Subterranean Press Magazine: Summer 2011
Demons, Your Body, and You by Genevieve Valentine
Between sophomore and junior years was the summer my parents sent me to the urban day camp, and Katie got impregnated by the demon.
My parents told me the day I came home, so that I would know why she might not be coming back to school.
Finally I managed, “How is she?”
“Feeling pretty badly about what she did, I imagine,” said my dad, like that had better be the case or else.
“Can I see her?”
“Sure,” said my dad. “But let’s wait a while, hey? You have a lot on your mind with school coming up.”
My mom nodded. “Now do you see why we sent you to that day camp?”
Only if she got pregnant on a school day while I was at a museum, I thought.
The way my parents had sounded, Katie would never have the disrespect to show her face after what had happened, but when I went out to the bus stop on the first day of school, there she was.
Katie and I weren’t close. We were just proximity friends; three houses down. (For Winter Ball freshmen year her mom had driven there and my dad had driven back, and we knew each other just well enough to be happy because my dad was less likely to take photos and her mom was less likely to shout the pick-up time out the car window in front of everyone.)
I don’t know what I had expected Katie to look like now—maybe that she’d have the little horns coming out of her forehead or something. But she looked the same as last year, except for the circles under her eyes, and since we weren’t really friends I didn’t know what to say.
Finally I said helpfully, “You don’t look pregnant.”
She frowned, shrugged. “It might not be as accelerated as they tell you. Usually it takes, like, six months for a demon to gestate, and since it’s half-human, nobody knows.”
“Are you feeling okay?”
“I guess,” she said. “My dad’s talking to this coven. They’re going to try to summon him.”
I tried to imagine the magnitude of my embarrassment if my dad was tracking down some demon I had gone all the way with. “Are you okay?”
For a second Katie’s eyes welled up; then she looked down the street, gripping the straps of her book bag in both hands.
“We’re going to miss opening bell,” she said.
By the end of lunch on the first day of school, this was what everyone knew:
- Katie was disgusting. (“How could she let that happen? What was she THINKING?”)
- It was probably rape. (“Sure you can drink like a rock star if you want, but look what it gets you.”)
- There was no way it was rape. (“Do you know how much sex you have to have with a demon before he can get you pregnant? Forget it. That is a two-person pregnancy.”)
- The demon was hot. (“Like, SO hot. You would have ripped his pants off, don’t even fool yourself. I’m proud of her for getting it when she could. Too bad that ship sails as soon as your ankles blow up.”)
- She had stopped coming to church. (“Just as well. What if she bursts into flames or something?”)
- She was looking swollen. (“I mean, she already has two chins. Poor thing.”)
What actually happened was, Katie sat all lunch period at one of the loser tables near the assembly stage, the tables that only had three chairs, and didn’t say a word.
Ms. Parker began our first Health Studies class with a speech about abstinence.
She started reading from a binder labeled YOUR BODY AND YOU, but after a little while she got carried away and went off-book, looking very seriously at everyone in the room, one at a time, except Katie.
“It’s imperative that you use self-control,” she said, pointing at a projection of two teens holding hands. “Sexual feelings are perfectly normal, but you are simply too immature to handle the consequences. Your teenage years are no time to be thinking about getting some sex.”
Next to me, Cody Reese snickered.
“There’s just no way for you, at this age, to be ready for all the possible consequences once you’ve given in to sex,” Ms. Parker said. “This is the best reason to practice abstinence NOW, before your hormones run away with you. Forewarned is forearmed.”
There was a pause as the class made an effort not to look at Katie.
“You have to be careful,” Ms. Parker said, dropping her fist into her palm for emphasis. “Sex is a big commitment, and you never know what can go wrong. For example,” she said, both eyebrows up, “you can get pregnant the very first time you have sex.”
Cody went a little pale.
“For example,” Ms. Parker said, “you can get pregnant even if you use a condom. Condoms break.”
“And demon sperm eats right through a condom,” Katie said. “For example.”
The whole class turned to look at her.
“Forewarned is forearmed,” she said.
Katie’s dad stopped by to ask Dad to help with the coven that was coming over.
