• Moriah looked at her crude map and then back up at her surroundings. She was completely lost. The bell for her first period had long since rung, but she still hadn’t found her English class. When she spotted what at first appeared to be a dark smudge and later turned out to be a boy with deep black hair and equally dark clothing, she ran up to him before he could get out of sight. “Can you tell me where Mrs. O’toole’s room is?” she asked after tapping his shoulder. He whipped around and Moriah nearly gasped: his eyes were soulless. For a few seconds he scanned her up and down, taking her in.
    “I’ll walk you there,” he replied quietly, turning back the way he had come. “It’s your first day.” It wasn’t a question; it was an acknowledgement. Moriah nodded. She couldn’t think of anything to say, so she walked beside him silently. Brief glimpses and sounds of classes reached them whenever they passed by a door.
    It was easy to observe the black-haired boy because he never looked back or returned Moriah’s gaze even though he probably felt it. Every time they came to a corner or a bend he would become cautious, peering around the edges as if scared that someone would find him. “Will they give us a detention if they find us in the halls?” she asked, meaning the teachers. It was that way at her old school, but she hoped it wasn’t that way here.
    “They won’t.”
    “Won’t what?”
    “Find us.” A few seconds later he stopped by a door that she had passed by several times. He nodded towards it, and then slipped through the door and out of sight. Moriah stared at the place where he had been with an empty gaze for a few seconds before twisting the handle and going inside the room behind him.

    The lunchroom was crowded and noisy by now, filled as it was with high schoolers all laughing and joking with their friends. “So what do you think of this place so far, Moriah?” a girl named Shannon asked. By lunch, Moriah had lost most of her paper and pens to moochers and had been knocked down once in the halls during the mad rush between classes.
    “It’s great. I met someone today, but I don’t know who he is. He was kind of…odd.” She felt special to be listened to by so many people (six in all) while she talked. Whether or not it would last she didn’t know, but quickly making friends was usually a good sign.
    “Was it a nerdy weird, touchy weird, or vampire weird?” a brunette named Johanna asked.
    “Vampire I guess. He was kind of…dark.”
    “He was black?”
    “No. He was white; he wore a lot of black though.” The only boy in the group, Daniel, pointed to a gathering in the far corner.
    “That’s where most of the emos sit. Is he over there?” She scanned the table, but didn’t see him.
    “No.” Then she noticed Shannon’s face. “Are you alright?”
    “It’s just…he’s on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t remember the name. I think I know who you’re talking about. Crow…Conrad…story…Cory! His name is Cory!” Several people muttered, “oh yeah…” remembering him for the first time as well. Shannon half stood up and looked around. “I don’t know where he is right now. I think he has a mental disease or something that makes him afraid of things. He gets called to the counselor’s office every once in a while.” A lunch tray crashed to the ground and made everybody jump as peas went skittering across the floor and milk spread over the tiles.
    “Was that Montgomery again?” a black girl with lots of braids named Kahlishia asked. “That boy needs to get some balance at some point.” Daniel nodded.
    “I can’t believe he’s in gymnastics.”
    “Yeah,” several people agreed, laughing. Cory was forgotten.

    Cory looked up from his notebook to the faces of Moriah, Shannon, and a few others. Were they just talking about him?
    “Oh yeah…” He watched her glance around for him and saw her eyes unintentionally skip right past where he sat a few feet away.
    “I don’t know where he is right now. I think he has a mental disease or something that makes him afraid of things.” You have no idea. Two shadowy creatures were moving under the table and dancing around their feet, though the students sitting and eating lunch had no idea. One swatted the other and made him blink his yellow eyes reflexively before he returned the swat, this time aimed at the other’s foot. Cory watched them in silence, scratching his pencil across the paper where the creatures were coming into a sketchy existence. Both shadows stopped and looked at him. He slammed his notebook shut and left the lunchroom, noticed neither by students nor teachers.
    Moriah thought at first that she had a blot in her vision until she recognized the black haired boy leaving the cafeteria. What was his name? She racked her brain for a few long seconds. Cory! His name was Cory; how had she forgotten? Slipping a miniature Sharpie from her pocket, she wrote his name on the palm of her hand so she wouldn’t forget.
    If he looked back, which he tried to avoid, there could be at least five different shadows or demons following him at any given time. Though painful if they caught him, most were slow and could easily be outrun. The creatures that surrounded him were terrifying and fascinating, some elegantly freakish while others where death-like and ghastly. Inside his backpack were many composition notebooks, and inside the notebooks were the pictures that he drew of the creatures and things he saw. He drew during class regularly, but no one had ever seen the pages of his books. If only they knew what crept around them but terrified no one save Cory. Soon the lunch bell rang, making Cory and the creatures all flinch in unison.
    He hesitated before heading to his next class; one hallway from the cafeteria to the auditorium had a blown light, and demons thrived in the darkness. He prepared to run through it, spurred by the thought of the bright stage lights that chased off all but the most persistent of his hauntings. Their claws always pulled at his black sleeves and threatened to tear through. He started his run at a fast pace before anyone would be around to ask why, but they still snagged at his shirt and jeans, causing him to trip halfway through the dimness and skid across the recently waxed floor. Others students were in the halls now, but no one noticed him because of how he seemed to blend in the darkness and shadows.
