Authors: A. M. Jenkins
To my editor, Anne Hoppe, for her
diligence, insight, and trust, and for not letting
me get away with less than my best
First thing I did was, I stole a body. Iâ¦
I don't like the term “demon.” It carries quite aâ¦
Most of the “sins” that keep people in Hell areâinâ¦
After I finished the shower, I filled up the tubâ¦
Kyrie eleison. It's Greek, meaning “Lord have mercy.” I've alwaysâ¦
When I came back to myself, the first thing Iâ¦
“Good morning, Jason,” I said as I came into theâ¦
I thought, as I headed out to catch Shaun's schoolâ¦
I knew what Shaun's mother believed about Shaun's love interest.
Shaun's first class was World History. I already knew everythingâ¦
Bailey and I went to lunch together after Computer Applications.
“You're lucky he only hit you once,” Bailey said onâ¦
“Did you have a good time?” I asked Jason later,â¦
All the warmth had left my fingertips.
The first thing I became aware of was infinite darkness.
When I sat down at our table, my tray heldâ¦
It was on the way home that I remembered Jasonâ¦
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Darnell,” I said when Bailey's mom answeredâ¦
Back at Bailey's, Jason was apparently taking a break. Heâ¦
I was sure now that they'd come for me duringâ¦
I stayed awake, thinking, until the silvery light at theâ¦
I walked from the church all the way to Lane'sâ¦
When I let myself into Shaun's house, his old guitarâ¦
Perhaps I should have cowered in fear. I was tooâ¦
irst thing I did was, I stole a body. I could have made my own, but I wasn't in an artistic frame of mind.
I was just fed up, you know; fed up with being a cog in a vast machine, with doing my pointless, demeaning job. It's not like I was the only one who could do itâ
could do it. Tormenting the damnedâit practically does itself, no lie. And it's depressing; I can't tell you how depressing it is.
I didn't tell the Boss, didn't tell anyone I was going. No, Hell could get along just fine without me.
As for the Creator, the Oneâif you ask me, He hasn't ever paid the place much notice. He wound the watch up, set the hands, and let it start ticking.
Really, the Creator is the one I have the grievance
with. Not the Boss. The Boss is just doing his job like the rest of us, just fulfilling his function. The Creator is the one who set up all the rules. And now He never checks in, doesn't seem to know or care whether the peons of Hell are getting overworked and fed up. I've never been fool enough to expect redemption, but even a tiny spark of recognition of my drudging toilâor even my mere
âwould have been nice. For thousands upon thousands of years I've labored under a slowly fading hope.
After a while, it was just too much. Even a being like meâno,
a being like meâhas its breaking point.
So. The hard part was picking a body. I wanted to keep it simple, start small. Slip into a life that was already taking place. Something with all the synapses in working condition. A body that was carefree, insulated from earthly considerations like hunger; a protected place to try out physical existence. A body without responsibilitiesâno job or family to care for; someone who had time to experience the things I wanted to experience. But not
protected. Someone who wasn't watched every second. Someone who had a little time on his hands, but also a safe place to go to every night.
I knew I wanted all this, so I decided to take a middleclass suburban American teenager. I looked around for a bit and found a few that I observed closely, waiting until one turned up good to go.
The actual hijacking of the body took place about one second before the guy was about to step out from behind a parked SUV into the street and get iced, as they say, by a speeding cement mixer. My candidates were all slackers, you see, not too quick on the uptake, and this one was talking to his friend and stepped off the curb without lookingâor started to. The fact that he missed the last two seconds of his life didn't really matter; I could see exactly what was going to happen. And although technically there's free will and anything could have interfered with his death, like a timely muscle cramp to make him pause on the curbâor heck, a bird could have been flying overhead and suddenly taken ill in midair and fallen on his head and knocked him out the second before he stepped into the streetâthere are laws of physics, and trust me, after millions of millennia, I can spot an inevitability.
Body-snatching is pretty rare amongst my kind. Technically speaking, I broke a few rules, but what are they going to do? Send me to Hell, ha ha?
Anyway, he stepped out into space and I jerked his foot back, and there I was on the curb while he was making his whooshy tunnel-of-light way to the hereafter.
All at once I was in this brand-new, slightly used body. It was a fast-motion fill-up, like pouring myself all at once into a too-tight vessel. I'm not used to boundaries, and to be suddenly constrictedâto need to breathe, to have a
beginning and an endâgave me a feeling ofâ¦well, almost panic.
But then everything else flooded in and I was swimming in a vast sea of sensory information. I wasn't expecting it, and it threw me into confusion. I'd been expecting to just take over, smooth and unnoticedâit looks so easy to be human, considering that they're all a little dimâbut suddenly I could see, hear, feel. It was beautiful.
