It's Not Hell, But It's Still School

Steven Bergom

Alarm clocks have many different rings they employ to wake a sleeper. Some have a simple bell and clapper and some have a high-pitched whine. Some play a pre-recorded message and some will vibrate your pillow. Some will pull the sheets off your bed and yet others dump buckets of cold water on the sleepers head. Mine, however, had at some time in the distant past gotten itself stuck on a country-western station and woke me up to the sound of an all-too-jovial morning personality who enjoyed playing Waylen Jennings too much.

Rubbing my eyes and cursing at various ancient gods I wondered at what could possibly possess me to torture myself so early in the morning. Fishing out a shard of glass that was happily poking me in the back I realized that it was the first day of school. Yippee.

I rolled out of my bed of rocks, gravel, broken glass and sharp bits of metal and carefully shut off my radio, being careful not to shatter it with my fist. There were many things that I was still getting used to after having become a demon, and one of them was my strength. The other was that a waterbed was no longer comfortable which left me to sleep on items that would tear a normal person to shreds. This was all counter-balanced by the fact that my little brothers, Jason and Jesse, no longer played practical jokes on me; very little could get under my tough skin and if something did I was more likely to disembowel the culprit than complain to my parents. They can be stupid at times, but not that stupid.

Stretching I made my way downstairs to the kitchen where I found my mom putting away dishes. Dad sat at the end of the kitchen table with his wingtips just poking higher than the newspaper he was reading. Occasionally he'd take a sip of his coffee or grunt at something in the paper, but otherwise he was dead to the world. "Good morning, sweetheart," Mom said to me. "Orange juice is there on the counter in case you want it." I grunted a response and poured myself a glass.

I guess I should explain things. Mom is a normal human; a little sadistic at times, but then I've been told that all mothers are. About twenty years ago she hooked up with a guy by the name of Gerald Tyrus. Gerald, unknown to her at the time, was Satan's right-hand man. Now, while the exact details are kind of fuzzy, Mom found out who he was, loved him anyway, got married and, as things happen in these instances, had three children. Of course no one knew whether or not we would follow our father into demonhood and it was only over the summer vacation that I came into my inheritance. If there is a God &mdash which I have good reason to believe is a very good probability &mdash then Jason and Jesse will remain human to the very end of their existences.

Either way it was still a Monday morning and I was standing in our kitchen drinking orange juice. Finishing the liquid I studied the glass before taking a bite out of it, crunching it in my mouth like it was hard candy. "Rebekah!" Mom scolded. "How many times do I have to tell you not to eat the China!"

"You're also the one who keeps telling me I need more ruffage in my diet," I replied swallowing the mouthful of glass.

"Listen to your mother, hon," Dad said from behind the newspaper.

Mom rolled her eyes. "You're going to have to hurry if you want to get to school on time," she said, stopping me with a look before I made the obvious comment about 'wanting' to go to school. "What are you going to wear?"

"I'n't know," I shrugged. One of my abilities since becoming a demon was to change my shape into whatever I desired so I had a virtually unlimited number of choices. Concentrating I formed myself into the body of an average-sized sixteen year old girl with muscles that had been toned by years of swimming. Mom was looking at me with a disapproving eye, but that was probably because I had on a red halter top, big hoop earrings, a micro mini-skirt, fishnet stockings and stilleto heels. "How 'bout this?" I asked.

She tapped her toe, staring at me pointedly for a moment. I shrugged again and with another thought, changed. This time I had on a pair of shorts, tennis shoes and a blouse, more appropriate apparel for wearing to high school. Mom nodded. "I still wish you'd go with the brown hair you've always had; I just don't like the black."

"Mother! I figured since I can, I might as well make a few improvements. Besides," I told her, "if I don't have at least one thing that's 'me' I feel like I'm… I don't know… cramped, I guess."

"You'll get used to it, Bekah," Dad said as he folded his newspaper. He was already dressed in a polo shirt and tan slacks looking nothing unlike a moderately successful, forty-ish businessman. Who would ever guess that he was actually a demon slightly older than creation itself? "It's only been a few months; give it a while."

