Claudia Mair Burney is the author of the Amanda Bell Brown mystery series and the young adult Exorsistah books. She lives in Michigan with her husband, five of their seven children, and a rabbit. Visit her blog at RagamuffinDiva.blogspot.com.
I hate demons.
A dang-gone demon kept me from eating my French fries.
I'd spent the whole day cleaning Kiki's house from top to bottom, and after all that, sat in her kitchen peeling enough potatoes for an army. My black babydoll T-shirt and Apple Bottom jeans sagged on my body like all my diva had forsaken me. My hair hung in knotty, dread-like ropes down my back. I looked a hot mess, but I didn't mind. 'Cause I was gon' have a spiritual experience with my fries.
As I watched them browning to golden perfection I threw my hands in the air and raised the roof just because they smelled so good.
I dipped the spatula in the skillet and turned the fries over, then tapped off the excess oil to a beat as hot and poppin' as the grease. I ain't gon' lie. I did a lil' booty shaking, imagining myself in a pair of supah-bad kick-butt diva boots I saw at Briarwood Mall. Prada. Black and fine as me. Calfskin luxe, with a kitten heel short enough for me to kick some butt in -- or run if I had to -- and still look fly. I couldn't wait for the day when I'd trade my black leather Timberlands for something so fantabulously glamorous.
I was about to put the spatula back into the grease when the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. The room chilled in an instant, a twenty-degree temperature drop filling the kitchen with a weighty, suffocating cold. My lungs contracted like I had asthma.
I don't have asthma.
You know how Spider-man has spidey-sense? Well, I've got demon-sense.
I turned around real slow -- I wasn't in a hurry to see what had crept into the kitchen. That's when I peeped Kiki's husband, Ray, leaning against the door, leering at me.
Now Ray ain't no joke. Tall, brown, and round in the middle like a teddy bear, only nobody wants to cuddle with him. Not as big as Kiki -- who weighed in at 510 pounds -- but I didn't want to rumble with him. He'd stuffed his hands inside the pockets of his Dockers. His wide girth strained beneath a white T-shirt. Eyes looked all crazy, and a demon the size of a Hummer trailed behind him.
And all I could think was, Dang! That's a big'un.
Now I was used to seeing the freaky lil' demons that always floated around Ray, but this one had to be twelve feet long. Blood-colored with a human-looking face. It had wings extending four feet on either side of its crimson-and-black body. I looked closer and saw the details of an intricate black design covering its back -- almost like a beautiful tattoo. Its tail curled like a live wire around its round, paunchy body. I watched it slither past Ray then rush to the ceiling, writhing and baring its yellow fangs like it was trying to smile at me.
Dang! I just wanted to eat! I hoped against hope that that thing and Ray would leave a sistah to cook her fries in peace.
It wanted to play with me. Shoot, so did Ray. The demon stuck its forked tongue at me, and every time it did, its stank breath pummeled me like a fist.
If you want a good reason not to go to hell, demon funk is a fine choice -- well, that and the whole eternal damnation and separation from God thing.
The demon presence wasn't my only problem. Ray kept inching toward me lickin' his lips like he was 'bout to use 'em.
I balled up my fist.
You don't know me like that, Ray.
I may not be able to physically knock a preternatural being upside the head, but I could bust flesh-and-blood Ray in his. Emme don't play no more. I'd had enough of brothas pushing up on me like I asked for it.
And I hadn't had any food!
Ray had better back on up.
All the while, I had to make sure I kept up with the spawn of Satan. I swiped another glance at it and it winked at me, then did a little shimmy with what I supposed was its hips. Finally it zoomed over to hover behind Ray's head.
I hate a show-off, especially a demonic one.
The demon snaked its head out and whispered something in Ray's ear. I didn't think it was asking directions to the nearest herd of pigs, either. Ray must've liked whatever it said. He gave me the once-over. Again. Bared his teeth. Then the demon peeked around Ray's head and called me the "b" word!
Don't nobody break on me like that, and for sho' not a punk, useta-be angel.
I rolled my shoulders back, straightened my spine, and stood my full 5'11." The demon turned around, showing the intricate design wrought on its back.
Like a fool I stood there staring at it. The velvety blackness on its back seemed to shimmer. It looked almost animated.
That thing could have incapacitated me as I stood there gaping at it! Mama use to tell me Satan could appear as an angel of light. And I'm falling for that demon trick of trying to distract me from battle.
