20: The Demon’s Diet

on June 24, 2007 in 01: Welcome Weekend

In Which Amaranth Takes It All Off 

She’s a half-demon, as I understand it,” Amaranth said placidly.

“But… don’t demons eat people?” Mariel yelled. She’d leaped backwards, knocking her chair over, and was looking at me with a horrified expression… the same expression I usually got when this topic came up.

“Humans, you mean,” Celia said. “Demons eat humans.”

“That’s actually not true,” Amaranth said very calmly. “Demons eat parts of humans… and not even that often. It’s always something specific… something like a couple of eyeballs a month, or a heart or a liver every new moon, or something like that. Sometimes, but not often, it’ll be something completely intangible, like beauty or youth… or a soul, but most of those can go for a whole year or longer without feeding. Mack, Mariel, sit down… please.”

I’d got up, meaning to flee. I couldn’t, though. I couldn’t sit down, either. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. All around the room, people had stopped eating, stopped talking… they were just staring. They couldn’t hear Amaranth’s awful monologue, but I had no doubt they’d all heard Mariel. Breakfast was not the busiest time of day, but the place was far from deserted.

“Am I the only one here who cares that we’ve been sitting at a table with a skysucking cannibal monster!?!” the sylph shrieked shrilly. Her voice had become painfully high, but was still perfectly intelligible.

“Hey, watch the ‘m-word’,” Celia said.

“Mack is a good person,” Amaranth said. “I’m sure she never eats anything that hasn’t been legally and ethically sourced. Right, Mack?

“I don’t know, that shit’s gotta get expensive,” Celia said. “If it was me, I’d just go out and kill somebody, you know? Lots of fuckers walking around with eyes they probably don’t even deserve.”

“Fucking… oh, just wait till Puddy hears what they put her in a room with!” Mariel said. “She’s mostly human… she’s gonna flip!”

“Puddy knows,” I said. It was the first words I’d managed to get out, and even though I barely mumbled it, the sound of my voice made the others look at me. Even Amaranth had mostly been talking like I wasn’t there.

“She knows?” Mariel squeaked. “She actually knows?”

“She doesn’t care,” I said, without a lot of conviction. The simple truth was, I thought Puddy’s “hey, cool!” reaction was insane or naive… possibly both… Celia was just too dumb to mind anything that wasn’t human, and Amaranth wasn’t nearly judgmental enough for her own good.

Mariel’s reaction was the reasonable one.

“Oh, well… I mean… oh,” Mariel said. She seemed deflated. All four of her arms fell limply to her sides. “Puddy really doesn’t care?”

Nobody cares,” Amaranth said firmly. “Now, why don’t you two please just sit back down before we get asked to leave?”

Mariel righted her chair, but I couldn’t help but notice that in the process of doing so, she pulled it way far out from the table. She was shaking like she was going to pop. I just stood there, though. I wanted to leave before anything else happened.

Wanted to.

Couldn’t.

“Sit down, Mack,” Amaranth said again. She looked at me over the top of her glasses again. “Sit… downNOW,” she said. The severity of her voice shocked me back into my chair. “That’s better,” she said, in her usual, pleasant tone. “You know, it’s your business, but if you didn’t try to keep it a secret, you wouldn’t have to worry about people finding out like this, would you?”

“I’d rather people just didn’t find out, period,” I said.

“That’s probably impossible,” Amaranth said. “You’d keep running into holy symbols, and besides, no matter what the policy on confidentiality says, there’s bound to be whispers coming out of the administrative office from whoever’s seen your admissions forms. It’s just too interesting to keep quiet.”

“Uh oh, here comes trouble,” Celia said quietly. Impressively, she managed this without opening her mouth. The sound seemed to come from her throat. I guess I should have figured she used different vocal apparatus than the rest of us… aside from her being able to pronounce the other reptile girl’s name, there was no way she could be forming the same sounds we did with her snake’s tongue and teeth.

I wasn’t so distracted by her impressive bit of ventriloquism that I missed what she was talking about… a man in a beige button-up shirt was heading over to us with an insincere little smile just beneath his moustache. He had the same sort of badge that all the servers and the cashier wore, with the MU crest and the Sloan Food Services logo on it. Where the others’ had their positions listed, his read “Manager.”

