"Yield, peasant," commanded the demon.
A shiver went down my back. "No!" I screamed in defiance.
I ran away. The demon chased me. It wanted me to make obeisance to him, to be his minion. I ran until a gray-haired man blocked my escape. I was terrified, but I couldn't let the man stop me.
I leaped into the air and kicked him in his face. He fell to the ground, and I stomped on his head until his skull shattered. Blood and brains stained the earth and my boots. I felt my stomach begin to turn.
Then I awoke from the nightmare with a start. My heart was pounding, and my fright was bad enough that I decided I didn't want to go back to sleep, so I got out of bed and headed for the bathroom.
It was Thursday, 23 December 1973. Wednesday, Boxing Day, I had killed a man. All three minds in my head were upset about it, the youngest one, Arthur, to the point of constant guilt and nausea. The oldest mind, Ursus, didn't feel any guilt, but he wasn't immune to the nausea, and taking a human life still upset him. My third mind, the resultant of the merger of Arthur and Ursus, was somewhere in the middle.
In any event, I didn't have much appetite as I went through the morning routine. Nevertheless, after I left the bathroom, I got a big bowl, put in a little cereal, and forced myself to sit at the kitchen table and eat it. Mom had noted my lack of appetite the evening before, and if she thought I was off my feed--in addition to the unusual amount of time I had been spending asleep the previous few weeks--she was sure to put two and two together and conclude that I was ill. I didn't need the restrictions on my movements that such a conclusion would bring, especially over winter break. Especially now that I had killed a man.
I had the morning newspaper in front of me. I had already established the precedent of reading the paper, so that in itself was not notable, despite my body being not yet twelve years old. I saw that my crime had made the front page, below the fold.
"Are you reading about the Satanist murder?" Mom asked me. We were the only ones at the table. Dad had gone to work. Mom's sister and her sister's husband had gone home the evening before. My younger siblings were not yet out of bed.
"I just started the article," I replied.
"You were over that way yesterday. Did you see anything?"
I felt a stab of guilt. "Nope, not a thing. I just checked out the junior high school and rode around on my bike."
I'd had to tell a lot of lies over the previous few days, a fact that distressed all three minds in my brain. We loathed telling untruths, but sometimes a lie was the lesser evil--by a large margin. In fact, though, I had seen everything that had happened at the crime scene, because I had done much of it.
"What if you had wandered into that place and got hurt?" Oh-oh, her mother instincts were kicking in, and her blue eyes looked worried.
"I didn't, and I wasn't," I said. After a second, Mom nodded and gave me a little smile.
I returned to my reading. During mid-morning Wednesday, in a middle-class neighborhood of the suburban city of Packard, Michigana, an unidentified male wearing a ski mask had broken into the home of one Joseph Ernesto Guzman and pummeled him to death. Packard, a peaceful suburb of mostly peaceful Detroit, didn't have an exceptionally high crime rate, so any local murder was news, but the lurid details had moved the story from the front of the community section to the front of the entire newspaper.
A fourteen-year-old girl, name withheld to protect a juvenile's privacy, had called in the homicide. She alleged that Mr. Guzman's assailant had heard her cries for help and saved her from being sacrificed in propitiation of a demon. She also alleged that Mr. Guzman, with the assistance of said demon, had been forcing her to sneak from her home to his, where he had sexually assaulted her on a recurring basis for the past several months. She thought her alleged rescuer was possibly a teenager, but she could not be sure. His ski mask had rendered him unidentifiable.
The girl described Mr. Guzman's basement as having an altar, a shrine dedicated to demons, and a wall-mounted chain to which she was regularly secured. Police sources confirmed her general description. She also alleged that Mr. Guzman habitually practiced animal sacrifice--killing chickens, rabbits, sheep, and goats.
The newspaper had no knowledge of whether she was under the influence of drugs or had a history of psychiatric problems.
Even more shocking, according to department sources, police investigating the homicide had found the dismembered bodies of at least two women in Mr. Guzman's basement freezer. One woman remained unidentified. The other had been confirmed as Mr. Guzman's wife. Authorities were trying, so far unsuccessfully, to locate her relatives.
The article went on to collect the usual quotes from the neighbors: Isn't it shocking? Something needs to be done about crime. He was such a quiet man. Demon summoning? The end days must surely be coming.
Most important, from my point of view, no one had heard or seen anything unusual at the Guzman residence on the morning of the crime. Unless the information was being withheld, no one had seen me enter the Guzman backyard or house. Of course, the police were eager for any leads to the whereabouts of Mr. Guzman's killer.