Turning to Mom he kissed her on the cheek. "I'm probably going to be late this evening. We're installing the new servers and I told everyone it should take only a day."

"So that means I probably won't see you before seven for three days, right?"

"About that, yeah!" Dad grinned and, if you looked close you could see two small horns on his forehead. This was the person Pennbroker Life Insurance wanted as their Chief Information Officer? Scary thought!

Dad shook off his delight and walked over to me. Like Mom he gave me a kiss and ruffled my hair. "You be a good girl, and remember what I told you," he admonished me. "No&mdash"

"No flying, no tricks. No playing with people minds and no making jump ropes out of teachers' intestines. You'd don't have to remind me, Dad."

"Yes, I do," he said. "I'm a father and fathers worry about their little girls. More than that, there are angels out there who would want nothing more than to put your pretty little head on a plaque in their trophy room. I want you to be careful, okay?"

I nodded and he gave me one last hug before picking up his briefcase and leaving for work. "Oh, by the way, Bekah, I'm going to be a little late tonight, too," Mom said before I could leave the kitchen. "You'll have to keep your brothers out of trouble and get something on for supper."

I was about to let out a "But, Mom!" but I suddenly remembered the futility of arguing with her. With a heavy sigh I picked up my bag and headed off to eight hours of sheer torture.

School, as they call the local torture chamger, is Alan M. Turing High School. I had often wondered at the name but finally came to the conclusion that nothing was more appropriate than to name a high school after a twentieth century computer geek who committed suicide by taking cyanide capsules. The sentiment embodied all the hopelessness of a school which cranked us out like so many automata.

The only thing that made going to classes worthwhile was that I could get together with friends that I hadn't seen all summer. Of course, much of that was my fault because I spent most of my time practicing holding my human appearance for more than eight hours but several of my friends spent their time either on the French Riviera or hiking through Europe. Melissa, my best friend since the second grade, was one of those who spent most of the vacation in an exotic locale so it was nice to hear her voice again. "Bekah!" she squealed as I dumped my backpack in my locker. "You changed your hair!"

With an equally squeally voice I reciprocated the greeting and we did a little dance. (Don't ask; it'd take too long to explain.) "Yeah," I said when we finally settled down. "I thought I'd do something different. Do you like?"

"I like, I like and…" Melissa stopped and cocked her head at me as if puzzling something out.

I looked behind me then back at my friend with an equally puzzled glance. "What?"

"I don't know. Something… Something's different about you and I can't quite place my finger on it…" She shook her head and continued on as if nothing was the matter. "It's probably nothing. So, hey, how was your summer?"

I shrugged. "Not too bad," I said. "The 'rents packed the car and we drove six hours to see my uncle."

"Six hours in an enclosed space with your brothers? It must've been hell!"

"Close, but not quite. How 'bout you?"

Melissa rolled her eyes. "Cancun, again! We went there last year and I couldn't go to any of the clubs then, either."

"You poor thing," I commiserated. We started to walk walk to our first class of the day &mdash geometry &mdash and started to talk about school in general. Melissa's aunt works in the front office part-time and is an incurable gossip so I got the scoop. It was all second-hand but it was better than nothing.

"There're three new students in our class this year. One's an exchange student; from France, I think. I hear he's cute but those Europeans are really weird. They, like, put mayonaisse on their French fries and call a 'Quarter Pounder' a 'Royale' and stuff." Melissa shuddered. "Funky.

"Then there's a girl whose parents spent the last decade or so as missionaries in South America. She's only here for a semester and then she's off to the jungles of Africa or something.

"And then there's him." I was about to ask her who she was talking about when I followed her thumb across the room to her obvious target. He was pale with hair so blonde that it almost shone. His shirt and shorts were perfectly pressed and he walked with an arrogance that was palpable. A shiver ran down my spine as I watched him.

"His name is Micah Goodspeed. He transferred from some religious school and my aunt said that when she first saw him there was something about him that gave her the willies."

I shuddered again and turned back to watch where I was going. "As long as I don't have any classes with him."

"Tough chance for that! I think I saw him on the class list for chemistry." I groaned and Melissa smiled maniacally. "Oh, speaking of science, there's a swim meeting in the chem lab after school tomorrow. You gonna' be there?"