I also couldn’t help but notice the guards who were waiting just inside the entrance, nervously handling the hilts of their swords.

“Hi there! Can we help you with something?” Amaranth asked the manager sweetly before he could speak. This seemed to fluster him a bit.

He looked back at the guards, and then he spoke. Not to Amaranth, though… he ignored her and looked right at me.

“Yes, well… the thing is, your presence is causing a bit of a disturbance, so we’re going to have to ask you to leave, for the comfort of the other students.”

I didn’t trust my voice to answer, so I just gave a little nod and started to scoot my chair back. Mariel, though, was already on her feet.

“Oh, okay,” she said. “No need for a fuss! I’ll just go.”

“Excuse me, miss, but I was actually talking to…”

“The person who caused the disturbance,” Mariel said. “Right. Me. That’s me, right? I mean, nobody else was doing anything, so it must be me that you’re talking to, right?” Her voice was rising in pitch, volume, and speed. “Unless somebody else was doing something that I missed because I was screaming my head off, ‘aaaaaaah!’, like the crazy little sylph that I am, then I’m the one who has to leave, right? So I’ll just go. No need to use force. Am… Cele… um… I’ll see you girls back at the dorm.”

She grabbed her sequined purse… the exact same icy blue shade as her dress, which made me wonder if she had a matching purse for all her dresses… brushed a lot of stuff that wasn’t there off of herself, and then headed for the door. I’m not sure if “stomped” or “bounced” would be the best way to describe it. It was like watching a puppet storming off stage. The guards looked perplexed.

The manager’s lips all but disappeared into a tight little line that represented his best attempt at not frowning. He looked at the guards and shook his head. They left, still looking confused. Around the room, everybody was still staring at us. It seemed like nobody had even watched Mariel’s exit.

“So, was somebody else doing something wrong?” Amaranth asked pointedly.

“Er… no,” the manager said. “No… you, uh, ladies enjoy the rest of your breakfast, and try to… try not to…”

He left, unable to finish the thought. Conversation around the room resumed slowly, but was very subdued… angry murmuring, I guessed, at the fact that I had been allowed to stay.

“Well, that was nice of Mariel,” Amaranth said. “Especially after what she did.”

“She just wanted to get away from me,” I said.

“She could have let you leave, then,” Amaranth said.

“But… she couldn’t even look at me,” I pointed out.

“And she probably won’t be able to for a while,” Amaranth said. “Partly because she can’t help how she feels about demons… but partly because she’ll feel badly for feeling that way about you. If you give her time, she’ll come around.”

“That’s stupid,” I said. “If she hates demons, she wouldn’t have any reason to feel bad about hating me.”

“Do you really think you’re the only person whose feelings ever get that complicated?” Amaranth asked. “People generally have more than one reason for doing and feeling the things they do and feel, even if they don’t like to acknowledge it.”

“You make it sound like you think everybody is this messed up in their head,” I said.

“Only if you consider entertaining complex emotions and seeing things in terms other than black and white to be ‘messed up’,” Amaranth said, a little archly.

“Anyway, at least there’s not a lot of people in here,” Celia said.

“It doesn’t matter. Everybody will be heading back to their dorm and telling everybody that there’s a demon in Harlowe Hall,” I said. In fact, it seemed like the dining room was emptying out a bit faster than would have been normal, as if they couldn’t wait to spread the news. Or they just couldn’t stand to be near me. “Oh, shit… that girl, Twyla. She has horns. Everybody’ll think it’s her. Fuck, if anything happens to her, I’ll…”

“…carry it around for the rest of your life as one more stick to beat yourself with,” Amaranth said. “Right? That’s what you’ll do, isn’t it?”

“Horns… is that supposed to be a demon thing?” Celia asked.

“People think it is,” Amaranth said. “But, it’s not like there’s anything we could do about that.”

“Are you saying I shouldn’t feel bad if Twyla catches shit because of me?” I asked.