“We don’t want you to worry,” Mr. Banks said to my mom and me. “I mean, in case it looks unorthodox. Things will be fine.”
Behind him, three women in business casual were walking up his driveway.
“Of course,” said my mom, all sympathetic. “Good luck with the summoning.”
When they had gone we went back to the dinner table, and my mom said a lot of things like, “I hope it works out for the best,” and, “It must be so hard for them,” that were all Adult Code for, “Thank God my daughter’s not knocked up.”
If you looked out the window to Katie’s house, there were little flickers of light in the family room.
When my dad came home I was already in bed, and I crept down the hallway until I could hear what was going on downstairs.
“The summoning got so bad Tom and I had to hold her down,” my dad was saying, “but not a damn thing happened. If you ask me, that coven’s overcharging. Bunch of nonsense effects, and she’s still as pregnant as ever.”
“Well, that’s what happens,” said my mom, like it was all exactly what she figured if you brought some cut-rate coven into the house.
Even though the teachers had been told not to mention it, we heard a lot about fertilization and demons in the next couple of months.
I don’t know if it was because they were trying to prepare us for Katie’s pregnancy somehow, or they wanted to punish Katie for getting pregnant. I guess it was the kind of thing you couldn’t stop thinking about, and it was just weirder to see it coming from the grown-ups.
(“This week, let’s take a look at some of the religious history of the demon people,” said Mr. Harris, the history teacher, and he gave Katie a look so disappointed that even Cody made a face.)
Other kids talked about Katie all the time, which was kind of awful but at least it was more honest than what the teachers were doing.
I kept hearing the report that the demon had been hot. No one had seen him, but it seemed to be the consensus, and Katie hadn’t contradicted it.
Sumati said that it didn’t matter how hot he was if he had gotten Katie pregnant and then just left her. She had a point, but he was a demon, so what did Katie expect?
(Everyone knew demons didn’t stick around. I guess. People seemed to know a lot about demons that I had never known, all of a sudden.)
We studied the mitosis of demon cells, and the history of human-demon relations, and the importance of self-control when it came to sex, until even I started feeling ashamed when I walked into school in the morning.
Katie must have lodged a complaint after the human/demon Punnett Square worksheet in bio, because the assignment was reissued with sweet peas like usual.
But Cody was her lab partner, and he told everyone at our lunch table that Katie had done the demon Punnett anyway and just stared at the outcome.
“Turns out horns are a dominant trait,” he said, “and her kid’s chances do not look good.”
The doctor Katie had been seeing told her after ten weeks that he felt unsafe handling a fetus that would soon burst out of her stomach and devour her immortal soul in its ungodly crawl forth from her womb, so she texted me and asked me for a ride to Planned Parenthood.
When we got there, there were people in church T-shirts waving signs with fetuses on them, screaming and chanting.
“That’s my church,” Katie said when she saw them.
“Oh, shit,” I said.
Katie sat in the car for a long time before she took a deep breath, opened the door, and got out.
The crowd looked over at us and started the screaming again, louder, but as they saw Katie, one by one, everybody stopped chanting.
There was a long, confused silence.
Even after Katie started forward (with me following her, trying to look intimidating), the crowd didn’t pick up the chanting again; they were looking at one another, baffled about what exactly to tell her to do.
By the time she opened the clinic door, two people in the crowd were arguing.
“But it’s a DEMON.”
“It’s still God’s creature!”
“By definition, that’s not true,” Katie called over her shoulder, and then we were inside.
The receptionist asked Katie if she wanted me to go in with her. She looked at me.
“Sure,” I said. I’d never seen a demon baby.
(Turns out it looks like a rolled-up shrimpy smudge, with tiny horns.)
She might have teared up a little during the sonogram. I looked really intently at the posters on the wall until we were alone.
“You going to keep it?” I asked, as she was getting dressed again.
“I don’t know,” she said. “What if I call the vengeful demon hordes down on me or something because I did the wrong thing one way or the other? I don’t know how all this goes.”
“The summoning didn’t work?”