“Shaun, you okay?” said Shaun's best friend, Bailey. I looked at him through Shaun's eyes, and it was the weirdest thing.
I have never been anything but spiritâanywhere and everywhere I wanted to be, just never in a physical sense. This was the first time I was ever in exactly
place. Before, I could have known what anybody on earth was doing, if I'd felt like it. I wouldn't have been able to see or hear what they were doing, but I would have been
of it. Sort of an amorphous cloud with the ability to inhabit many discrete sites at once.
But now, in a human body, I was immersed in an ocean of details. Every single one of them was crisp, clear, and distinct. I was overwhelmed, so even though I had exactly
personâBaileyâin my field of vision, I only had a dim, muffled idea of what his facial expression and body language might mean, and I had to think really hard
to try and remember a human American word for what I thought Bailey might be feeling right now.
Taking on a body, it seemed, was constricting in more ways than one.
“I'm okay,” I answered, feeling the sound rolling out of my throat like a wave. It was so thrilling, I did it again. “I'm okay,” I told Bailey, and I looked at the way his irises had bright color, a bluish gray. Colorâwhat a concept! What a wonderful thing to see, what a great creation! I had to give the Creator a tip of the hat on that one.
Maybe that's why He never checks on Hell. I didn't realize how intricate, how
, earthly perception was. Could be He was busy with the day-to-day here; either that or He was still resting up from setting all this into motion.
Now I was starting to grasp even more of the details. As I looked around at all the movement, heard noises big and small, felt the warmth of the sunâwhat a coup, the sun! what a terrifyingly beautiful thing to come up with! again, tip of the hat!âand the faint coolness of a breeze that I couldn't see, I knew I couldn't just pick up in the middle of Shaun's day and carry on as Shaun had planned. I had to go back to his house; be alone for some quiet time; get used to this body, this space, this existence.
I wanted to go someplace where nobody could see,
and do stuff like make different noises with my throat and tongue, and pick up things with my fingers, and look at the bottoms of my feet and at my genitalia.
“You sure you're okay?” Bailey asked with a sort of squint to his eyes and a slightly wrinkled forehead, and I remembered that he and Shaun had been heading to Bailey's house, as was their habit, and that since I was taking Shaun's place, I'd better give a reason for changing plans all of a sudden.
“I'm not feeling too good,” I told Bailey. “My stomach hurts.” I thought that was quite a realistic touch. Humans do have stomachaches; they have them all the time. “I'm going to go home and lie down for a minute.”
“Want me to go with you?”
“No, no,” I said, and in a flash of brilliance I added, “Must have been the burrito.” Because that's what Shaun had for lunch, a burrito from the school cafeteria.
“Dude, I told you not to eat that thing.”
“Shut up,” I said happily. That's what Shaun and Bailey say to each other all the time:
. Oh, I was really sliding into the groove!
“Well,” Bailey said, turning away, “if you get to feeling better, come on over.”
“Okay,” I said, still happy, and I started walking off in the opposite direction.
Or tried to. Shaun's legs went to rubber, a confusion
of too many joints, too many muscles and tendons that had to be placed at exact angles. All the while keeping his body upright, his head at the very top of this moving column.
I found myself dipping and weaving and, for a moment, stumbling forward in an effort to remain on Shaun's feet and earn the name
at the very least.
It took a good half a block for me to get a rhythm going, but it was pure fun trying. Having sight didn't help at first, because everything around me rushed toward and past Shaun's eyes at varying rates, depending on its distance from his body. Finally I fixed his gaze on the asphalt a few feet ahead of him, and concentrated on how it
to move his legs. Once I got them going, I marveled at the way they were able to coordinate in perfect rhythmâone miscue and he'd go down in a heap, but no, it was as smooth as if he'd been born walking, so smooth it was downright miraculous.
Then I noticed that with proper leg motions, his arms naturally began to swing slightly, alternating. Somehow this made balancing easier.
I was walking!
I'm sorry I didn't understand what a bang-up job You did on this place.
He didn't answer, of course.
I turned Shaun's head from side to side, taking in all my surroundings, and soon I found that fast movement of this kind made Shaun's eyes perceive things as a blur. So I stopped on the sidewalk and turned around a few times to watch the world lose its form as it passed by. When I stopped, I had a wild sensation that I was still spinning, so much so that I lost my balance again and staggered. When I finally was able to stand up straight and focus, I found that I was facing back the way I'd come from, facing Bailey.
He wasn't looking at me; he was heading up the hill to his house.
I watched his back for a moment, the way
walked. I'd never understood before that humans walked in different ways, even though their speed and length of stride might be essentially the same. Bailey had a lanky, loose-kneed kind of step. It was clear to see, now.
As I stood there, watching with great interest, I realized I could identify what Bailey had been feeling when I took over Shaun's body.
Concern, that's what it was.