“Come on, Mack, she’s probably had to deal with that kind of prejudiced thinking all her life,” Amaranth said. “She’d probably get a few idiots heckling her or making signs at her even if you weren’t here. You need to learn to stop beating yourself up… you deserve better.”

“I don’t,” I said. “I really don’t. You guys act like it’s no different than being half-elf or anything else, but it isn’t. I’m… bad,” I said, and even this tasted like a lie. “Bad” was somebody who shoplifted. “Bad” was somebody who got a little drunk and lost control. I was worse than that. “I’m… I’m evil.”

“Please, you’re too big a wuss to be evil,” Celia said.

“You are the least evil person that I know,” Amaranth said. “Mariel calls you a monster to your face and you still manage to feel bad that she has to leave because of it. Most people just ignore Two if they don’t want her to do something for her, but you try to help her.”

“You don’t understand,” I said. She really didn’t. She was giving me credit for things I didn’t deserve, which only made me feel worse about everything. “I only help Two because I can imagine what it feels like to be her… to be stuck, paralyzed with fear and indecision, not knowing what’s allowed or expected of you… waiting for somebody to tell you what you’re supposed to do. I know that feeling. I hate it… and… I just can’t stand to look at her and feel that way.”

Infuriatingly, Amaranth simply smiled and nodded.

“That’s called empathy, Mack,” she said. “It’s called love.”

“It’s not love… it’s selfish!”

“You don’t think love is selfish? Life is selfish,” Amaranth said. “We get a good feeling when we help each other. We get to come our brains out when we fuck one another. There’s a reason why the only time you hear the phrase ‘for goodness’s sake’ is in children’s tales. Those who made us, in their wisdom, do what they can to reward us for doing what’s right.”

“Those who made you, maybe,” I said. “I’ve got a pretty good idea what made me.”

“You know, if you really don’t care, then there would be a simpler way to handle Two: kill her,” Amaranth said blandly. “Just strangle her in her sleep, or bash her head in. She probably wouldn’t fight back.” She gave a little shrug. “You know, I have the feeling that she might not even mind.”

I stared at her in horror. Where the fuck had this come from?

“Don’t say that,” I said in a hoarse whisper.

“Well, if you’re squeamish, you could just pick a direction and tell her to start walking and never stop,” Amaranth said thoughtfully. “Yeah, that should work. She’s probably got some ingrained commandments about self-destruction, but that would at least get her out of your hair for a while. Wanna look her up, when we get back to Harlowe, and give that a try?”

“How can you even suggest that?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Celia said. “I think it would probably work.”

Amaranth took off her glasses and looked at me. I’d never yet seen her without them. The difference was… I don’t know what the difference was. I could see her eyes more clearly, and it seemed to change the shape of her face a bit. That was the extent of the actual difference, but the effect it had was more dramatic… like seeing myself in the mirror after Mariel had made me up.

Somehow, Amaranth had gone from an innocent nymph to a naked woman.

I don’t know why the glasses mattered. Barley didn’t wear glasses, and she didn’t have this kind of effect on me. I was having a hard time thinking, though… it was the same familiar crushing paralysis… only, not that familiar.

“Do these ideas bother you, for some reason?” she asked. Her voice sounded breathy. Was it, or was that just in my head? I couldn’t look at her face… at any of her.

“Of course they bother me,” I said, turning my head away uncomfortably. “Two’s a person. You can’t talk about killing her… or getting rid of her… like that. What’s wrong with you?”

I really wondered this, too. Had she got into Celia’s potion stash? Had her earlier personality been an act?

“So… wait. Something has to be wrong with somebody, for them to act the way I’m suggesting?”

“Of course,” I said. If my mind hadn’t been so cloudy, I probably would have seen where she was going. “You’d have to be completely evil to treat Two like that.”

“But… you don’t treat her like that,” she said.

“No, I fucking don’t!” I said. I blinked in surprise. I didn’t. “I don’t,” I said again, quietly. Then, a little more confidently, “I really don’t.”

“Oh, hey, you’re not completely evil,” Celia said kind of absently. “Hoo-fucking-ray, we all learned something today.”

