Ecstasy and Exorcism

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PREVIOUS: Rise and Repent

FIRST: The Chosen Few

My field ops mostly consist of standing around and looking scary or throwing a few fireballs at empty cop cars. I'm not terribly comfortable with the idea of killing anyone, even if they are complete bastards. Still, with an extra pair of hands, our operations move a lot faster and I'm able to spend more time doing other things with Natasha. Natasha forgets all about her android catgirls; her new pet project becomes conjuring up a super robot. Mine becomes finding increasingly outlandish places for us to shag and smirking at Diya afterwards.

But Diya's a tricky bitch who doesn't go down easily. After one shoujo club meeting, she asks if I can teach her and Natasha how to make demonarcotics. Her rationale is that now that I'm in the field, things are a lot dicier. If I get hurt, then the entire Specter will be crippled.

Natasha concurs with Diya's argument. I demur. This is what makes me valuable to Natasha. If she can do what I do — no, if Diya can do what I do, then I'm toast.

I don't tell her that. I explain to them that demonarcotics is a highly precise science that could melt their brains out of their ears if it isn't done perfectly. That's why I'm the woman for the job. I'm the only person who knows what the hell I'm doing. The words flow easily from my mouth, like a bug in my ear is feeding me lines.

Natasha seems convinced and is content to ask me to write down a few simple recipes at least. But that evening I find Diya poking around my chemistry setup. Immediately I think of bashing her head into the corner of the workbench. I force myself to ask her, slowly and exaggeratedly, what the hell she's doing. She says she's just curious. I tell her not to touch my equipment and she shoots back that it's an open coven — what's mine is hers and hers is mine.

What goes unspoken is that Natasha is mine.

I go to bed that night imagining the crunch of Diya's skull as I take a claw hammer to it.

My third outing with the Chicago Specter is a raid on a corporate data center. While Natasha and Tracy Tzu steal hard drives out of the server room, I have to stand around with a fireball in hand and look menacing so that the IT guys don't try anything funny. The shades and Festie Fever Cheshire Cat Rave Bandanna help, as does the enchantment Natasha put on me to temporarily deepen my voice.

There's not really much to do at first; the IT guys are more than happy to cower on the floor rather than try to be a hero. But then a bunch of security guards enter the room, hands above their heads, with Diya trailing behind them.

This was not part of the plan, and Diya knows it. I snap at her, but she defends herself by saying that they were going for the alarm and it was either this or kill them. I counter with the fact that she was supposed to incapacitate them. She tells me not to pretend like I know better than her. I tell her I don't have to.

At that moment, one of the guards drops his hands and reaches for something at his belt. I flinch. The fireball flies out of my hand.

There's a surreal quality to watching a man die. I can taste the copper in the air. The scent of burning hair invades my nostrils. I pick up an odor like liver, and then something musky, like a thick perfume.

I learn later that that's the scent of boiling cerebrospinal fluid.

The guard stops, drops, and rolls, but the fire won't go out. He won't stop screaming. Neither will the IT guys. I can't stop watching. My shriek dies in my throat.

Natasha and Tracy walk into the room and stare, dumbfounded.

The man rolls for another minute and then stops. The last thing I see as I flee through our escape portal is his burning corpse.

Back in the coven, Natasha yells at me for a full hour about blowing their carefully-crafted plan. Her voice washes over me like a bath of sour milk, but I barely register it. I can't stop thinking about the sound of the man's skin crackling. Or the fact that he probably had a home and a family. Or the way his body smelled like burned red meat.

I let spiders out of the house instead of swatting them. Once I cried because my friend squashed a caterpillar. I don't kill people.

Natasha eventually apologizes and tells me she loves me. I don't reply. I think I need to see a therapist.

Later, after Natasha's fallen asleep, I slide out of bed and go to the fridge. The only alcohol inside is a bottle of Smirnoff. It tastes like marker fluid smells and makes my throat burn like I'm chugging bleach. This is the first time I've ever had anything harder than rose. I ought to be puking up my insides.

But I don't. The burning in my throat subsides nearly immediately. My heart whirrs. A warmth spreads throughout my chest.

There's a whisper in my ear. It's the bug telling me that everything's going to be okay. I trust the bug.