I put my hand on the black onyx rosary beads my mother gave me before they took her away. She never taught me how to pray with them, but they comforted me anyway. Sometimes, when I touched them, I could hear her voice saying, "Pray for us sinners now, and in the hour of our death."
Shoot. This looked bad for me.
I couldn't do any serious spiritual warfare with Ray tryna molest me. Yeah, I could rebuke the demon, but Ray looked ready to get his swerve on, a very human condition.
Clutching the crucifix hanging from my rosary, I felt the same sweet Jesus my mama kissed so many times before she prayed laid out on the cross between my fingers. That's how I put my courage on. If the Lord could hang his broken body on a cross, I could tell a demon in my friend's kitchen to bounce in His name.
I shouted, "I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!" to ol' lusty butt -- the demon, that is.
It winced. So did Ray, but neither of them left. Ray stepped closer to me. I knew it was a matter of moments before that man reached out to touch me in a sho' 'nuff dishonoring way. I tried to push him away. Tried to stay calm.
I didn't want to start scrappin' with Kiki's ol' man. Even though Ray had violated a sistah, I wanted to be respectful. But like I said, Emme don't play.
Finally I yanked the crucifix over my head and thrust it toward the demon, which wasn't easy with Ray in my personal space. I'd try one more time before I started whuppin' heads.
"I said, I rebuke you! Get outta here in Jesus' name, or you gon' get your unholy butt beat. Do you hear me? I said, in Jesus' name."
Ray laughed in my face. "Girl, that cross ain't gon' do nothin'."
The demon recoiled and slunk away, its red talons drawn up and tail tucked into its wide hide.
Ray acted like I hadn't said a mumbling word.
He backed me up against the stove so dangerously close to the flame beneath the skillet I wondered when I'd catch on fire. Even though the demon had gone, I still needed help.
Think, Emme -- like you've got on diva boots.
The hot oil.
I could burn him. It'd be self-defense.
My heart pounded against my rib cage like a convict in jail banging on the bars to escape. I let go of the crucifix.
"The fries are burning. I gotta turn 'em off."
I gotta turn you off, too, I thought.
He moved back enough for me to turn around, and I reached for the knob and twisted it to shut off the gas flame. The grease -- still looked hot enough to do some serious damage. I could picture him melting, fries sticking to his seared flesh.
I'm sorry, God. But I can't take no more. I gotta do this.
Gingerly, I grabbed the handle of the skillet with my bare hand. It felt hot, but not so much that I couldn't handle it. Fear gnawed in my gut more than hunger did.
I moved the skillet, maybe a half an inch. Rage stormed inside me. The acrid smell of burnt French fries hung in the air, mingling with the sulfuric stench the demon had left behind.
Ray ran his hand down my arm.
"You betta stop, Ray. Now."
"Why, baby?" he whispered in my ear. "I been thinking about you."
Let's just say that made me burning mad.
Fry him, Emme.
Kiki called from upstairs. "Is something burning, honey?"
I wanted to shout, "Your husband is and will be," but what I yelled was, "Sorry." And I was.
"She'll wait," he said. "Especially for food."
His dis of my girl offended me. "Back up off me before you get hurt." The mix of dread and anger, coiling in me like a snake, created a volatile combination.
An inner dialogue started inside of me. You'll go to Juvenile Hall if you hurt him, girl. They'll have to find me first.
Leave him be, Emme.
Dang. I didn't want to do that.
Ray must have lost patience with me. Grabbing a fistful of my hair, he sneered, "You're a pretty little black thing."
My mind zeroed in on the word black. Growing up, the kids use to tease me about my skin color. Said I was so black you couldn't see me at night. Or if I went to a funeral I wouldn't have to put on clothes. Ray's comment churned with theirs, making me even madder.
He slid a hand around my waist. "Come on, let me take care of you," he said.
My mind darted back to the first time he'd said that. I thought he meant something else. Since I never had a daddy, I wanted to believe Ray could be a substitute one. I thought he might be different than the other men, that maybe I'd be safe hiding with him and Kiki until I aged out of the foster system. I had a little more than a month left. Then I could stop hiding, and we'd all be happy.
Ray tried to kiss me. For a moment I couldn't move. First of all because Ray's breath was worse than demon funk. But more than that I hated the fact that I'd been in this predicament more times than any sistah should have to be. In foster home after foster home. On the streets. With a lust demon hovering overhead or not.
Ray said, "I'll give you some money."
Like I was a hooker?
"Okay," I said to get him off me. I had my chance. All I had to do was pick up the skillet and stop being a victim.
Only I didn't think the Lord wanted me to fry a brother.
We wrestle not aga...