"Of course!" I said. "Wouldn't miss it for the world!"

"Great! This is going to be the best sophomore year ever!"

"Uh, Melissa? You are aware that sophomore means 'wise moron' in ancient Greek, didn't you?"

We stopped in the middle of the hallway while Melissa looked at me as if I had grown a third eye. "Since when did you become an expert in dead languages? Did the parents give you a reading list this summer or something?"

I shook my head. "Let's just say that I have an entirely new appreciation of Homer," I said and we continued on our way to class.

"Keep your back straight, not arched! Straight! Straight!" I sighed and climbed dutifully back onto the diving board. I knew it had been a mistake when I volunteered to be on the diving squad but all of our divers last year were seniors which left none for the coach to harass this year. Unfortunately I was the only member of the swim team to raise their hand at the beginning of the season meeting and so I was the only one to feel the attention of Coach Thompson.

Lucky me.

It isn't too bad, I guess, but time and again my father pounded into my brain that I was not to do anything out of the ordinary. What made it difficult to keep a low flame on my temper and keep me from performing the impossible, however, was the way Coach Thompson magnified every fault of mine into a personal insult and announced it to the world. As a result if my toes were even the slightest out of alignment I could be guaranteed a punishment of twenty laps.

"Stay vertical! And don't let your knees fly apart! You'll lose if you can't keep your knees together! Is that what you want to be: a loser?!"

I rolled my eyes and tried to shut out his voice. It was easy for the rest of the swim team to ignore him; he wasn't yelling at them. He was yelling at me and all that I did to disappoint him and make him feel worthless. "Just one even halfway decent dive and maybe I'll think you have enough talent to make something of yourself!"

I know I shouldn't have done it. A little voice in the back of my head even cautioned me from doing anything rash, but I couldn't help myself. If Coach Thompson wanted a good dive, I'd give it to him!

Looking around I made sure that no one was watching me. All the swimmers were concentrating on their strokes and the assistant coaches were each taking their time to work with someone on technique. With a little thought I was able to encourage them to keep their attentions off of me. Taking a deep breath, I jumped.

A demon's body is capable of many amazing things. I can fly, twist and snap two-by-fours like others snap pencils. I can walk through walls and change my form at will. Best of all, I can play with people's minds and make them see things that aren't exactly there. The coach felt the full brunt of my abilities.

He saw me twist and turn, flip and fly and, as I entered the water like an arrow I made made myself intangible so that not even a ripple appeared on the surface of the pool. When I climbed out the coach stared at me, dumbfounded. I almost giggled when his whistle fell from his lifeless lips but I curbed my reaction and instead asked him if that met up with his expectations. He nodded and I left for the showers, encouraging him to forget the whole incident &mdash which he really wanted to do, anyway &mdash as I walked away.

Like I said before, I was sure that no one in the area around the pool was witness to my feat. As I was to find out later, I mis-calculated.

I was in a relatively good mood the next morning as I stuffed my bookbag into my locker. Melissa stood beside me babbling about some show she saw on TV and I was a little concerned since she was talking a little more nervously than usual. I ignored it for the most part, considering it a side-effect of the tampering I did in practice. However, I almost choked when she asked me about my dive.

"My what?" I asked after tamping my surprise down. "What do you mean?"

"Well, I didn't really have a good view because I was in the far lane but when I heard Coach Thompson stop yelling I looked over and caught the tail end."

"So what exactly did you see?"

She shrugged. "I don't know; a flip, maybe."

"Which is exactly what it was," I told her confidently. "The coach told me that if I could do one halfway decent forward somersault that I could go home. Was he swearing too much after I left?"

"No, he looked quiet to me."

"Which means I'll probably get it tonight," I said feigning resignation. I learned that mis-direction is preferable to outright lying from my uncle and hopefully my statement &mdash and a little mental nudge &mdash would help Melissa to rewrite the whole incident in her mind to think that the diving coach was preparing a list to bring up at practice. I then proceeded to misdirect her even more. "Speaking of monolithic bores," I said, "what was it you were telling me about in American Government yesterday?"

