Dating is Hell

by Stephen Heuser

The first time I saw a demon I was twenty-three and loaded down with take-out and beer.

She (I always assumed it was female) didn’t look all that special; just a pretty brunette in a yellow sun-dress, curls cascading down her back. She was smiling softly at something in a shop window, idly resting a hand against the glass. Curious, and a bit charmed, I looked over her shoulder as I passed by.

I only saw her reflection though and almost dismissed it as the touch of vanity everyone has. Except…the image didn’t quite match. Folds and wrinkles seemed to move across her face as though something underneath was adjusting itself in an ill-fitting suit. What struck me the most (which is saying something given the whole moving skin thing) though were her eyes: deep golds and blood reds shone and melted into each other in hypnotic patterns.

“May I help you?” she asked after realizing I hadn’t moved on like a normal passer-by. Half embarrassed at creeping up behind her and half startled by her damn eyes, it took me a moment to snap back to reality.

“I’m sorry,” I got out, trying not to look too deeply into the now green orbs. “Do…do you have the time? I think my watch is slow,” I said with a sheepish grin.

“Quarter-past four,” she replied, obviously unnerved by my oddness.

“OK. Um, thanks!” I gave her a sharp nod before hurrying away, blushing furiously. Obviously it’d just been a trick of the light.

#

I saw the trick of the light again during a lecture on teaching for high-schoolers. She sat a couple rows in front of me, busily scrolling through Facebook, a chat window open on one side. I tried not to keep glancing down at her — my grades had not been the best that year – to no avail.

It was just my luck she turned to a friend during one such glance.

I quickly looked away, pretending to be engrossed in one of the slides, but I could see her looking at me out of the corner of my eye. Stubborn, I kept focus on the slides even as the flop-sweat poured down my neck. I relaxed only after she’d turned back to her computer with a slight shake of her head. As soon as the professor had finished putting the homework up, I hurried out of my seat.

My escape would’ve been easier had I sat closer to the door. I ended up stumbling clumsily past backpacks and around other students slowly shuffling out, barely restraining myself from shoving people out of the way.

By the time I’d managed to work my way to the hall, the mysterious woman was waiting for me at the door.

“Facebook stalking usually isn’t sitting behind someone who’s on Facebook,” she said with an odd smile.

“Oh, I know, but I’m actually doing my doctorate on creeping as seen through the eyes of grad students,” I joked lamely.

“So, you’re not going for teaching English?”

“Ah…” My mouth gaped, fish-like. “…How?”

“I’m friends with the lab partner of your suite-mate’s fiancé’s brother.” She shrugged her pack higher on her shoulders and smirked. “In other words, Facebook said I knew you, and you don’t pay attention when you accept friend requests.”

“Huzzah for social networking,” I laughed.

“Yeah, and since we’re so close and all, mind telling me why the back of my head fascinates you?”

“Actually, I was…admiring your computer,” I managed, trying to ignore the pervy answers that came to mind.

“Uh-huh. For the whole class?”

“I just…ah, mmm…” My face burned as I struggled to come up with something that didn’t sound creepy.

“How about I save you the trouble,” she said, adjusting her bag and smiling. “I’m Allison, for starters, and I think you should meet me out front of Brompton Hall tomorrow about…eight,” she said, after a moment.

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, eight sounds — I’m Kevin, by the way — sounds good.” I nodded briskly. “So, see you then?”

#

A couple hours after a particularly grueling class (I still think only so many people should be allowed to reiterate the previous person’s opinion) I was playing skee-ball with Allison at an arcade and restaurant off campus.

Did I say playing? I’m sorry; I meant losing horribly.

“Oh, and from behind one-handed!” Allison crowed, sinking yet another impossible shot.

“This normally how a date with you goes?” I asked, shuffling her oversized stuffed bear (and other assorted prizes) in my arms. “Skee-ball sharking unwitting guys?”

