There’s a little demon on my shoulder. Small enough to comfortably perch there. Most days it will keep itself in the air with its bat like wings, just hovering. But there are the days it decides to put its full weight on me. For such a tiny thing it’s surprisingly heavy to carry. It spends a lot of time whispering dark thoughts in my ear, which I ignore with variable degrees of effectiveness. Until it decides I haven’t paid it enough attention, or something sets it off, and it will screech and howl and try to attack me with a startling fury. There was a time when those fits would cause some real damage. Over the years I managed to declaw the thing, but man, even without talons those strikes hurt.
My demon was gifted to me. I didn’t want it, of course, no one wants their demon. But the way these things work, I didn’t have any say in it. The demon is mine and will always be mine. It doesn’t die. It doesn’t just go away. It’s there to torment me. That’s its sole purpose. And it’s my job to make sure it doesn’t hurt anyone else. I can’t say I’ve always been good at that job.
If all of this sounds like there’s no advantage to having a demon, that’s not true. Arguably the advantage is not worth the disadvantage, but it’s there. It’s real. The tiny silver lining to one hell of a raging storm cloud. The little imp knows darkness. It will react to other demons. Often just showing interest, pointing them out. On occasion helping me hide from the dangerous ones. There’s a lot of people with demons and not everyone works at keeping theirs from harming other people. Just because I have one myself doesn’t mean I can’t be hurt.
I see dark light, or is it light dark? It shines. It illuminates everything it touches. It chases away shadows. It has every characteristic of bright light. But it’s dark. It looks exactly the way it sounds; like it shouldn’t exist. Intrigued, I get closer. My demon hovering, lightly touching my shoulder, paying attention. It’s as curious as I am. It has never seen darkness like this, either.
It’s all around me. I hold up my hand and wiggle my fingers, just to see if it reacts in anyway. If it feels different. Of course it doesn’t. Not on my hand. Light or darkness don’t have a tactile sensation. But this weird darkness does feel like something. An emotional sensation. Not one I would have expected. It feels… gentle. Kind, in a way. Almost safe. I’ve never known a darkness to feel safe. It must be light?
I walk on towards the source of it. There’s a man in the middle of this dark light. I can’t see much detail. The light seems to emanate from him, making him a silhouette at this distance. “Hello?” I call out.
He seems surprised to see me walk up. And a little uncomfortable. He takes a small step back. “Um, hi? Aren’t you intimidated? There’s darkness in me.”
I gesture around. “Yeah, I can see that. It’s what attracted my attention.” I am still walking closer but very slowly now. “How do you do it?”
The man looks around. “Do what?” he asks confused. I take a breath to say something. Before words form on my lips, I realize the man can’t see his own light. He can’t tell he’s radiating something that shouldn’t even exist. To him, this is just the way the world looks. I say nothing.
He shakes his head. “I mean, I have a demon.”
I move my hair off my shoulders. His light illuminates the mesh of thin white scars that cover my skin up to my neck. The aftermath of my demon dragging its claws through me. Healed up and faded, but still visible. “It’s okay,” I smile. “So do I.”
I hear him suck air through his teeth. “That sucks.” His compassion is completely genuine.
My demon perches on my shoulder. Leaning forward, as if it’s urging me to get closer still. In this light, it’s not as heavy as it once was. The man doesn’t seem fazed by its presence at all. I’m not used to that reaction from men. They are often uncomfortable acknowledging its existence. Either claiming it is not there, or insisting it is much bigger, more damaging than it actually is. Raging against it rather than accepting it will always be a part of me. It’s a welcome change.
I’m close enough to start seeing details. For a moment my breath catches in my throat. The man is covered in a mesh of scars, much like mine, but each line much wider. Some are pink ridges that lay on top of the skin. I can imagine how large the claws are that did this. How deep they must cut. I cringe at the suffering this man must have endured. Yet he still felt for mine. As if severity doesn’t even matter.
His hands are balled up in tight fists. Each wrist surrounded by what looks like heavy manacles. Chains dangle off them, trailing behind him. He looks embarrassed about the shape he’s in. “Are you sure you want to see?”
At a loss for words, I just nod and take those last few steps that bring everything into focus. His demon looms head and shoulders above him. Amazingly, it looks as battered as he does. The chains rise up to similar manacles attached to the demon’s limbs. Its talons dulled but undoubtedly still able to slice flesh. I get the sense a long and ferocious battle has been fought between them. A battle that ended with a demon in chains.
I am in pinned in place, looking up in awe. Around us people seem to go about their day. Some tormented by demons, some not. Neither of us are paying them any mind, until one person is suddenly advancing on another. Menacingly. Both person and their demon ready to strike out. Their target shrinking in on themselves. Whimpering.
The man’s response is immediate. He rushes over to restrain the would be assailant so the would be victim can get away. His demon is right there with him, lending strength to the man’s hand with one claw, keeping the aggressor's demon at bay with the other. Suddenly the shining quality of the darkness makes sense. He’s found a way to harvest his demon’s power to work for him, to make the world around him a little bit better. It’s evil forced into doing good.
The attacker scampers away. The man turns to me. “You’re still here?”
“Should I not be?”
“Most people run by now.”
We stroll with no real destination in mind. Simply moving. My demon is fluttering around me, mimicking the spinning thoughts in my head.
“You’ve got your demon under control.” I finally say.
“Not always, not completely. But I don’t have another choice. I couldn’t let it hurt more people.”
“I wish I could do that. I just isolate myself. I can’t harvest its power like you do.”
He glances at me. “Of course you can.”
I shake my head. “Nah. I’m no where near strong enough for that.”
“Sure you are. Here.” He pushes something in my hand. It’s a chain.
I have a little demon. It won’t die. It won’t just go away. It’s part of me. It took me a few tries, but I wrestled it to the ground. My demon is now wearing a metal collar around its neck. A slender chain comes down from it. The chain has attached itself to my heart. Whenever I get close to the shining darkness I feel it tug gently. I know one day my demon could rip my heart out. I trust it won’t. Because I won’t let it. It still tries to attack me sometimes. Of course it does, it’s a demon. Not a pet. But overall it has mellowed out a lot.
My shoulder is a little sore, because my demon is sitting on it. It whispers dark thoughts in my ear. I smile and let the words flow out my fingers onto a keyboard. My demon delights in the evil realities it helps to create, even when they are harmlessly trapped on a page.
Sometimes, nothing more than fleeting moments, the world looks a little different than it did before. And I dare dream I am emitting my own light. I’m sure it’s just a vain fantasy. For now. One day I really will shine.