With my mission accomplished I listened to Melissa rant about how the teacher was related to the devil &mdash an argument in which I was fully able to participate &mdash when I was suddenly spun around and forced against the lockers. I only had time to say, "What the&mdash" when Micah slapped his palm against my forehead and began chanting.

"By the power granted me by He who created Heaven and Earth I cast thee out! Begone, foul spawn! Begone!"

Several thoughts ran through my mind as I stared at Micah's upturned and beatific face, but, oddly enough, the one that stood out was that he was in serious need of a nosehair trimming. More importantly I realized that my forehead was starting to sting.

"Excuse me!" I said, knocking his hand away. "I don't know where you went for Exorcism Class but the first thing they should've taught you was that you can't cast someone out of their own body!" Leaving a confused crowd and a stunned Micah I picked the books I needed from my locker and led Melissa off to our first class.

"What was that all about?" Mel asked. "Is he some kind of psycho or what? I mean, attacking you like that: that is just so not right!" She was about to say something more but instead dragged me into the restroom and shoved me in front of a mirror. "You really need to do something about that mark."

I was about to ask her what she meant when I noticed a palm-sized mark right above the bridge of my nose. It wouldn't wash off and I couldn't make it disappear. With a touch of concealer left over in my purse from when I had to worry about my appearance and a deft rearrangement of my hair I left for my school day and hoped that no one would notice.

My father, unfortunately, did, and I was forced to squirm in front of him as he stared at me with stern disapproval. "It was only one little dive…" I tried arguing.

"{'}One little dive' she says. One little stunt and you make yourself known to every heavenly agent this side of, well, Heaven!"

"I didn't think&mdash"

"That is quite evident by your actions. Did it ever occur to you that there might be a Guardian at your school? That this… this…" he snapped his fingers searching for the boy's name.

"Micah Goodspeed," I supplied.

"Goodspeed!" he yelled. "Now I know you've seen 'The Rock' so I know you are aware of the derivation of that name: God speed. It signals louder than any sign that he's an angel."

I felt really small just then; Dad never yelled at us and I never wanted to disappoint him. I must have looked stricken because Dad suddenly put his arms around me and hugged me tight. "I'm sorry, baby, but you're still new to all this and you're not yet prepared to handle all the dangers out there. I don't want to see you getting hurt because I failed to prepare you."

"I'll be more careful, Daddy," I said into his chest. "I'll try harder."

"That's all I ask."

I saw Micah constantly over the next two weeks. In the morning he would be hanging out in the locker bay when I arrived at school. At lunch he managed to sit two tables away from me no matter where I sat. Throughout the day I was guaranteed to see his eyes watch me no matter what class I was in and on weekends he pretty much camped outside my front door, tracking me in all that I did. For the first time in my life I was scared and I didn't like the feeling.

Finally I couldn't take it anymore. One afternoon I ditched Mel and headed out to the football field making sure that Micah was following me. He was, as usual, and I walked across the grass to the bleachers as sneakily as possible so that I was sure to keep his attention. It worked and I slid around the concession stand to wait for him.

Just like all bad spy movies Micah walked right past my position allowing me to spin him around and slam him into the concrete wall. Melodramatically I asked, "What do you want?"

"I want to know your plans, spawn of Satan, and what you are doing here!" he said, knocking my grip of his shirt free.

To tell the truth I was vaguely offended. I mean, sure, Satan is my uncle and everything but the insinuation that he's my father kinda wigged me out. I shuddered in response. "For your information, Buster Brown, my relationship to Satan is a bit more complex than that 'spawn of', and I am here to get an education. Now that I've told you all about me, what about you?"

Once again Micah pulled himself up and showed me a part of his nose that I never really wanted to see again. "I am a guardian angel and I have been assigned to protect Alan Turing High School from evil underworld scum like you!"

"Guardian angel?" I said in disbelief. "You? Who'd you piss off to get put in a high school?!"

