And Other Stories



It had been a stupid idea. An incredibly moronic decision. A colossally, breathtakingly boneheaded course of action. Grace felt a strong urge to kick herself, although her legs were busy with running away. She should not have dressed up as a demon for Halloween. More importantly, given that she had decided to do that, she should have worn a costume.

Oh, she was dressed up for the role, of course. She was wearing a strapless red dress, in a bright cherry red. It was pretty short, ending well above her knee. Her shoes were red too, although they were sneakers. That had looked a little silly, but she was quite glad for it now. She had a cheap little plastic pitchfork that was a little darker than the dress, now tucked under her arm as she hurried forward. A maroon tail dangled behind her, long enough to poke out a good ways from her dress's hem before ending in a spade point. Small patches of the same color dotted her face, shoulders, elbows and hands by the dozens. They were like polygons with rounder edges or curving sides, looking like they would mostly fit together with the ones next to them, if not for the gaps. The largest cluster was on her shoulders, and it extended down along her spine, disappearing behind her dress. Little pearly white bumps poked out of the most central patches on her shoulders, elbows, and knees, as well as down the length of her spine. They looked like tiny spikes, although they were rounded at the tips. None of them dotted her face, but two white horns pointed out of her forehead, spaced above her eyes. They tapered to actual points, each parting her brown bangs to either side. Crimson lipstick completed the look.

It really looked like everything had gone into her physical effects budget, leaving rather little to go to the wardrobe and prop. Grace had thought the contrast was amusing, maybe even cute, but it was another reason she was cursing herself, in retrospect. Who would actually put in so much effort to sculpt the spikes and tail, and then bring along a dollar store kid's pitchfork toy? Admittedly, probably a nonzero amount of people, but she imagined it a limited overlap. And the red scale patterns with spikes wasn't exactly a demonic cliche in popular culture, as far as she knew. Although the horns and tail were, and those probably demanded most of the attention, at least. Still, she should have known it was too obvious. She certainly knew it was now.

Briefly, she thought about tossing the pitchfork away, as she hurried towards a street corner. But she didn't want to leave any evidence, and besides, that would be littering. She rounded the bend and then pretty much jumped to the side to avoid bowling a couple people over. She spat out a barely coherent apology and dashed to turn down the next street and get out of sight. That much was motivated more by embarrassment than worry. Okay, so maybe blindly running in no particular direction and taking random turns was pretty stupid, too. The streets weren't full of children now that the formal trick or treating time was well over, but it was still Halloween. There were definitely a lot of people to see her run around like an idiot, dark out or not. Incognito, she was not. And neither was she a distance runner, so she came to a stop to catch her breath. She didn't see anyone following her, which was a good sign. She didn't feel anything to the effect, either, now that she stopped and let herself process it. There were a lot of muddled notes in the background, but not much was directed at her. Lingering surprise, concern, and annoyance from the people she had just been sprinting past. Nothing like that contempt, almost disgust she had felt coming from someone by her side in that party. The thought of it turned her stomach, and she tried her best to shove the cold glance she had turned to meet out of her memory.

She could feel the emotions of people around her. It wasn't specifically a glimpse into people's minds, but a fuzzy and directional awareness. She could mostly only pick out strong feelings, and emotions that were directed towards or caused by her. She had never really been able to put it into words, because it was a basic awareness she had always had. She couldn't ignore it if she wanted to, and sometimes she did. It wasn't like other people's feelings bled into her own; being able to sense that someone was sad didn't dampen her own spirits, at least not in itself. It evoked sympathy, but the way knowing someone else was sad would make anyone sympathetic. At least, Grace was pretty sure that was how sympathy worked. There was an unconscious, involuntary response that went along with the feelings she picked up on. It was most like taste, if she had to compare it to another sense. Apathy and boredom were bland, intense dispassion felt stifling, and disgust had always put her off. Most other "flavors" were good, the more primal or base the better. What she liked the most was pleasure, enjoyment, humor, and happiness. Affection and love seemed somehow warm and light. Surprise brought very short bursts of good flavor, as did most other excitement. The exhilaration of competition was lovely, and so was the frustration that tended to go along with it. Anger and sadness were pleasant, too, especially as they approached rage, hatred, or sorrow. Shock, horror, and fear managed to taste even better than others' pleasure, and Grace had acquired a fondness for horror films because of it. The single best feeling for her to feed on, however, wasn't really an emotion. It was pain.

Grace was a demon. Or a half-demon, or something. She didn't really know for certain. Her father was no expert, either. But he had always said he was quite confident of that much, ever since he had decided she was old enough to hear about her mother. She could feel that he still loved her, but it was clear from what he said that she was a monster. A real one, not just a kind of creature with a nasty reputation. And judging from that extra sense of hers, she thought she could understand. It was some sort of nourishment, not just a sensation, too. It wasn't the most precise thing in the world to gauge, but shifting into more or less demonic-looking forms took some sort of energy, and it wasn't physical. Did her mother need to live entirely off that energy, wringing people out of all the strong responses she could and then leaving for the next? She was of two minds about the fact that someone had just tried to hunt her down for her heritage. Obviously, the larger by far was the one resenting the attempt to exterminate her; she certainly wasn't a monster, even if she was some kind of psychic parasite. But the fact that there were people around to do that was a good thing, maybe. She wasn't sure. She really had no idea of any of it. Maybe she would have been able to explain her situation and avoid any violence. Maybe violence wasn't even on the table, and there was some secret government agency she'd just be entered into, or something. All the same, she was glad she had chanced it on running instead.