“Sharking?” she said, tossing a ball lightly in the air. “Now, as I recall it, somebody claimed they were the ‘King of the Games’ when I told you about this place. I –“ Lights went off as another ball found its mark, tickets spraying across the ground. “Disagreed.”

“Couldn’t you have disagreed someplace with better food?” I asked as we turned back to our table.

“Why, you trying to look good for swimsuit season?” My date flashed me a sauce-stained grin as she polished off the remains of her burger. She laughed at my nauseated expression.

“Did I mention I’m a vegetarian?”

“I heard you say you’re a communist.”

“Because the two sound so alike.”

“Try a bite; you’ll like it.” She thrust the oozing, fleshy mass at me and I danced back, startled.

Giggling, she began to chase me across the arcade, stuffed bear in tow. Cornered between a claw machine and Tekken game, I tried to keep the burger at bay while laughing.

“Eat it!” Allison shouted. “You can’t resist my meat! It’s hot and delicious!”

“OK!” I shouted. “If, if I put your meat in my mouth will you stop chasing me around?”?

“Ooh, with all these people around? Kinky,” she purred, pushing the burger against my mouth. Rolling my eyes, I took a bite, chewing the over-cooked meat thoroughly. To make it more awkward, my date moaned deeply and licked her lips.

“Oh yeah baby,” she groaned in a husky baritone. “Chew it. Chew it hard.”

“There,” I said as I finished. “So unless you want to return the favor, I think we should probably leave.” I nodded behind her at a couple employees walking towards us, humorless expressions at the ready.

“C’mon,” I said, grabbing her wrist. We dashed around a few other partiers, losing ourselves in the sea of people.

“Where are we going?” Allison asked as I tugged her out the doors.

#

“One sec; sometimes you just have to –“

The door burst open, spilling me ungracefully across the cement room. Allison strode after me calmly, nursing her coffee.

“Welcome,” I said as I brushed the rocks off my pants. “To The Observatory!”

“I observe it’s full of plants,” she remarked, and drank deeply. She gently swung the door shut behind her as she walked further into the roof’s garden, silencing the voices from the coffee shop below.

“Well, yeah. The owners grow their own tea plants up here.” I touched one lightly, hissing as unseen thorns stabbed me. “As well as other things,” I mumbled.

“They’re beautiful.”

I looked up to see her staring at a group of night-blooming flowers. Rescuing my espresso from her other hand, I guided her through the menagerie of plants, doing my best to play tour guide with each one.

“You know a lot about these plants,” she said as we came to a clearing on the roof. “How many times have you come up here?”

“My parents know the owners. I probably spent every summer to grad school working up here for spare money.”

“Oh jeez,” she said with a laugh. “Must’ve been sweaty work.”

“I managed. Barely, but I managed.”

“And—“Allison sat down on a nearby lawn chair, a smile playing across her face. “How many girls did you bring her to woo with your botanical knowledge?”

“No comment,” I said with a laugh.

“So just boys then?”

“Girls,” I stated firmly. “Though not as many as I’d have liked.”

“How many?”

“One,” I said, finishing off my drink with a quick gulp. “She got bored and started texting her friends once we got past the cacti.”

“What a bitch,” Allison said, not quite hiding her smile and the laugh in her voice.

“That right there? Why guys don’t like opening up to women.”

“Oh please. You brought me up here to try and boink me.”

“No I didn’t!” I said, quite truthfully.

“Yeah, because the condom wrappers under the other chair totally aren’t yours.”

“Aw hell,” I said, a bit nauseated. “Look, the owners are sort of…hippies. They like to screw under the stars.”

“Really?” she said after a minute. “The two geezers downstairs?”

“’Fraid so.”

“…Good for them.” She settled back on the chair and frowned. “How do they see the starts?”

Smiling, I took her hand, pulling her up and towards a ladder leading to a higher up part of the building.