I was that killer. Ursus, the consciousness of an ancient wizard, believed that our murder of Mr. Guzman had been pure self-defense. To his mind, calling a murder "self-defense" was not paradoxical in the least. It was true that our killing of Mr. Guzman met the definition of murder under the laws of our current home. It was also true that these laws prescribed no method for dealing with a magician both willing and able to summon demons. Killing him had been the only way available to prevent his sending another demon to kill us, and maybe Arthur's family in addition.
Arthur, the consciousness of a sixth grader, did not yet understand that whereas illegality and immorality could overlap, they weren't necessarily the same thing. He felt terrible, evil. On the one hand, he longed to confess. On the other, he feared the penalty that would result. Worse, he felt like a coward for fearing righteous punishment. He was the main reason our appetite was suppressed.
I, the third consciousness, didn't really have a name. I was the result of the merger that began the day Arthur woke up several weeks before and found Ursus in his head. Much of the time, all three of us went along in harmony, all thinking of ourselves as "I" and working in unison. At other times, we divided. During some of those times of division, we disagreed. I could have genuine conversations and arguments with myself. I also could think of three things at once, an ability that had proved useful.
It's hard to say what age the merged part of me should have been considered. Sometimes I thought and acted more like Arthur--especially when I had first come into existence. Sometimes I thought and acted more like Ursus. Furthermore, I had all of Arthur's memories at my figurative fingertips (cerebral folds?), but still only some of Ursus's. Ursus still had only some of his own memories. Their installation into Arthur's brain had turned out to be an extended process, mostly happening when we were asleep, with no end in sight. I supposed I had a long way to go before I developed a final personality.
At any rate, I agreed with Ursus's conclusion. I'd had misgivings at first, but my--our--fight with the demon summoned by the diabolist we had killed had convinced me. The demon summoner had needed to be stopped, legally or illegally. I felt shaken up over killing someone, but I didn't feel guilty, not really.
Ursus and I kept working on Arthur--comforting, distracting, and reasoning with him--but it wasn't something we could do without his realizing it. Because he was in the same head with us, he knew our program. He also understood that the two of us were determined to keep him from confessing to murder. Unfortunately, none of us understood how our body decided which consciousness had control over it at any given time. (It might have had something to do with who wanted it the most, but we weren't sure.) It was possible that one day he'd be in charge of our tongue and spill the beans.
I supposed we'd burn that bridge when we came to it. In the meantime, I was pleased that the article never mentioned that at roughly the same time the homicide had taken place, a boy wearing a ski mask, carrying a guitar across his back, and riding a bicycle had fallen unconscious into a snow bank. Emergency workers had been summoned to help him, but he had fled before they had completed their evaluation. Either no one had made the connection, or the police were keeping it close to their vests.
Actually, I hadn't been unconscious; I had been fighting the demon in my head. Once I had defeated the demon, I sent him back with orders to kill his summoner. Doubtless, it had looked like unconsciousness from the outside, and I didn't blame the three teens who had gone for help. Still, they had increased the peril I was in an unknown amount, and had made it necessary for me to evade the paramedics before I had gone to Guzman's house and finished him off, the wounded demon only having hurt him.
I turned to the comics in an attempt to please Arthur. He liked the comics. So did Ursus, who hypothesized that there was more truth in the cartoons than on the front page. Mom must have seen that I was done with the news story, because she said, "Terrible, isn't it? What this world is coming to?"
"I couldn't say. To me, this world seems like it always has."
She sighed. "I suppose. It's easy to forget that things have been buggered up your entire life. When I was a girl, you never heard anything about people worshipping Satan or conjuring demons. At least, I never did."
"I don't hear much about it now," I said.
"I do. I've heard about people becoming pagans and heathens, and I saw someone who claimed to be a witch on television last week. Shit, if you haven't been pulling my leg, you've been dabbling in magic yourself, and I've seen some of the books you've been getting from the library."
Danger, Ursus thought to me.
"Mom, I promise you I'm not a pagan, heathen, witch, Satanist, or demon worshipper."
"How serious are you about this magic bullshit?"
"I've done some stuff, and it has seemed to work. You saw for yourself how well the money-finding spell went," I said, referring to a successful spell I had cast more than once.
"'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.'" She said it in a musing tone, not as a commandment. Her religious beliefs were complex and probably heretical, as far as I could tell, but she was approximately an eccentric Christian. "Are you leaving yourself open to Satan?"
"I'm not a witch, and I have nothing to do with Satan," I said.
"Can you be sure?"
