Today, we are proud to present “Demonman” by Julialicia Case, the winner of our Summer Short Story Award for New Writers. We have never read a story quite like this powerful piece. It takes a few moments to recalibrate to the world in this story, but its horrors address some very real issues. In “Demonman” our eleven-year-old narrator corresponds with her teenage sister, who was the victim of a serial rapist, through a series of emojis. This is a story that will stay with you.
“Was Laura here? Did he really bring her all the way down here? Laura is beautiful the way a knife is beautiful, with thin sharpness and fierce edges. We’re too old now for wrestling, but I remember trying to hold her, fighting that muscle, losing to her strength. The old Laura would bite and twist forever. At what point in the forest did the old Laura become the new one? I search the rhododendrons for dark strands of her hair.”
I am eleven the spring Demonman comes, first to the alley behind the Kroger, where the dumpsters reek like fermented orange juice, then to the train tracks by the boarded-up video store, then to the Harding mansion, still for sale, then to a snot-colored van with flattened tires. He comes to our nightmares, our whispered worries, to newspapers and televisions and notices in the post office. He’s called something else, a different name, although, of course, he is still Demonman. Since the shootings upstate, the police struggle with the race riots, but they claim to be searching for him, following the leads.
“We are confident,” police say on the news. “We are narrowing in.” But everyone has seen cell phone videos of crazy police shootings. They are as afraid and angry as we are.
“The world is ending,” my mother says. She hangs raspberry leaves for drying, and looks to my father who dreams of robots.
“I’m wondering,” he says, “whether self-driving cars let you sit in the driver’s seat.” He spins a micro-screwdriver around his thumb.
Then Demonman comes to our bike path and our forest, to the white pines with the biggest pinecones, between the first bridge and the second one. He comes to the place where my sister, Laura, and I learned to rollerblade, where our mother gathers red clover for sunspot salve, and where our father pretends to go with his recumbent on Saturdays. Demonman comes when Laura is running, practicing for cross-country, when the sun is out and the glint of other people’s windows shines through the trees. The laughter at the duck pond is loud enough she can hear it, and she screams and claws and throws up on her shirt. Demonman wins. Of course he wins.
“Were you wearing headphones?” the policewoman asks her. “Were you by yourself?”
Laura goes into the room with the metal door. She gives them her sports bra and her fingernails. Then she doesn’t speak again. Demonman keeps her voice, and my parents buy me a phone.
“At all times,” my mother says. “I want it with you at all times.”
All the girls have phones like mine, now, sudden gifts from our parents. We have two kinds of hearts: fire hearts and water hearts. The water girls stay inside with their computers and magazines. They write in their journals and read us their poems. They want to walk us home, want to whisper in suffocating groups. They get flooded up and take turns crying. The fire girls cannot sit still. We wriggle at our desks. We fingernail our pencil erasers into scraps of rubber. We break bottles and rip paper, spend satisfying hours demolishing bubble wrap. Our bicycles call to us. Surely our meadows and pastures would not turn against us. We feel Demonman watching in the late spring thunderstorms. His eyes flicker and flash with the lightning. He doesn’t care what’s inside our hearts.