So I listen when the bug tells me to shake Diya awake in the middle of the night. At first she tries to push me away. Then she sees the look in my eyes and groggily follows me into the living room.

I push Diya on the couch and start relaying the bug's words. I know exactly what the fuck Diya is doing: she's trying to replace me. She's trying to learn my secrets. She's trying to make me look incompetent. She's trying to steal Natasha from me.

The bug's voice rises to a fever pitch. Mine follows. I tell Diya that if she doesn't back the fuck away from Natasha, I will beat her into a pulp. My hands start to heat up. I glance down and see that they're on fire. I like that.

I hear a noise from behind and turn around to see Natasha standing in the doorway, head cocked. She does not look happy.

Admittedly, things do not look good. Diya is practically cowering on the couch. I'm looming over her with hands that are on fire. And judging by the look on Natasha's face, she's heard everything I've said for the last five minutes.

I start to say something. Natasha raises a hand and tells me that we'll talk about it in the morning. Then she tells both me and Diya to go the fuck to bed.

I lie awake the rest of the night. When I try to snuggle against Natasha, she rolls over and pushes me away.

I think of all the ways I can take a knife to Diya's throat.

Things are tense around the breakfast table the next morning. Tracy makes waffles, but she's the only one with an appetite. I reach for the syrup anyways, but my hand touches the bottle at the same time as Diya. We exchange cold glares.

Then Natasha reaches out and yanks the syrup away from us. What, she asks politely, the fuck were we doing last night?

We both start talking at once. Natasha raises a hand again and we fall silent. She points to Diya first.

Diya spins a yarn about how I cruelly tore her from her bed in the middle of the night in a drunken stupor. She gives an impassioned speech about how I'm clearly not cut out for running with the crew and need to take some time off. She even brings up my first kill as evidence of my unfitness. The memory makes my stomach hurt.

Natasha listens to her silently. Then she turns to me and asks for my side of the story. I wait for the bug to tell me what to say.

It remains silent. Natasha's stare bores into my soul. Tracy watches us, frozen with a forkful of waffle halfway to her mouth.

I tell Natasha the only thing that comes to mind: the truth.

She asks why I never said anything to her before. I want to say I was afraid that she'd believe Diya over me. If I do, though, I've all but admitted defeat.

I remain silent.

She asks if this means I only became a magical girl to compete with Diya.

I remain silent.

Natasha's expression tightens. She and Tracy exchange looks. I've never seen her do that before. Then she tells me that she's going out for groceries with Tracy. Diya and I are staying put.

We sit in the coven on opposite couches, ditzing around on our phones and pointedly ignoring each other. Once or twice I shoot her a furtive look, only to meet one of her own.

The bug comforts me with the thought that when Natasha comes back, she'll definitely kick Diya out of the coven. I should relax — try my latest demonarcotic.

I retrieve a bong and packet of shredded rakshasa from my workshop, fill it with water, and bring it back to the coffee table. Diya watches me with an upturned eyebrow as I take a test drag. Her other eyebrow raises as I pack the bong with bits of rakshasa and light it up.

I take a hit from the bong and almost immediately start coughing. Diya scoffs.

"Pass it over."

I raise an eyebrow at her. She reaches out with a hand. "Let me show you how it's done."

The bug tells me to give it to her, so I hand it over with the lighter. Diya wipes the mouthpiece with her sleeve and lights up. She takes the hit much more cleanly than me, exhaling a thick cloud of pink smoke. It has a meaty smell to it.

"Good shit," she says, and passes it back. I nod and light up again, attempting to emulate her. This time, I manage not to choke on my own fumes. Tastes like… beef, I think.

We take turns. Diya moves onto my couch to make things easier.

After our third hit, there's an unspoken agreement that we're done. We both laze on the couch in a contented haze. I take a closer look at Diya and realize that she's actually kind of hot.

The bug points out the dimples on her face. The silky smoothness of her hair. The way her lips purse, giving her an adorable pouty look while she browses on her phone.

The bug tells me to kiss her. I comply.

Diya pulls back like she's been electrocuted. Then I hear the sound of shattering glass and turn to see Natasha standing in the room. There's a grocery bag full of smashed lab flasks at her feet.