Katie shook her head. “They’re going to try again next week. Not like it matters, anyway. Bringing him back won’t make me less pregnant.”
“Maybe it could,” I said. Demons could do a lot of things; they could probably absorb fetuses or whatever.
But Katie gave me a look, and I realized she meant that, even if the baby disappeared, the fact that she had gotten pregnant never would.
For the first time I thought how weird that was, and how sad it was.
Just for a second, I wondered why she’d slept with the demon; as far as I knew, no one had ever actually asked her. Then I looked over at her, and she seemed so alone that I didn’t really wonder anymore.
“I went to day camp over the summer,” I said.
She frowned. “That’s…cool.”
“It was awful,” I said, “but I completely fell in love with this guy named Patrick.”
She zipped up her hoodie and looked at me.
“I mean, seriously,” I said. “It was the worst. You can’t imagine how hard it was just to try not to stare at him all the time. I looked like a complete asshole. I will literally never recover.”
After a second, Katie said, “Yeah,” in that tone people use when they’ve decided to really be your friend.
On the way out, the people from her church had taken a vote or something, because they chanted, “All babies are God’s babies!” and “God loves demons, too!” until we were peeling away.
I spent seven weeks at that urban day camp going to historical landmarks and hitting museums and, once, going out to a farm.
Every minute of it was awful, and it was double-awful because of Patrick, who had messy hair that he was always pushing back from his forehead.
(Once I got away from the day camp I realized how stupid a thing this was, but when you’re a hostage on a school bus five days a week during your summer vacation, you get Stockholm Syndrome.)
He had a crush on Linda Rich, but he thought I was okay, so sometimes we’d sit together on the bus and I would play it really cool and try not to think about the backs of my arms sticking to the seat.
I must have played it really cool, because he shared a joint with me the morning before we got on the bus for the field trip to the City Museum, so by the time I got there I was a little high.
A little high was plenty—I took one look at that huge slinky slide and knew I’d snap my wrist in half if I even tried—but Patrick went up all the slides and found the ball pit and crawled around in the plane fuselage, better than he did anything sober, which I guess tells you some people are just cut out to be high.
When I went up to the roof for air, I saw the bus.
It was on a corner of the building; the back half was planted on the roof, but the front half of the bus just stuck out into the air, and it was open if you wanted to go in it, but you had to trust that the welding or whatever was going to hold you up. Otherwise you were going down eight stories in half a bus.
I sort of wanted to do it. I trusted buses more than slinkys, and I wanted to see what the city looked like when you were high, just in case it was different.
(I hate heights. I must have been pretty high to forget how much I hate heights.)
I made it into the back half of the bus, and I started for the front like a normal person who trusts welding. But with the next step I was afraid, and then I was more afraid, and then I swore I heard the bus pulling free until it was just a huge seesaw with me in the middle.
I ended up at the exact point the bus takes off from the roof (I don’t know how I knew that, but I did). I stood there sweating with terror until, finally, some six-year-old came in and told me to get out because it was his turn, and because I figured his weight would hold down the back half, I was able to scramble back out to the roof.
I couldn’t imagine what Katie was thinking about keeping the baby or not, but I knew what it felt like to be paralyzed about something, even when you knew better.
Katie’s parents went out of town to follow up on some lead the coven had found, and they asked my parents if Katie could come over.
“We don’t want to treat her like she’s a child,” they said, “but there is a judgment question here. Plus, it would be better to have someone nearby if something happens with the baby.”
“Of course,” said my mom, even though my dad looked nervous, like the house would be overrun with a business-casual coven taking us all by surprise.
When Katie showed up, my mom looked at her stomach first. She didn’t look any different yet—you’d never guess she was pregnant if you didn’t know—but it still took my mom a second before she made eye contact.
At dinner, my mom talked a lot about my summer camp before she got up the nerve to look directly at Katie. When she asked how Katie was she got a “Fine, thank you,” and that seemed to cheer her up.
“And how’s school?”
“The teachers are really nervous about my pregnancy,” Katie said. “I think they’d rather I drop out, especially Ms. Parker, since I’m probably not going to do so well in Sex Ed this semester. I’m out of orchestra because I’ll be too pregnant by Regionals and they want the chair assignments to last all year, and my church has asked my parents not to bring me until we know if the demon’s going to eat my soul or not.”
