☰ Cycles

My step dad goes through cycles of inflicting horror and abuse. When he and my mom first got together, he seemed OK. (I will admit, there was never a time I thought he was a ‘normal’ human being; but when they first got together, I still assumed he had some semblance of humanity…)
I was wrong.
Less than a month after they ‘fell in love’, he ‘cycled’.

We were eating at a Taco Bell when it happened.
I finish my meal first and go outside to enjoy a cigarette.
He says: “Stay where I can see you.”
I’m like: “Whatever, I’m 26 years old, I think I can walk around a parking lot and stretch my legs without supervision.” (We’ve been riding around all day--  torture, I just need a few minutes away from him…)
As I get my smokes out of the car, he and my mom sit inside the restaurant and talk.
I slip out of view puffing on my cig.
The next thing I know, he comes outside and slaps me upside the back of the head.
I get so mad I cry.
I say: “What the fuck?”
He is furious, accuses me of talking to some old guy in a car across the parking lot… I tell him to never lay hands on me again. Ever.
He shrugs it off and tries to force me to do as he angrily demands.
I resist and consider putting my cigarette out in his eye and braving the beating that would surely follow.
My mom intervenes. She storms out of the restaurant; the anger on her face overrides her fear at the bizarre new situation we’ve come to find ourselves in.
By the time she and I get home, we are both rattled by how angry her new boyfriend gets over nothing.
A month or so passes.
Unbelievably, they get married (despite what a fucking creep he is) and rent a house together. Instead of moving out, I stay with my mom to keep her safe. (Not that there’s much I can do if he decides to become violent, but I still stick around and try.)
They (mostly my mom) build two businesses out of nothing, and I work for them during the day.
I do payroll and log fuel receipts.
I make copies and calculate paycheck totals.
I answer the phones.
I stay hidden as much as possible when he is around. Basically, my job is to call the law when things get out of control or an argument between them escalates into violence.
As time passes, he blows up occasionally and I begin to see a pattern. Every time he loses his shit and scares us, or says horrible things, I make a note and write down what day it is.
He always has blowouts on the thirteenth. Like clockwork.
It's fucking eerie.
My mom and I become closer. We talk about him a lot.
We call him names and talk about his shortcomings.
We band together, like people tend to do when they have a common enemy.
She realizes her mistake just a few months into the marriage. Her new husband is not suffering from PTSD. He’s not some wounded warrior. He’s not looking to improve himself. He is cruel and enjoys hurting others. He’s a liar, a cheat and a thief. The type of person who would never pick wings off of a fly because he can’t hear it scream, cry or beg for mercy.
She wishes she could take it back, but, we all know how that works. We may be living in a simulation like the scientists say, but there’s no rewind button.
Months pass, and he ‘cycles’ frequently.
Whenever he flips out, my mom shoos me off to my room, tells me to lock the door. I know the drill: keep your phone charged and be ready to call the law.
There was even an incident where he went berserk over "who'd been in the house while he was gone". (Although it was clear at the time that his accusations were ridiculous).
He doesn't like the yardman.
Hates him in fact. I've never even seen the dude, but my stepdad accuses both me and my mother of fucking him.
Sometimes these ‘cycles’ of his last for days.
Other times, only hours.
When the cycle is over, he lets it lie.
Just drops it, like nothing was ever wrong.
9 days later, he goes berserk about something else.
This time, it’s because my mother and I went to the store without permission.
13 days pass.
Stepdemon loses it over whether or not to spray for ants in the garage. He throws things this time. Threatens to beat my mom. Calls us both whores. Tramp-ass sluts and worse. Tells my mom he’ll kill her. That she’s stupid, that she’s a slut.
I frequently daydream about beating him with a baseball bat until his head pops like a fucking melon.
He keeps cycling.
His episodes get closer and closer together. His outbursts; more violent each time.
What happens when the cycle doesn't end? When he never cycles back to the start of his routine?
Something is making him crazier.
It's not drugs. He's on parole and they test for that.
He's mean to everybody, anybody that pisses him off. When he gets angry his voice changes and a vein pops out of he top of his forehead. He spits when he talks and thrashes his portly frame around like a child throwing a fit in the grocery store. He's big and he's fat, but he's also strong, like an ox.
He reminds me of a walrus.
Even sounds like one some days.
Anyway… He doesn’t like that my mother and I have a strong, solid relationship. He hates it when we hug each other or show love. He even tries to tell us not to sit outside and smoke at the same time, in fear that we may be plotting against him. As if.
He gets snappy when I talk to her in front of him. He hates it.
It’s beyond weird.
After a while of living like this, I get depressed and stay in my room most days.
I keep to myself. I write short stories and try to do things that I can control from the comfort of my bedroom. Solitude gets boring fast, so I do some research.
I know you don’t believe in the occult. Hell, I don’t really believe in it either, but when a person gets desperate, they become more willing to suspend reality in favor of comforting notions.
No one really believes in the occult or magic or witches, unless they've seen it in action— but then again, that’s not belief, that’s witnessing proof.
Believing is believing. Knowing is something else entirely.
My aunt is a witch. My mother’s sister. I’ve heard she can do some pretty unexplainable things. I should've asked her for help when we first found ourselves in the life we’re currently living, but I was too chicken shit and my mom asked me not to. It’s hard to admit it to other people when the choices you've made have forced your life to spiral out of control.
So I research his tendencies on my own.
I find a lot of information on gas-lighting. On psychopaths. I learn how they prey on people like my mom, force them to separate from the people that they love. Cut them off from the rest of the world so they can’t tell anyone or ask for help. How women like she and I get suckered into financial abuse.
That’s nothing new.
I already knew he was incapable of empathy. That’s he’s a thief and a liar. That he fakes human emotion to seem normal. (The sad part about it: he’s not very good at faking being nice. Even on his best day, his eyes look malicious.)
When I’ve exhausted all avenues of normal inquiry, I move on to abnormal queries.
“Is he possessed?” I ask my mom one day when he’s gone.
“No.” She says. “I don’t think it’s that.”
“Then what? He made a deal with the devil?”
She laughs, but it’s a sad laugh. Bitter.
“That would explain his good luck. And how he never gets what he deserves…” I add.
My mom looks different than she used to. More tired and sick of everything. It’s all she can do to be nice to even me anymore.
I don’t blame her, and I know how she feels.
It feels like drowning in a swamp of quicksand.
“I don’t think he’s smart enough to conjure up anything powerful enough to grant him any favors. He can barely follow a recipe without me reading it to him.” She says.
I chuckle at her joke, but we both know it’s not really a joke.
I type in a few more searches into the computer and come up with an answer given by someone named ‘Mary C.’
I can't find anymore info on her other than she answers questions about mythological creatures on stackexchange.com, but this is what she said:

Attachment spirits. In Native American and Eastern European shamanism, they attach to people either to vicariously live through them, or to whip up the emotions so they can feed off them. This happens in relationships where the argument whips into a frenzy seemingly on its own. (Aside from hormones.) I don't have a citation, I was married to a native shaman who talked about it.

I tell my mom, but she doesn’t really believe.
Neither do I for that matter.
Over the next few days, I become obsessed with Mary C.’s answer.
How can I tell for sure? How can I see this attachment spirit?
For some reason, I just have to see it.
It takes me 3 days to find a spell that’s doable.
The ingredients are simple, easy to get. The first thing I need is a planchette. Not the Ouija board itself, just the planchette. I order one off of Amazon and wait for it to arrive. When it does, I begin the second part of the spell.
I know you must be thinking I’m insane.
That the stress of living like this has made me a lunatic.
Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for you.
All I know is my obsession. My need to know. Something strong is driving me to find out more. Something is making me to want to see it. Once those thoughts begin to fester in my mind, there is no going back.
The second part of the spell calls for ripe Rowan berries, water and sugar.
Basically, all I have to do is mix all 3 into a paste and soak the planchette in it for 3 days.
The Rowan berries are hard to find, but luckily, I live in Houston and they have a shop for everything here. (I will say this, seeing as he monitors everywhere we go, I was dismayed that you can’t buy ripe Rowan berries via the internet. But such as life.)
I get them, (finally), but it's a hassle.
The idea behind using Rowan berries is that they allow you to see the spirit, but the spirit shouldn't be able to see you. As I did my research, I learned that Rowan berries were notorious for helping a person control and deal with spirits. It never occurred to me that I was dealing with a demon, not a spirit.
Demons and spirits are not the same thing, unfortunately.
One is stronger than the other. Crueler. More gruesome. More prone to destruction and violence. Hatred.
When the planchette is finally ready, I dig it out of the paste, gently wipe it down with a washcloth and take a look through the glass.
I see nothing, and breathe a sigh of relief.
The spell says I have only seven days to use the planchette before the power it absorbed from the berries wears off.
I carry the game piece around in my bra for six days before I finally get a chance to look at stepdemon, without him looking at me.
When it happens, he is watching a game, completely occupied by the television.  Whooping and hollering and clapping his hands. Being loud and obnoxious as usual.
I slip the planchette out of my bra secretly and hold it up to my eye.
I hear them before I see them… Soft, phlegm-filled moans of ecstasy are coming from the couch where stepdemon is sitting.
Clap. Clap. Clap.
“Air it out! Air it out!” he yells at the TV. The sound of his voice makes me cringe. It has a Pavlovian ability to make me fucking nauseous.
Then I hear more moaning. Heavy breathing.
I direct my planchette so that it points straight at him. Slowly. With shaking hands and fingers that have begun to sweat.