"I requested the transfer," he said through clenched teeth couldn't keep myself from laughing. Weeks of worry and fear rushed out in a tension-draining flood. "I am well-qualified; I was a member of the heavenly host for many centuries&mdash"

"You're a choir boy?" I gasped out. Micah tried to look dignified but his every effort just sent me into more gales of laughter. What was worse what that it didn't take much imagination to see him in a white robe and a little hymnal singing his heart out to a giant ball of light. The picture I got was so ludicrous that every effort he made to look dangerous failed miserably. Eventually he stalked off and left me clutching my sides on the ground.

I was able to gain my self-possession and walked home with only the occasional snicker and snort of laughter. Micah was relatively harmless; I was pretty sure that I could hold myself in a fight if I had to but what I really wanted was to show him that I was really a nice guy. Girl. Whatever.

With my mind working on the problem I relaxed into demonic form and collapsed on my bed. The rocks, broken glass and assorted bits of metal biting into my body was comforting. Except, of course, for a strange feeling just beneath my right hip.

No bother; I just shifted around so I was laying on my side. There I found that the annoying spot had moved to my left hip and no amount of shifting could get rid of it. With a snarl I sat up and shoved my hand into the rock pile to rake everything into something more comfortable.

What I found when I pulled my hand out surprised me: a feather. I couldn't believe that such a little thing could cause so much discomfort. I was also mildly curious as to how it got there. I guess it could have been a leftover from a stuffed animal or a pillow, but the giggles and sudden thumping down the stairs convinced me otherwise.

Growling I slid through the floor and stopped my brothers at the foot of the stairs. "And where do we think you're going?" I asked archly snatching Jesse up. Jason tried to slip around me but he didn't take into account my tail. I dragged them kicking and screaming through the house into the kitchen where I found a ball of twine. Ensuring that they couldn't interrupt me &mdash and probably'd stay away from me for quite some time in the future &mdash I had them tied tightly to a couple of chairs. Dusting my hands I went back up to my room and ruminated on the problem of how I was going to let Micah know that I really wasn't evil.

The solution to my conundrum appeared only a month after I started to obsess with it. Okay, I didn't actually obsess with it but I did spend a considerable amount of time worrying about how Micah's stalking was putting a crimp in my social life.

We were studying the mass media in our English class and the teacher decided a field trip was in order. For once the teacher actually picked a decent destination and we found ourselves at KJYB, a radio station located at the top of an eighty-story skyscraper. We did all the little touristy things like look at the transmitter, make a recording for some station-identification bit and listen to a pompous station manager discuss how to best target a market audience with the correct mix of advertisement and music. I generally ignored everything except for what I needed to write the required report.

The cool thing was that we got to spend lunch at a restaurant on the 73rd floor. Admittedly the food wasn't for the frugal, but the impressive factor of being able to say you ate a thousand feet above the city to the people who missed out on the trip was well worth it. Anyway, I was sitting with Mel and a couple other girls poking at our salads and talking about the important things in life, like boys. From where we sat I could see a class of third-graders harrying their overworked teacher. Occasionally I'd have the urge to give a few of the more troublesome kids tips but I thoroughly squashed those impulses.

Eventually my attention was captured by one especially precocious little boy named Billy. I knew his name only because of the large number of times the teacher called it, usually accompanied by eye rolling and a pained grimace. Billy had wandered off from the main group and was inspecting the caution tape covering the door to an office that we were explicitly &mdash and repeatedly &mdash warned not to enter. There was construction going on and the building managers didn't want a lawsuit on their hands when something fell on a lawyer's kid. As if on cue Billy walked underneath the tape and through the unlocked door into the room.

"Did you see what she was wearing?" Mel was saying. "It was, like, a crime against nature, or something! She had no right to wear red with that shade of lipstick."

I wasn't quite sure who she was talking about so I skimmed the surface of her mind to pick up a picture of one of the deejays. I know, it's not nice to read people's minds, but I've got to stay in practice. With that quick glimpse I could tell that the conversation wasn't going to go anywhere important in the next few minutes so I excused myself and followed after Billy.

Okay, looking back on everything I guess that the whole thing was kind of obvious; you know, caution tape, repeated warnings, curious little boy, etcetera. But you have to admit each and every one of us is in a similar situation many times in our lives and nothing special happens. Just think about it the next time you drop a spooky-looking doll behind a bed or hear strange noises coming from a basement.

