Friday, January 25, 2013

The Princess of Blood Casts Out Demons: A True Story

December 31st, New Year’s Eve, around 11:15 PM or so.  I’d just finished my tour at the Remote Encoding Center, where I did data correction for the post office, and was anxious to get to a party a co-worker was throwing.  Stepping outside, however, was like walking into a snow globe.  Flurries blew continuously on a wind that chilled me to the very marrow of my bones and salt trucks rumbled along the streets of Charleston as driver’s cautiously followed behind; the gold dome of the capital building was dusted white and pockets of snow clung to street signs as if afraid of hitting the ground.  Turning my back to the breeze and cupping my hands, I lit the last of my cigarettes before trudging through the ice and accumulation to the gravel parking lot across the street.  For the most part, the streets were barren and stoplights cycled through colors at empty intersections while an ambulance wailed in the distance.

I knew I’d need a fresh pack of smokes before hitting the party, so I crept along a treacherous interstate with my heater and wipers on high as I hunched forward, peering through the tunnel of snow which rushed at the car.  Eventually, I found the exit I wanted and pulled into a little oasis of light where a Go-Mart sign shined through the storm.

Parking as close to the door as I could, I grabbed my wallet and had just taken the keys from the ignition when I saw her.  She was shorter than me and her hair was a disheveled shock of bleached blonde with dark roots just beginning to show through.   She was engulfed by a ratty, green sweater whose hems were frayed and a backpack whose straps were held together with duct tape sat by her feet.  She stood outside the plate glass windows, under the awning surrounding the convenience store but still exposed to the elements, and I remember thinking that something about her reminded me of a small animal that had been pushed from the car and left behind as a vacationing family sped away.

She was definitely a person of interest.  I wasn't attracted to her physically, but her general appearance and demeanor had snagged my writer’s curiosity.   However, when I went into the store, she barely glanced in my direction, continuing to pace along the sidewalk with her eyes intently staring at the scuffed tips of her tennis shoes.  I poured strong, black coffee into a Styrofoam cup, grabbed a couple candy bars to replenish the stash I always kept in my glove box, got my cigarettes and headed back out into the cold.

She was waiting just outside the doors and I strained to hear her mumbled words above the rumbling of engines from the gas pumps.  A truck stop.  She needed to get to a truck stop and did I know where one was.  Could I take her?  To the truck stop, before midnight.  Could I take her?
Desperation glinted in her eyes and she continually glanced over her shoulders every few words, as if fearing that someone was sneaking up behind her.  There were still approximately twenty minutes before the new year was rang in and I knew if I took this waifish girl to her destination I’d never make it to the party in time.  But something compelled me to agree, exactly what I can’t say.

In the car she told me her name was Princess, though she looked like anything but.  Her face was lean and gaunt with bloodshot eyes sunken so deeply into her skull that they seemed to be perpetually ringed in shadow.  Her thin lips were so dry that flakes of skin hung over painful looking cracks and a cold sore festered at the corner of her mouth.  She’d pulled her feet onto the seat as we drove and wrapped her arms around her legs as she slowly rocked back and forth.

They were after her, she said.  They would be looking for her and she needed to get far, far away from this town as quickly as possible, for she knew they would find her.  They always found her, no matter how fast and how far she ran, but she never gave up hope, never stopped trying….

She was a witch, she continued, from a lineage that could be traced back centuries.  Her family was plagued generation after generation by the very demons her ancestors had struck a pact with.  They whispered in her mind, lurked in the shadows of strange cities, and masqueraded as normal people.  They cackled and laughed when no one was listening and pulled her hair when she tried to sleep.  Once, she said, one had slithered down her throat while she was eating but she had chased it away with gasoline.

It was a stop and go monologue with short periods of silence punctuating sentence fragments which seemed to burst and tumble from her mouth.  She’d begun rooting around in her bag as she mumbled and prattled, eventually removing a prescription bottle and shaking a handful of white pills into her palm.  Without asking, she snatched my coffee and washed them down before leaning back against the headrest and closing her eyes.

When demons touch you, Princess explained, they always leave something behind.  Something they can use to track you down, to find you no matter where you go in the world.  But she’d discovered a secret, a way to give them the slip.

At some point she’d retrieved what appeared to be a small, beat-up vanity, though I missed where she actually got it from.  It clicked open and she then pushed up the left sleeve of her sweater, revealing a pale forearm ridged with scars.  With the windshield wipers slapping a breakneck rhythm in their war against slush and the radio no more than a lull, she removed something from that little vanity.  In the glow of the dashboard, I stole glances at her watching as she pinched half a razor blade between her thumb and first two fingers.  Without a word, she pulled the blade across an unblemished patch of skin and threw her head back, eyes half-closed, as her back arched; blood welled from the wound and trickled down her arm while a soft sigh escaped her parted lips.  For a moment, she seemed frozen in time, but then she smiled and put the razor blade back into its case.

She would be safe for a while, she whispered.  She’d purged their taint from her system and they couldn't find her, buying her time.

“Do you know about ritual magic?” she asked as she leaned closer to me, blood oozing across her skin and staining the fine hairs lining her arm.  In fact, I did… however, my instincts told me it was probably best not to divulge that bit of information, so we rode the rest of the way in silence.

I dropped Princess at a truck stop off the interstate on the other side of the city; through my rearview mirror, I watched her disappear into the swirling snow as I pulled away and whispered a blessing for her safety and well-being   I never saw her again, but have wondered over the years how her story played out.  I hope she was finally able to find peace but, of course, will never know.

True story.

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