"How?" Mom asked.
"I don't ask for the assistance of evil spirits, and I've done nothing evil myself." Arthur laughed hysterically in my head. I forced myself to remain calm. "I don't believe the Bible equates magic and witchcraft, anyway. It's full of magic done by supposedly good people. Moses was obviously a magician."
"I wonder if she was on drugs?" Mom asked.
I was confused by the apparent non-sequiter. "Who?"
"The girl who claimed she was going to be sacrificed."
"If you find out who she is, you could ask her."
I tried changing the subject. "Will you help me carry my bed downstairs today?" I had been given permission to turn an unused room in the basement into a bedroom.
"I guess. Wait until everyone is up."
"OK. I'm going to go get cleaned up." I rinsed out my cereal bowl and headed for the bathroom.
Before I could make a complete escape, Mom said, "There's a killer loose. I don't want you to go far from home, especially alone, and I want to know where you are when you go out."
"OK. I'll make sure you know where I am."
"And I want you to quit playing around with magic."
"I told you, I don't do anything bad. I certainly don't traffic with demons."
"Reading about a girl claiming she was about to be sacrificed to one makes it not such a joke."
I headed for the bathroom without saying anything more.
"Get your ass back here," Mom ordered.
I stopped walking. "I can't make any such promise," I said.
"Is that nonsense so important to you?"
"If it's nonsense, why are you worried about it?" I went into the bathroom.
I'm not going to promise her that I won't do magic, I thought.
Indeed not, Ursus replied. Promises involving magic tend to be self-enforcing in unforeseen ways.
Maybe it would be for the best, Arthur thought.
Could you really give it up? I asked Arthur.
I don't know, but all it has done is cause us problems.
How can you say that? It has made us some money, got us into better shape, and saved us from a severe beating. In addition to a money finding spell, I had cast a physical protection spell that had allowed me to beat four boys in a fight without getting badly hurt myself. I had also performed various health and fitness rituals, and I was indeed losing weight and gaining muscle and endurance.
Arthur had no answer to that, and he went back to brooding over the killing. I showered and did the rest of the standard morning cleanup. When I came out, all my siblings were up. Susan, the youngest; Charlie, the next youngest; and Rich, the kid in the middle of the pack, were watching a cartoon in the family room as they ate their cereal. Mary, the second oldest, ate at the table. Mom was putting on the wash.
"I'm going to get started cleaning the accumulated junk out of my new room," I said.
"Don't move it to the storage room yet," Mom said. "Just move it out to the middle somewhere; a lot of that junk can be thrown away. I'll be down in a few minutes to give you a hand."
I did what I had been told and worked at it steadily for a while. When Mom arrived with Susan in tow, I had everything moved out except the contents of the walk-in closet and the old kitchen table I had recently moved in. Mom was carrying a couple of large corrugated boxes and a roll of garbage bags.
We proceeded to spend the entire morning cleaning out the basement, Mom occasionally going upstairs to work on the wash. She didn't say anything more about magic. Rich and Charlie escaped to a friend's house, but huge-hearted Mary came down to help out and wrangle Susan. In the end, besides general cleaning, we had thrown out a bunch of junk, moved everything out of the walk-in closet in my new room, and rearranged the storage room.
Finally, we started putting things back into my bedroom. "Are you going to leave this table in here?" Mom gestured at the old kitchen table that had been downstairs for as long as the Arthur part of me could remember.
"I've been using it as a place to study. I figured I'd keep it until I had a desk, or at least a better worktable." Mom nodded at that. We then took a big rug that would cover most of the floor and worked around the table to put it down.
A tall chest of drawers--about five feet high--came out of the storage room. It didn't match any of the other bedroom furniture in the house. Mom and Dad had bought it used when they first got married. Stained a light brown, it completely lacked ornamentation, but it was made out of a hard wood--probably white oak--and sturdy. It appealed to my tastes, and it and the big closet would easily hold all of my stuff from the old bedroom I had shared with my brothers, except for the books.
"Well, let's go get your bed," Mom said. We did that, and then Mom and Mary made lunch while I carried all of my clothing that still fit downstairs. I gave the clothes that I had grown out of to Rich. It was all too big for him, but he eventually could use it.
After lunch, I put a small table beside my bed to use as a nightstand and hung the poster of a polar bear my friend Danny had drawn for me onto my new door. I still needed a bookcase, and the walk-in closet lacked a door, but finally having some privacy would be wonderful. For a few minutes, at least, all three minds in my brain were happy over our new bedroom, even Arthur.