“Wait for it,” I said, tugging at a cord that kept the motion-sensing lights (to discourage vandals, I’d always been told) on. The cord snapped in half, blue sparks making me jump before plunging the roof into darkness.

“Well,” Allison said after a bit. “Hope you know the way back to the ladder.”

“No, we’re going to be up here ‘till one eats the other.”
“Pfft, like I haven’t heard that before.”

Something in her voice made me blush. I swore I saw her try and fail to hide another smile.

“Just…look up,” I said, flustered.

I saw her jaw drop slightly as she looked and saw the stars shining brightly in the sky. I gently led her farther away from the ladder and the street lights. Thankfully it was a small college town; there weren’t many lights as it was, and we were high enough to ignore them.

We spent a while just gazing up at the stars (me wishing all the while I’d thought to keep a telescope up there). Allison brushed against me; I looked down at her and nearly crapped myself.

Her eyes weren’t just glowing like I thought I’d seen earlier — they spun, undulating slowly, giving off a dull light like embers.

“Something in my eye?”

“Hmm?” I said as I shook myself back to reality.

“You got this…look on your face when you turned.” Her lips twisted suddenly. “Wow, I really misread you.” She backed away quickly. “You…you weren’t staring at this,” she said, gesturing at her…rather delicious self. “But rather these, correct?”

Her eyes burned for a moment, rather than simply smoldering, casting fiery light across the roof. With the light I saw her face…shift and flow into something different, something older, the light only a tiny glimpse of her.

She blinked, smiling, and it was gone — she was back to her casual, not-at-all-a-fire-monster self.

“Yes,” I said simply, more than a tad nervous. “That…would be what I was looking at, yes that would be it.”

Her face lit up in a coy smirk as the glow from her eyes dimming.

“You’re not freaked out?”

“A little,” I admitted, though I wanted very much to inspect those eyes again. “How do you do…um, that?”

She laughed, the light flickering like candles. “It happens when I’m emotional, especially…excited,” she said, brushing her hair back.

“So I make you excited?”

“It’s not every day I meet someone who sees my eyes and tries to hit on me rather than ducking out with some stupid excuse.” She guffawed, sitting by the edge of the room. “You humans never stop surprising me. No matter how many times it happens,” she added.

“You’re not human?”

“Wow, you’re quick. Want to tell me the meaning of life next?”

“The answer is not for thine ears, little creature!” I boomed melodramatically. Allison quirked her head like a spider looking at a bug.

“You’re a strange one.”

“So I’ve been told.” I walked over to sit next to her. “Going to kill me?”

“Should I?”

“I don’t know; should you?”

“I’m starting to want to.”

“Please don’t,” I said with a slightly hysterical giggle. “What are you, anyway? Do I get to know what might or might not kill me?”

Allison rolled her mouth about like she was literally chewing it over.

“I’m a demon.”

“Oh, is that all?” I asked with a raised eyebrow. “I was expecting something more interesting.”

“You’re awfully blasé.”

“One of my best friends believes she’s a were-jaguar; you’ll have to forgive my skepticism.”

“Danielle?” Allison snorted. “She’s got faux-fur costumes; my eyes are glowing with infernal light in front of you.”

I waved her off, simply lying down on the roof to stare at the stars again. The silence lasted only a minute before I hauled myself up to sit next to her.

“If you’re a demon,” I said as I licked my lips. “Why aren’t you out possessing some altar boy, or fighting a jaded priest?”

“Racist,” she said, slurping the last of her coffee noisily.

“Racist? Really?”

“Well, I don’t ask you why you don’t spend your nights doing keg-stands,” she said, annoyed. “We’re not all bloodthirsty monsters.”

“Fine, fine; I concede the point. So what are you doing here?”

“Watching the stars with an annoying human.”

“No, at school.”

“Getting my liberal arts degree.”

“What the hell would a demon need a liberal arts degree for?” I asked, incredulous.