There are three of them. None of them have eyes.
They are gray skinned. Balding with fat bellies and unnaturally skinny appendages. Licking his skin and rubbing his sweaty, glabrous head. When he moves, they move. They whisper into his ears. He looks oblivious, but I know he’s not. He hears them and all they say to him, he just doesn’t realize he does.
I gasp and force myself not to scream.
My face is frozen in horror and shock, even though I know I shouldn't be surprised.
They writhe and wiggle around him, never breaking physical contact with their victim.
He yells at my mom to bring him a glass of wine.
All three hags gasp and moan louder.
Just then, the planchette breaks. The glass splinters before my eyes.
A tiny piece of glass lands in my right eye.
I jump.
The last thing I see before hiding the looking glass and running to the bathroom to wash out my eye are the hags jerking their necks in my direction. When I get the minuscule debris out of my eye, I head to the garage and smoke two cigarettes. Back to back.
My hands shake. My heart pumps a million miles a minute.
What did I just see? Am I in danger now?
Could they do to me what they’ve done to him? What have they done to him? Have I been wrong about him being evil, is it really them?
No… No.
I am not wrong.
On my phone, I Google what I saw. It says they could be night hags or succubi or demons or spirits. It really doesn’t matter what they are. I know what they are: eyeless hags that feed off torment. They attach themselves to someone who likes to inflict torment, that way they never go hungry. No. I am not wrong about him.
I rush back to my room. I have to pass the stepdemon, who is still sitting sprawled across the couch like the obese nuisance he is. I try not to look at him.
Once in the safety of my bedroom, I throw the planchette in the trash. I sit in my closet with my dog in my lap with the light on just to feel safe for a moment. When I stop shaking I come out of hiding, take a long, hot shower and go to bed.
I have horrific nightmares, but that is to be expected. After seeing what I’d seen, if I ever slept soundly again, it would be a miracle.
What I don’t expect was that the tiniest fragment of glass was still stuck in my eye. What I do not expect is to see one of those mottle-skinned hags leaning over my bed, inhaling the fear rolling off of me.
She positions herself on the edge of the bed rail, her gray, slimy fingers wrapping around the chipping gold paint. Her thin, sore covered legs are poised to pounce, like a cat stalking its prey. Her arms are so long and skinny, she could reach out a hand and touch my face from the foot of my bed. My dog growls at her from beside me.
The hag’s head is pointed in my direction.
I gather up my pup in my shaking arms.
Smooth gray skin where eyes should be aim themselves at me like weapons.
I never should have looked.

Rather than scream, I tell my pupper I love her. That she’s a good girl. To close her eyes and don’t worry.
Curiosity killed the fucking cat, I think to myself as I soothe my furry companion.
She whimpers and I close my eyes despite the pain of the glass pressing into my eyeball.
Nothing happens.
Minutes feel like hours and nothing happens.
When I open my eyes, the hag is gone.
There are two possible explanations for why I am still breathing.
  1. The hag was put off by how much I love my dog. She was sickened that fear and torment didn’t win. That, no matter what happens to me-- my love for my true family; my mother and my dog remains unbroken. That my love for them was so strong, it kept me safe.
  1. The spell wore off. Just in the nick of time.

I may never know the truth about what saved me that night, but I choose to believe the first of those reasons is the truest one.
So, in closing, I have this to say: Before you ask a question, be sure you really want the answer--- whatever it may be. You might be surprised at what stares back at you from the abyss.
Life can be what we make it. There is hope, but there is also darkness. Evil people are everywhere. Some of them are manipulated by invisible strings like puppets. Others train themselves to be the way stepdemon is because they’re tired of being stepped on.
Then, there are people like me.
Folks who are driven to find out more. People who don’t believe, but know.
People who have access to lots of nasty spells and the power to use them. Never underestimate your own power.
All it took was a little self discipline on my part, the will to do harm to someone who deserves it, time, and most importantly,  patience.
I always wanted to be a witch.
I guess I am one now.
With any luck, by the next full moon, I will have completely turned the tables.
It will be him, wishing he never met me.

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My novel, Trigram, is in the works, but in the meantime, I'll probably be working on short stories such as the ones on Wicked Shorts. (Wink)

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