My dad was staring at his plate, twirling a forkful of pasta that was already bigger than his mouth.
“At least I can sleep in on Sundays,” Katie said after a second, like she wanted to wrap the story on an up note.
“That’s nice,” said my mom.
“I really loved him,” Katie said.
I was on the floor in my bedroom (pregnant girls get the bed), and when I opened my eyes I was staring at my dresser. I turned so I could look at the ceiling.
“It sounds so stupid,” she said, a little angry, “because of all this shit that happened, but I really did. And I made him use condoms, because I was afraid of getting pregnant, and he just…never told me what could happen. I don’t know why he wouldn’t tell me, if he didn’t even want the baby.
“I mean, clearly it was because he never cared,” she said, and now her voice was tight, like she was trying not to cry. “But I just don’t understand it—even if you don’t care, why wouldn’t you warn someone who loves you that much? I was an idiot.”
“I don’t think you’re an idiot,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “Tell that to everyone at school who thinks I was just in it for the sex.”
“Everyone says he was really hot,” I said, like maybe it would make her feel better to know some people at school were just jealous of anyone who scored big.
Katie laughed once, into my pillow. Then we were quiet for a while. I turned on my side; I could see her silhouette curled up under my comforter.
“The glamour comes off,” she said, finally, with a sigh. “As soon as you kiss one, the glamour goes.”
The next time I gave Katie a ride to Planned Parenthood, she went in alone.
I sat in the waiting room and flipped through a four-month-old copy of Seventeen (the fact that they even stocked Seventeen made me seriously sad), and tried not to worry too much, but I kept one ear open for the first sounds of demon calls as they burst through the ceiling of the clinic demanding vengeance for the murder of their ungodly seed.
(I didn’t have any weapons on hand except a rolled-up magazine, but still, I’d fight them if they came.)
But the only thing that happened was the nurse coming out to tell me that Katie was resting after her procedure, and it would be a couple of hours, if I wanted to come back later.
“I’m good here,” I said, and picked up a three-month-old copy of People.
Katie looked a little pale, and on the way back she was glancing out the window a lot.
“Do you feel like they’re coming?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t think so,” she said.
She sounded like she was about to cry, and after a second I realized what she must be thinking about.
“I’m sorry he never came back,” I said.
I was quiet after that, and she rested her fingertips on the window and breathed carefully in and out, like her ribs hurt.
After a long time she said, “I’ve been looking at some colleges.”
“That’s awesome,” I said.
The next day, Ms. Parker gave us a lesson on the terrors of abortion.
“It’s dangerous,” she said, ticking off points on her fingers. “As with any medical procedure, it has an uncertain outcome.”
“Just like pregnancy,” said Katie.
Ms. Parker kept going. “And it has documented psychological side effects. Depression, shame, guilt.”
“I wonder why,” I said.
“Seriously,” said Cody from next to me, the first time he’d said anything in Sex Ed class all year, and he and Katie and I smiled at each other for a second, like Musketeers.
During enrollment in the spring, Katie signed up for a bunch of AP classes.
There was some confusion about it amongst the teachers, like getting pregnant had lowered her IQ, but of course she tested into them all.
“Well,” said my mother when she heard, and glanced down the table at me, like maybe I would be more dedicated to my schoolwork if only I’d had a pregnancy scare to motivate me.
The weekend before Spring Break I took Katie to the City Museum, and we climbed into the bus.
“This is already more fun than doing it high,” I said.
“Problem child,” she said.
There’s a picture I took of her, and even though it’s a little blurry because I took it from halfway back in the bus, you can still see it’s Katie at the wheel, grinning, driving out into the sky.
Genevieve Valentine‘s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Journal of Mythic Arts, Fantasy Magazine, and Apex, and in the anthologies Federations, The Way of the Wizard, Running with the Pack, Teeth, and more. Her nonfiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, and at Tor.com. Her first novel, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, is forthcoming from Prime Books.