“My Family Was Cursed With A Demon … Now It Wants Blood.”
by Penny Tailsup
This is PART THREE of the story: “My Family Was Blessed with an Angel… I Think It Was a Curse.”
Mother sat on my dresser. She opened one of the top drawers, pulling out a sock to dab delicately at the corners of her bloody mouth. Her naked body was smeared in congealed blood, blackened with age and stinking of rot. She’d been dead for awhile now.
Strapped to her back was a pair of angel wings. They were fake; I could see the elastic straps over her bare shoulders. I didn’t remember falling asleep, but I must have.
“I gave you a gift. You’re spitting on it. Spitting on me.”
I’d been trying not to sleep for exactly this reason. My family’s “angel” is trying to break me. I know it’s not really Mother on the dresser. I know because her shadow isn’t her shadow. If I look directly at it, I see a frail woman with cardboard wings– but if I look at it from the corner of my eye, I see something else. I couldn’t tell you what I see, but it’s not Mother.
“Go away, I’m sleeping.” I tell it. Even knowing it’s not her, it hurts to say that. “I’m not falling for it.” I closed my eyes tightly, willing her away. When I opened my eyes again, I was standing over the bathroom sink.
I wasn’t surprised. I turned on the tap, splashing my face with cold water before brushing my teeth. Lately, I seem to wake up anywhere but my own bed. I haven’t seen the sword since the night at Grandma’s house. I’m not sure if I imagined it.
“Sleep well?” the demon asked, knowing I hadn’t. I ignored it, washing up and getting ready for the day. I walked back into my bedroom to change. On top of my dresser, I saw a white sock with a dark stain. Choosing to ignore it, I put on my school uniform.
As I walked down the hall, I paused at Mother’s bedroom door. Father doesn’t sleep in there anymore, I don’t blame him. I hadn’t been inside the room since discovering her death. I’d been putting off the inevitable– I needed answers, and I might find some in that room.
Hesitant, I turned the door handle and peered through the crack. The walls had been repainted and the carpets replaced. The stink of rotting blood must have been my imagination, because the space was immaculate. In fact, it seemed like the soul of the room had been stripped away. Mother’s things were still there, but the ‘lived in’ feel was gone. Her bedroom looked staged, like a picture in a magazine.
Stepping inside, I felt like an intruder. I was “allowed” there, but it felt wrong. I walked over to the nightstand on Mother’s side and opened the drawer. I found a Bible, a key, and a tin of cinnamon breath mints. The key was attached to a little silver coin with “James 1:22” engraved on it. It wasn’t one of the verses I had memorized, the Contis had their favorites but this wasn’t one of them. I picked up the Bible, flipping through it and finding the verse:
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” I read aloud. I felt the demon laugh as I closed my fingers around the key. The verse seemed appropriate for the Conti family who selectively read passages and acted holier-than-thou.
Mother, how much did you know?
She wasn’t there to give me an answer, yet the bloody image of her flashed across my mind. I didn’t know what to think or how to feel. With the burden of the demon’s shadow, I had little time to mourn or have an existential crisis.
I took off my cross necklace, hooking the key through the delicate gold chain. I put it back on, tucking it beneath my buttoned blouse. I wasn’t sure what the key went to, but I had an idea.I could only think of one locked door: Grandpa Deangelo’s study.
I only knew about it because Grandma had complained about the missing key, though she couldn’t bring herself to get a locksmith and violate her late husband’s privacy. His study must have been collecting dust in the years since his death. Had Mother held the key all this time?
Of course, to confirm my suspicions I’d need to go back to Grandma’s house. I was still angry at her for lying to the police about Father’s involvement in Mother’s death, but I couldn’t avoid her forever.
I looked around the room for a few more minutes. Unfortunately for me, Mother didn’t have a diary filled with her innermost secrets. At least, if she did… I didn’t find it. I had little insight over what happened to her, or how she truly felt about the Glory or the Conti Cult.
I needed answers about her death, too. The police hadn’t arrested Father for her murder or assisted suicide, but I couldn’t help but wonder. The demon had planted the seeds of doubt in my heart. Unfortunately, those doubts had taken root…
“You saw what happened, didn’t you?” I asked the demon. The undulating shadow behind me “perked up” with my acknowledgment. I rarely addressed it, I didn’t trust the “family angel”. In fact, I knew it was dangerous to ask it anything.
“Of course I saw.” it answered. “I could tell you, if you’d only ask.” there was a condition implied with those words. It would tell me, for something in return.
“No… Never mind. You’d lie to me.”
“Maybe I would,” it admitted, “but maybe I wouldn’t. If you want to be sure… Honesty can be bought, paid in blood.” this answer should have shocked me more than it did. Maybe I was too tired to react.
“I’m not going to kill anyone, nice try.”
The bedroom door opened, startling me. I didn’t hear the demon’s reply. It was Angelo. He saw me standing there, seemingly alone.
“I heard you,” he said. “I thought it was Mother, but it was only you.” he looked disappointed, but I couldn’t blame him.
“Mother is in Heaven.” I reminded him. At least, I knew that was what I was supposed to say. I wasn’t sure where Mother was. Even confronted with the truth of our “family angel”, I couldn’t confidently declare my faith. I was still an atheist. If Heaven exists, I don’t know that a demon-touched Conti could pass through Heaven’s gates anyway.
“Generations of Conti Hypocrites are in Hell.” the Demon corrected, but I put little stock in such claims. Fortunately, Angelo couldn’t hear him.
“Right… Who were you talking to?” my brother asked, giving the room a suspicious sweep.
“I was praying.” Angelo had no reason to question me, though the demon laughed at my audacious lie. I hated it when he laughed; the demon’s mirth gave me an awful sense of gravity.
