened if Father hadn’t come running, but it wouldn’t have been good. I hated Grandma so much.
By the time Father let go, I’d calmed down. He closed the door in Grandma’s face and sat me down on the bed. I watched him fish around in his pocket, pulling out a very squished pack of cinnamon gum. He offered it to me, and I unwrapped the foil and popped a stick in my mouth. The flavor had a bit of a burn to it, but it was also sweet. The taste of iron and rain went away. I tried to give him back the pack, but he didn’t take it.
“Keep it. It should help with the taste in your mouth.” he said. “Your mother went through a lot of gum.” I gave him a shocked look. Did he mean what I thought he meant? “You know, because of your Grandma’s terrible cooking.” he said this extra loudly.
“We’re going home tomorrow. Everything will be okay.” Father said, “You’re a strong girl. Smart too. Soon you’re going to be in college and you can put all of this behind you.” I didn’t see how. The Conti family was cursed, and that very curse wasn’t going to let me forget it.
In fact, it chose that very moment to say something I hadn’t dared to think about:
“Maybe he didn’t push her in the shower. But do you really think your mother staged that whole scene by herself? Come on smart girl. Think on it.”
The image came rushing back. My mother’s body between a pair of bloody wings. She was bloody, with dark vertical slashes from wrist to elbow. I’d seen that sight many times already, an intrusive memory that chewed a permanent home inside me. A gaping, painful hole where nothing else could go. Only that picture, only that pain.
Of course… Father had nothing to do with that.
“The police are suspicious for a reason.” the demon always knew exactly how to hurt me. I knew he was a liar, but he was an expert at stoking doubt and fear.
Maybe the police are suspicious because my whole family is a cult. I know Father would never do such a thing! He loved Mother so much. The grief and pain in his eyes was real, and it never went away. Even when he hugged me and told me everything would be okay, he looked so sad.
“Can we go home now? Why wait?” I whispered. I looked desperately at my father, hoping we could just… go. It wouldn’t solve anything, but I was tired of Grandma’s house.
“Angelo’s already in bed.” he replied, “I understand how you feel, but he hasn’t been sleeping lately and I don’t want to wake him up.” that was true. I’d often found my younger brother wandering around Grandma’s house in the middle of the night with hollow eyes and a frown. He had every reason to be despondent. We all were. I hadn’t been sleeping much either.
“Go to bed now, and morning will come even sooner. Spit out the gum before you sleep, I don’t want you to ruin your pretty hair.” he gave me a fatherly tousle and left, closing the door carefully behind him.
I heard whispering in the hall. Grandma must have been lurking outside the door, listening in. She suspected I had the Glory, so she probably wasn’t going to leave me alone. I locked the door behind him and crawled into bed, leaving a wad of gum on the nightstand for Grandma to clean up later.
I woke up at the bottom of the staircase.
I have no memory of how I got there. I was holding something heavy and cold. When I looked down, I was holding a sword. Bright silver, dappled in colors from the stained glass as the moonlight poured through them.
Startled, I dropped the sword. It hit the floor but it didn’t make a sound; it simply vanished. Wherever it came from, it was gone.
Scared and confused, I ran up the stairs. I passed my brother Angelo in the hall, he sitting on the banister. He turned his head to watch me go by, but I didn’t stop and he didn’t try to stop me.
The demon unusually was quiet. At night, his shadow falls darker than every other; looking at it is like staring into a void. I didn’t look at it. Didn’t talk to it. I crawled back into bed and pulled the covers over my eyes. I didn’t sleep; I was too afraid.
I thought the demon couldn’t do anything unless I let it. Now I’m not so sure. Something is changing in me. I don’t know how to stop it.