“Like you don’t get bored and do something just to do it?” She shrugged and flicked her cup’s lid idly. “We don’t really die; have to have some way to fill the years.”

“But a cheap, state school?”

“I have six degrees from prestigious universities,” she said haughtily. “After a while they all sort of blend together. I figured it was time for something different.”

“So you shake things up by going for your liberal — wait, six degrees? How old are you?”

“Asshole!” Allison yelled with a laugh, and threw her cup at me.

“Hey, I’m just sayin’ you look good for someone in their eighties, at least.” I picked up the cup and placed it gently on the roof. “Though, only six? Seems low for an immortal.”

“What would you do if you woke up one day and realized you had to live through public school again?”

“Probably kill myself,” I said honestly.

“Yeah…You’ll have to excuse me for not wanting to re-do adolescence and college every chance I got. Some centuries you just have to take it easy, and enjoy…well, not being a teenager.”

Allison smiled suddenly, her eyes glowing again, and she shuffled closer to me.

“Want to see a trick?” she asked with a (pardon the pun) devilish grin. I shrugged, certain it’d just be some cheesy trick at best, at worst some cheesy trick she thought was magic.

Her lips pulling back to bare a twin set of curved teeth certainly blew away my expectations. Closing her mouth she sat on her knees, grinning like an expectant child. For once, I really felt myself at a loss for words.

“Well…that certainly helps you case,” I said slowly.

“You know why I showed you this?”

“Because you’re going to eat me?”

“Mmm, tempting,” she said, eyes lazily drifting up and down. “But no; you tend to get deported for that sort of thing.”

“Thankfully you’re a law-abiding demon,” I joked nervously.

“Yeah, well, it helps that Hell doesn’t have chocolate. Makes it super-easy to play it straight up here.”

“Chocolate?”

“Have you tried Godiva truffles? They’re positively divine. Well, chocolate, and laser-tag,” she added after a moment. “Trust me, the only demons who stay in Hell are the crazies.”.

“What’s wrong with Hell?” I asked, feeling a bit foolish as soon as the words came out of my mouth.

“Aside from the obvious,” she purred, amused. “Think about it this way: would you really want to stay someplace where the only things to do is torture people or each other?” She shrugged, half-smiling. “I started talking to some of the people who came down the elevator about their good times, before they did the things that sent them downstairs. Most are pretty bad by your standards, I guess, but…I don’t know. There seemed to be so much to do up here, so much to see and love.” She looked wistfully at the coffee cups, sighing peacefully as her gaze drifted over the houses near us.

“What did you do, uh, downstairs?” I asked.

“I was regret. I showed people what their lives would’ve been like had they taken the road less traveled. Well, ‘show’ isn’t the right term; each person would live their life over and over again, each time convinced it was real, each time the life a little better than the last, a few less chances missed, a few more people not hurt.” Allison scratched the rooftop lightly with a nail, a sad smile flitting across her face. “About the fifth time they start to beg to go back to being torn apart.”

“I take it you got tired of the usual demon pastimes?” I asked.

“Well, you get bored after a while,” Allison said, chuckling.

“Well, I apologize on behalf of the species for not being more entertaining,” I drawled.

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” she said with a grin. “While you can choose what you are, my kind simply are, as long as we’re in Hell. We tend to reflect you in the worst ways, embody the worst evil inside of you all.”

“So you’re our evil twins?” I asked flippantly. “Shouldn’t you have goatees?”

“Oh, I got so sick of facial hair decades ago,” Allison said, rolling her eyes. “You wouldn’t believe how much it takes to really keep a fabulous moustache going, all the wax to keep it probably curled, making sure you don’t poke out your woman’s eye — what?”

I’d started chuckling soundlessly as she described her epic facial hair, eventually infecting her with my giggles.

As she laughed, I saw her body show more of her; shadows curled about her feet like tails, her stretched like leather and seemed to grow patches of fur or spines; eyes with oddly shaped pupils opened and closed from beneath the folds of cascading hair that twitched like a living thing.