Anyway, I followed Billy into a cavernous room. Open beams and metal framing members held plastic sheets, obscuring everything beyond ten feet. I could only follow the boy because I was able to hear his heart beating at the adventure he was involved in. Through one final sheet I saw a bright light where a section of the exterior wall had been removed and down near the bottom I saw a vague, human outline that must have been Billy. He was perched near the edge and between one moment and the next he disappeared.

Thought and action were one as I shoved aside the plastic sheet, sprinted to the opening and jumped. Billy was already two floors down and falling rapidly so I called upon every skill my diving coach drilled into my head to decrease drag. Billy was splayed out, screaming, but still I gritted my teeth at every inch I gained on him. Floors sped past us ever faster until finally I snagged the cuff of his jeans.

"Hold on!" I screamed at him. "This is going to get a little rough!" Pulling him tightly to me I braced his head and back back before spreading my wings. The sudden change in velocity shook me and I worried that Billy could survive it with his spine intact. I had only carried one other person while flying before but since she was dead I didn't have to concern myself with the frailties of a human body.

I needn't have worried since as soon as I smoothed out my flight and began gaining altitude Billy let out an excited whoop. Laughing in response I pumped my large, bat-like wings and spurred us upward.

It took several trips around the tower but we eventually made it back to the 73rd floor. Furling my wings I shot through the window we had so recently exited and made a landing that left little Billy giggling. "That was fun!" he exclaimed when I set him down. "Can we do it again!"

I crouched down. "No, I don't think so. Let's get you back to your teacher."

"I can't wait to tell the others! They'll never believe&mdash"

"No, Billy. You can't tell anyone about this." I reached out and gently touched his cheek.

"Lady," he asked. "A-are you an angel?"

"Not quite," I said and kissed him on the forehead. Then, with as much care as I could muster, I began to wipe away each and every memory of his exploration, the fall and my rescue. Though I practiced lightly with my brothers &mdash unknown to them, of course &mdash I had never performed such a delicate operation and did not want to get it wrong.

It was a rather glassy-eyed young boy that I led back to a distraut third grade teacher. "Where have you been?" she asked, excitedly checking Billy over for any cuts or scrapes.

"I found him when I exited the restroom," I told her. "I guess he just took a wrong turn and…"

"Well, I'm just glad he didn't fall out of a window, or something. And thank you for getting him back in one piece!" she said and led Billy off to the main group. He looked back at me with a confused expression face but I just smiled and waved.

I mentally patted myself on the back as I turned to walk back to my friends. Unfortunately my path was blocked by one surly-looking angel. "Gee whiz, Micah! Could you make a noise or something? You could give someone a heart attack doing something like that."

"What did you do to him?" he asked ignoring my scolding.

"I saved him."

Micah rolled his eyes. "I mean to his mind."

"I erased his memory of the fall," I explained carefully to him, "and I gave him a healthy respect for heights to make sure he doesn't make the same mistake twice."

Turning it over in his head Micah glared at me. "Look, I don't need you watching me every minute of the day; I'm not going to blow up the school, or anything. I'm just trying to do all the things any teen girl does and if I have a chance to help someone, I'll take it! Doesn't what I just did convince you of that?"

"I still say you have an ulterior motive, Miss Tyrus. I just haven't determined what it is."

"Fine!" I told him. "If you want to live that paranoia, go right ahead, but back off; I'm sick of seeing you every time I look over my shoulder." With that I stalked back to that restaurant where my adventure started and listened to an argument over who was hotter: Brad Pitt or Mel Gibson.

Everything went back to normal, more or less. Melissa continued her tirade against anything not related to pop-culture, Coach Thompson found new invectives to throw my way and all my teachers conspired to give me large homework assignments all due on the same day. Micah, of course, still managed to show up at rather annoying times but I no longer encountered his mug every time I stopped at a drinking fountain. The only bad thing about the whole experience was that my brothers discovered how to untie the knots I used to strap them to the kitchen chairs. I'm not too worried, however; I borrowed the Boy Scout guide to knot tying from the library.