With her breath caught, she made her way to a fast food place that was open a little ways away. She was tired, her throat felt a little sore, and she was cold. It was not the time of year to be wearing what she was wearing outside at night, even if it was the day to. At least it hadn't been wet out. She ordered a large fry and sat back in a corner of the place to fill up on nice hot garbage for a bit. She turned her thoughts back to the party, and her heart started to sink. It had been fun. She was going to have to make up an explanation to give her friends, but she didn't even want to start thinking about that yet. She had been so excited to show off her costume, too, cheating as it was. She hadn't even got to really see all the other costumes, either, and there were some impressive ones. Someone had been there in a big cartoon dragon suit thing. It was more like a mascot outfit than a Halloween costume, but Grace had heartily approved. On that note... She apparently hadn't been the only one using the opportunity to not exactly wear a costume.

She set her arms down on the table, and rested her chin on them. She felt a bit odd, in what she had to figure was the sensation of coming down from an adrenaline high. She felt scatterbrained, and like it was only slowly dawning on her that she had almost died. Probably. Maybe. The guy had been dressed up like some kind of stereotypical vampire hunting cliche, which maybe wasn't a big point towards "actual deadly threat". But she had felt the disgust, like her very presence there was offensive, while his face was cold and impassive. And he had spoken up quietly, about how her costume looked "Incredibly realistic. Almost seems too real, you know?" And then he prodded the crossbow he was holding at her. A fucking crossbow! She had no way of telling a realistic prop apart from the real thing, and maybe that was the point. Maybe she was just being ridiculous. Maybe she just got nervous about being out in public as a magical monster and freaked out over nothing. But he had followed her out. "Uuuuuuuuugh."

She pulled her head back up off the table, and finished her fries. She grabbed the silly pitchfork from her lap, and went back outside. She stuck close to the building, within sight of anyone at the window, taking out her phone and dialing. "Uh, hi dad. Hope you're having a happy Halloween. Yeah. Could I ask a favor? Yeah, a ride would be fantastic. I'll text you the address. Mm. Yeah, uh, plans changed. I did something kiiiinda incredibly stupid. Thank you, see you in a bit. Love you too." She hung up the phone, and then let out a sigh. She leaned back against the wall behind her, and shut her eyes for a moment. She could still salvage Halloween yet.

"Hey," said the man in the Van Helsing costume, slowing heavily to a stop. It wasn't really built to run in. Craning his neck to watch the woman sprint off down the street, he took an awkward step forward. Then he shrugged his shoulders, and fiddled with his replica crossbow for a moment. "I wonder what got into her." He turned, and headed back for the party. His date poked out of the door, looking out through the big dragon mask's mouth. "Uh, hey. You know I am really not a fan of skimpy costumes, but it was still a bit much to chase her out of here like that. Just what did you say?"

Grace opened her eyes as she felt a drop of rain land on her head. She looked up at the overcast sky, and then to the cleared out streets. She didn't hear thunder clap or roll, just a slight breeze that almost sounded like a whisper, but something broke all the same. The rain started to fall, quickly going from drizzling to pouring. She turned to get back into the fast food place, but the door was locked. She peered in through the window, and it was all dark. Gritting her teeth, she pulled out her phone. The screen was black, and it refused to turn back on. Slowly, Grace turned around.

A lone figure was standing on the other side of the street, then. They were wearing a long robe with a hood hanging over their head. They were holding a thick book to their chest, much too large to be convenient for any practical use. Silence stretched out for a long moment. The figure took a single step into the street.

"No." The figure paused when Grace said that, before taking another slow, deliberate step. Grace paused for a moment, and then closed her eyes. "No. No." She fumbled for the door again, and pulled. It barely budged, clicking like it was locked. She took a deep breath, and tried again, gently opening the door. This time it worked, and she slipped inside. When she opened her eyes, the room was lit and still full of people. She breathed a sigh of relief, and pointedly didn't look back across the street. She was silently glad for whoever had been staring at her through the window when she was outside. An accidental thread of emotion to follow back inside.

She waited in the corner again, until she felt her phone go off in her pocket with a text. She went outside, keeping her head down and getting into the familiar car in the lot. Her father looked at her with a big, soft smile, and Grace felt herself begin to relax with palpable relief. Her heart had been pounding, she realized. She reached out to give him a little hug, smiling widely. He nodded, and the embrace went on for a good few seconds. Then she pulled back, and buckled up.

"Good to see you, Grace. Do you want to talk? I think I can see what might have been the issue." Love and affection practically radiated off of him, and Grace happily basked in it. There were notes of concern, and an edge of disapproval, but they paled in comparison. He was always a comforting presence, and that was especially true now, when she wanted to put whatever that was behind her.

"Not just yet. It's... complicated. And I think we should probably leave." Grace took a deep breath, and exhaled. She resisted the urge to look back at where the hooded person had been.

"Okay. Well, no rush, open up when you're ready. I've got some leftover chocolates to get rid of, so this is good timing, if you ask me." He smiled a bit wider, and then turned to face forwards and start the car.

Grace laughed just a little, and nodded. "I'll take them off your hands. Consider it my good deed for the day."

The hooded figure stepped back onto the sidewalk, and readjusted the hood. A groan slipped out of the hood, and someone else spoke up behind them. "That could have gone better. You really should have let me take the lead. I can only be of so much assistance to you if you won't heed me. But it's done now. In which case I might suggest we take this time to acquire additional candy."