“Shush, Celia,” Amaranth said. “See, Mack, the courts aren’t one hundred percent agreed on the personhood of even living, flesh-and-blood golems like Two, but you’re instinctively offended when somebody treats her as an object. That’s not just ‘not evil.’ That’s something more.”

“You don’t understand,” I said, horrified. I could almost accept that I wasn’t evil, but did she actually think I was good? She was looking at me with so much admiration, admiration that I’d done nothing to deserve. I had to make her understand. “When I see somebody being hurt, I don’t even want to look. I just want to run away. But I can’t…” This reminded me that I still hadn’t told her about Kai’s plight.

“Of course you can’t,” she said. I still wasn’t able to look at her, but she managed to convey entirely through the sound of her voice both a sense of patient charity and a frustrated eyeroll. “Let’s take a walk, okay?”


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9 Responses to “20: The Demon’s Diet”

  1. Moody Mudiaga says:

    What’s Mack getting all worked up about? I would prefer a demon like her to many of the other races in the hall. She’s a pathetic wimp (not a demon).

    Current score: 0
  2. BMeph says:

    Mack’s not evil, she’s evil…Lite!

    (j/k)

    Current score: 2
    • Leishycat says:

      She’s quasi-evil. She’s semi-evil. She’s the margarine of evil.

      Current score: 4
  3. Jake says:

    I would guess that at some young age she defended herself against something nobody else saw happen. She hurt that person but nobody saw the reason for it & someone overreacted Very Badly. My guess would be that she was less than 10 years old at the time.

    Current score: 1
  4. pedestrian says:

    In my opinion, I think that the concept A.E. is going for here, is that evil is NOT an actual material item.

    Instead, that evil is the actions we do that harm others and ourselves. Compounded by a refusal to accept responsibility and to avoid the consequences of said evil acts by those who did them.

    Current score: 0
  5. Zukira Phaera says:

    typo:
    Most people just ignore Two if they don’t want her to do something for her, but you try to help her.

    them? The second her in the sentence just seems off.

    Current score: 0
    • Tyr Hawk says:

      Actually, the ‘them’ makes perfect sense in context.
      The sentence in question is two separate phrases joined together. Let’s change the pronouns into proper ones to illustrate, shall we?
      “Puddy ignores Two if Puddy doesn’t want Two to do something for Puddy, but Mackenzie tries to help Two.”
      As painful as it is to read something without pronouns, we can clearly see that Puddy only talks to Two if Puddy has something to gain from Two’s actions. The ‘but’ then signifies that Mackenzie’s actions are in contrast to that. Mackenzie talks to Two without wanting Two to act on Mackenzie’s behalf.
      On the other hand…
      “Puddy ignores Two if Puddy doesn’t want Two to do something for Two, but Mackenzie tries to help Two.”
      This time Puddy won’t speak to Two unless Puddy’s looking to make Two do something that Two wants Two to do (boy, that’s a mouthful). Then the ‘but’ would imply that Mackenzie is ‘helping’ Two by, instead, only speaking to Two when Mackenzie wants to gain something from Two’s actions, like making Two slap Puddy across the face (for example).
      OR, because here Puddy is also a ‘her,’ we would default to the first translation.

      While both examples are grammatically correct, the speaker of the second sentence would need to have a twisted definition of the word ‘help’ in order to say it that way. Since we’ve both seen Mackenzie’s actions with Two up to this point and can interpret Amaranth’s intent from the conversation’s direction, the original text is correct.

      /endgrammarrant

      Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the story thus far. I’d leave more commentary, but I believe that my post is already long enough. ^_^

      Current score: 0
  6. Alza says:

    Finally, maybe Mack can stop being so ridiculous and start doing something assertive and non-carpetlike. I admit I’m looking at her situation from my own morality and history though, so it could be very well justified from another person’s perspective.

    Current score: 1
  7. nattykat says:

    All through high school I had the same struggle with feeling I was somehow bad or wrong whatever I did, and trying to accept that I have value as a person has been a huge struggle in the years since. Thank you for laying it all out there like this, it’s nice to read about a situation so similar to one you’re trying to resolve

    Current score: 5