“What are you looking at?” the demon asked with a grin.

“Uh…um, you, I guess.”

“Aw, you’re going to make me blush.” Something underneath her skin moved, pressing at her seams. Suddenly she became quiet, looking at me seriously. “Are you really OK with this?”

“Well… it’s not every day you get a chance to be friends with a demon,” I said, shrugging. “But, I’m going to be worm food in another sixty or seventy years; why do you want to be friends with me?”

“Ever had a cat or dog?”

“Point,” I sighed. “As long as you don’t make me wear a collar and fetch slippers.”

“Only for special occasions,” she grinned. “OK; one more question, and then I want to finish enjoying the view.”

“Fair ‘nuff. Do you guys actually possess people, or do you just…use a cloaking device or something, so we don’t see what you really are?”

“Neeeerrrrrdddd.”

“Just answer the question.”

“It’s a little of both, actually,” she said as she stretched out her legs. “Some like to keep their claws and fangs, but it makes it harder to run in normal circles, even with a cloaking device; can’t really order a mocha with tusks and orange skin.”

“You obviously haven’t seen Jersey Shore.”

Anyways,” she said, shoving me with a foot. “They tend to travel around cults, business leaders, organic food markets, the usual things. My fun depends on stealth, though there are rules for that too. This little thing here was dying from heroin overdose when I snagged her.”

“Sounds fair,” I said with a nod.

“Good. Now shush, and look at the stars.”

#

“One more question,” I pleaded as we rounded the corner to Allison’s car.

Ugh. I suppose,” she griped dramatically. She spun her key ring as we walked, jingling punctuating our steps.

“Is your…suit’s parents really OK with this arrangement?”

“More or less. Momma bear was OK as long as I smiled for the Christmas cars and didn’t spin her daughter’s head around.”

“And poppa bear?” I asked as she unlocked her Nissan.

“Um…less than thrilled.”

“About a demon possessing his little girl’s body? Who would’ve thought?”

“Hey,” she said sternly. “This meat was vacant when I came along; no deals, no threats, no funny business.”

“OK, OK,” I said, placating. “So, do you want to this this again?”

“Throw in pizza and skip the twenty questions and you’ve got a deal,” she said, fairly purring.

“I make no non-pizza promises.”

“Fair ‘nuff,” she teased, mimicking my voice perfectly.

“Wow, creepy,” I said, unnerved.

“Thank you! But the night’s not over yet, sweets.” Allison popped her trunk, grimacing. “Remember how I said daddy wasn’t too happy?”

The body of a middle-aged man lay in the trunk. At least, I assumed middle-age from the size and blood-soaked remains of clothing. His face and chest looked like someone had attacked him with jagged hooks, and he was missing huge chunks of flesh in suspiciously mouth-shaped amounts.

After throwing up across the parking lot, I looked at Allison, who was smiling sheepishly.

“He and some buddies tried to exorcise me, and I got…upset.”

“Won’t you get ‘deported’ for this?” I asked after a few more dry-heaves.

“I got off with self-defense and a warning. They took care of the others, but…”

“But…what?”

“They got full.” Allison gave me a pained smile. “So…buddy, friend; help me move a body?”

“What are friends for?” I asked shakily. “Though next time I’m limiting my favors to rides and the occasional essay.”

She laughed and slammed the trunk shut. We peeled out of the parking lot, rushing to what she assured me was a good burial spot. Halfway there it finally hit me how damn weird all this was. Somehow I doubted this was the college experience my parents had wanted for me.

“Best part about this gal?” Allison said, fiddling with the stereo. “Great taste in music.” Without further ado, a demon from Hell who had asked me to help her dispose of a mutilated human body not ten minutes ago, began belting out Sister Christian by Night Ranger.

I smiled as her off-key voice filled the car. And I’d been worried this year would be boring.

The End