Natasha doesn't shout or scream. She just talks at me with a flat tone. I'm barely listening; the bug tells me to focus on the bong. Part of me — the part that loves Natasha, that hates Diya, that cannot believe what the fuck I just tried — is screaming at the other part: the large, languid part of me that desires only to lie across on the couch. It's screaming at me to sit the fuck up and save my relationship. The bug tells me to take another hit. I obey.

Natasha's eyebrows shoot up and she clenches her teeth. She asks me if I love her or not. When I tell her I do, she asks why I kissed Diya. Diya leaps off the couch and rushes to stand behind Natasha, claiming the whole time that I came onto her.

I shrug and take another hit. Natasha's hands clench into fists. Diya smirks at me. It's the same one I give her when she sees me smooch Natasha.

Abruptly, it clicks: the smoke smells like burning pork. At the thought, all the guilt I've been repressing rises up. Bile rises with it. My head hurts. I want to cry.

The bug comes to my rescue. Don't cry, it says. Don't feel guilty. If you do you'll just destroy yourself.

Feel angry! Get pissed at them! They want to scream at me while I'm still reeling from what happened to that man? They should be throwing me a fucking party. That murder was the best thing that ever happened to me. It finally took my training wheels off and shoved me down the hill. No more fear or hangups. There's nothing holding me back now.

I don't have to take this from Diya anymore. I don't have to take anything from anyone.

The bug's voice is starting to sound like mine.

I swing my legs off the couch and stand up, bottle in hand. Then I toss the bottle aside and slam my fist into my palm.

Natasha draws back, but I'm not interested in her. I push her aside and stalk towards Diya. Diya chants a spell, and a blue fireball appears in each hand.

I'm high as fuck and practically fireproof. She lobs a fireball at me and I catch it, letting it envelop my hand. Then I clench it into a fist and swing. She might be fireproof too — but I'm just going to tear her heart right out of her bloody chest.

Natasha jumps in front of me. I don't care. Someone needs to die.

My hands pass through Natasha's chest like water, and then enter the blood and viscera. It's like dipping my hands into oobleck — an ectoplasmic metaphor; my brain approximating the sensation of touching Natasha's magic the same way a toddler approximates a painting of Rembrandt.

Natasha sucks in air as her hands fall limp. Diya watches frozen. I smirk at her — it's the one I give her after smooching Natasha, but there's no smugness behind the smile. Just the assurance that she's next.

My hands hit frozen oobleck. I worm my hands around the source of Natasha's ki — of all the metaphors to pick, why that one — and pull. A ghostly, pulsating heart forces its way from Natasha's chest with a squelch. Not her real heart, but an ethereal one, dripping with energy — the prime conduit for her magic. And now it's mine.

Natasha was nothing without me, the bug tells me. She's lucky to have me. She needs me the way I need her — and she needs to be reminded of that. She needs to know what it's like to be me.

I push Natasha away and tear into the heart with my teeth. It tastes like cold iron. The magic that floods through my bones feels like fire.

Natasha stumbles back into Diya's arm and reflexively throws a fire-blast at me. Nothing happens. She stares at her hands in shock.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" she asks.

The pounding in my head subsides. The cold iron smothers the fire in my heart. I stagger back and fight to keep the bile from rising out of my throat.

What's wrong with me is that I'm a junkie who just crippled my girlfriend.

No, my ex-girlfriend. I've ruined our relationship. I've cocked it right the hell up.

How can I even begin to make this right? Can I?

I need to get out of here right now.

My heart responds. A portal opens up underneath my feet — I hope it's to hell. There's a painful tingling in my stomach as I fall straight downwards. Wind that isn't there rushes past my ears. I feel the chill of the void in my toes. For what seems like an eternity my lungs feel ready to burst and I'm submerged in slime and my body is being stretched into spaghetti. Then the eternity subsides. I take a deep, deep breath and collapse to my knees and puke.

I look up. I'm not on the Moon anymore. Something — in my chest — tells me that I'm not even in my own universe anymore. I'm somewhere else.

I silently beg the bug for help. It doesn't respond.

I'm alone.

I start to cry.

NEXT: Hard Machine

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