“Yes, pray to me. I’d feel generous if you did.” the demon said, “Coming from you, it would be better than blood. The prayer of an atheist… has entertainment value, at least.”
“Whatever,” Angelo answered, unaware of the demon or his baiting words. “Pray at the table, will you? We can’t eat breakfast without you. Hurry up, we’re going to be late for school.” he stomped down the stairs ahead of me.
Father and Angie were already at the table. I took my seat next to Angelo and we all joined hands. I bowed my head, but I only pretended to pray. After a few minutes of eating cereal in silence, I looked to my father.
“May I borrow Mother’s car?” I asked.
“What for?” hearing any mention of Mother always made Father flinch, but his face only stiffened for a moment.
“I wanted to go to the mall after school.” I lied.
“Where are you really going?” the Fallen asked, taking great delight in the lie. He always reacted when I lied, which… was often, lately. Hiding my status as the Glory Holder was making things hard, but I was still convinced it was the right thing to do.
I wasn’t going to the mall. I needed to go to Grandma’s house. I needed to know if the key would get me into Grandpa Deangelo’s study. I planned on sneaking in the back door, and get in and out without Grandma even noticing.
I didn’t really need to sneak. Grandma would let me in… But I was still angry with her, and I was a little afraid of how angry I’d get if she tried to justify her actions again.
“I want to go to the mall too.” Angelo said, taking me by surprise. “I’m tired of standing around the house being sad.”
“Very well,” Father replied. “You can borrow the car, if you pick your brother up after school and take him with you.”
“What about me?” Angie interrupted, feeling left out. “I want to come too!”
“Angie too.” Father amended. When I opened my mouth to protest, he shot me a look that brooked no argument. “Spend some time with each other. It’ll be good for all of you…”
When he put it like that, I couldn’t say no. After breakfast, Father brought me the keys and a crisp hundred dollar bill.
“See a movie or something, get all the snacks you want. Have fun, you kids need it.” he said, kissing me on the forehead. I wasn’t in the mood for fun… I also wasn’t a kid anymore, but I understood what he was trying to do. I couldn’t spit on the gesture.
After an uneventful school day, I picked up my brother and sister. I had been resigned to waste an evening at the mall, but my desire to get into Grandpa Deangelo’s study had been eating at me all day. Last minute, I made a hasty decision and changed course to Grandma’s house.
I parked down the block so Grandma wouldn’t see Mother’s car and told my siblings to wait for me. My half-assed excuse?
“I forgot something, I’m going to run in and grab it. I’ll be right back. Ten minutes!” of course, I couldn’t do much sleuthing in ten minutes, but they had their phones so maybe they wouldn’t even notice.
“Are you going to offer blood payment?” the demon asked. The question made my skin crawl, dread pitting my stomach. I didn’t hate Grandma that much! The thought of pushing her down the stairs had been a fixture of my nightmares lately, though I blamed the demon’s influence for that. As far as I knew, Contis weren’t in the habit of making blood payments, but given the true nature of the “family angel”… I couldn’t be sure.
I entered the house through the side door. Fortunately, I didn’t see Grandma, but I could hear the television playing loudly from the living room. If she caught me, fine, but I preferred not to deal with her.
Grandpa Deangelo’s study was on the first floor by the dining room. When I reached it, I tried the knob. Locked. I pulled the key out from under my shirt, and sure enough… it fit. Slowly, carefully, I eased the door open.
The room was dark and dusty. I fumbled for a light switch, carefully pulling the door closed behind me. The study was large, but it felt cramped with all the furniture. Books covered every surface and filled every shelf.
Hanging on a wall, I saw the Conti family tree. At the very top were the names Alessandro and Epifania Conti. After their names, I saw the familiar angelic naming conventions that Blood Contis all seemed to have. Alessandro and Epifania must have been where the curse began.
There was a void on the desk; a perfect rectangle free of dust. From the size and shape, I guessed it was from a book. Mother might have taken it sometime before her death, though I hadn’t found anything like that in her bedroom. I hadn’t searched the whole house, so that didn’t mean much.
I sat down at the desk, covering my mouth and nose with my shirt to combat the dust. I thumbed through the books stacked there, stashing promising-looking ones in my backpack. I didn’t have much time with my brother and sister waiting in the car.
A withered hand touched my shoulder.
Startled, I jumped to my feet and swiveled to find a corpse. It had decayed beyond all recognition; a dead man with leathery skin that clung in pieces to a dirty skeleton. He was wearing fine Sunday clothes.
I could feel his stare, though his eyes had rotted away, leaving only dry, black sockets. His lower jaw was completely gone, along with most of his teeth. The corpse moved his arm, making the sign of the cross. He was unable to speak. The movement was slow. An anguished gurgle could be heard, but it came from its body rather than its mouth.
By some miracle, I wasn’t screaming. Had I fallen asleep at the desk? Was this yet another nightmare?
“Grandpa Deangelo?” I whispered. Given where I was, that was the most logical guess. The skeletal figure gave a thumbs up in answer. The demon was silent, though his shadow fell separate from the rotting body in front of me. This was different than the nightmares where Mother visited me. There were three shadows in the study.
“Oh my God!” I cried, falling against the desk. I knocked my head against the corner and crumpled to the floor. I brought a pile of books down with me, and for a moment I thought I’d die under a pile of dusty leather books. I saw what was left of Grandpa Deangelo’s skull leaning over me as the world faded to black.
When I opened my eyes, I was no longer in the study. I was standing at the top of the stairs. My backpack was heavy with books and my uniform was covered in dust. None of that was important.
At the bottom of the stairs was Grandma’s broken body; a red halo of blood was spreading out from her head and staining her hair.
“My honesty has been bought, paid in blood. I will answer one question. Shall I tell you how your mother died?” asked the demon.