    Cory moaned when he felt a creature get under his skin and quickly stood before more got the chance. At last he arrived at the auditorium and was able to stand in front of the spotlight long enough to chase some of the pain away, but not enough to drive the creature out.
    “Does he have asthma?” Moriah asked Shannon quietly. She saw the way he took shallow, quick breaths and seemed to flinch when he inhaled. He hadn’t been acting this way earlier; she wondered if he was having an asthma attack or something. It was also curious that he should sit still in the spotlight like he did when he didn’t have to get used to it for an act onstage; he didn’t have a part, according to the script. Maybe he wanted to be an actor when he grew up and wanted to pretend for a minute.
    “I don’t think so.” In truth, Shannon found it hard to remember much of anything about Cory, but the more Moriah asked, the more she started remembering. “A long time ago he used to tell us about some of the things he thought he saw. He always had these wild stories about things that hid in the dark. He was taken to a doctor after trying to convince the teacher that they were real and that he couldn’t go in the cave we were headed to on a field trip. After that he didn’t talk about them.” Shannon frowned, thinking. “Actually…he didn’t talk about much of anything. I think he might have left the school and came back this year or something, because I don’t remember him…”
    Cory stepped out of the spotlight and back into the regular glow from lights far up in the ceiling. His gaze shot towards the teacher standing on the opposite end of the auditorium; Mr. Baker was headed for the light switches. A creature was holed up in a corner of the ceiling in most rooms and this one was no different. As soon as the lights went off and darkness enveloped most of the room, the creature would call the other ones and in a matter of seconds the place would be infested with all sorts of them. Cory called them Sentries because they were always watching with their yellow, dilated eyes that were set in their slender black faces behind their smooth snout.
    Cory ran full-blast into the lobby, where the lights were always on, but not before one of the faster demons had dropped on him from above and gotten through his skin as well, shoving him to the ground. He screamed, managing to muffle it with his hand, and for a second his dull black eyes flashed yellow.
    Moriah wandered into the lobby, following the noises she had heard. She was surprised to find Cory sitting in the corner, completely limp. His breaths were short, a quick gasp every few seconds. “Are you okay?” she asked in alarm. He snapped to attention and tried to regain some composure, but his breathing still sounded rough.
    “I’m fine. I was j-just tired.”
    “Do you have asthma?”
    “No. I’m fine.” They stood in awkward silence for a moment. Cory was watching a demon behind her that stood about seven feet tall and had four spindly bone-like legs. It sniffed her dirty-blond hair curiously. Moriah saw his black eyes focus on something behind her and turned to look, but nothing was there.
    “You’re scared of the dark, aren’t you?” Considering what’s in it, yes, he thought silently.
    “Do you want me to stay here?” Cory was shocked; how had she noticed him? One of the effects of having demons and shadows inside you was that you were extremely hard to notice, unless someone was looking hard. The feeling of being recognized was foreign to him by now.
    “Yes… Please.” Moriah sat down against the wall beside him.
    “Why does it scare you?” He was glad of the way that she worded it; it sounded more like the darkness was doing the scaring than that Cory was the one being scared of something. She was expecting an interesting reply already; he could tell.
    “You already know why,” he said in a hoarse voice. “You just want to hear it from me.” Someone must have told her about the things he had said in second grade before he knew better. Moriah blushed. “Have you ever…watched someone remember you?” he asked quietly. “That one moment where their eyes light up because you found your way back into their mind…” Moriah wasn’t sure if he was philosopher or a lunatic, but she held back judgment.
    The spindly-legged demon glided forward smoothly, but Cory wouldn’t be escaping this time. Being able to talk to someone was a luxury he would not give up. “What’s your name?”
    “Moriah Damien. You’re Cory, right?” She even found out my name…
    “Cory Sherman. Ngh…” He flinched when the demon rammed one of its spikes in his chest. It seemed to dawdle forever, making Cory impatient for once in his lifetime. For goodness sake, hurry up and don’t be messy with it, he begged. He squeezed his eyes shut as it took slow steps forward, pushing more invisible spikes under his skin.
    “Are you sure you’re alright?” He finally pitched forward so the demon would finish the job and disappear inside him.
    “I’m fine,” he said again. “I just…” He interrupted himself by whimpering loudly; this demon was being particularly rough with him. “It’s just…I have…problems. I see things…and they scare me,” he gasped.
    “You don’t sound like you’re scared, you sound like you’re hurt.”
    “I’ll be better in a few minutes.”
    “Then you are hurt.”
    “Don’t say anything,” he pleaded, eyes wide. That was when Moriah realized that his eyes were so black because nothing was reflected in them, not even the lights overhead. “People can’t help with this kind of hurt.”
    “Why not?”
    “Some people would say it isn’t real. Besides, I’ve just about gotten used to it.”
    “Is it real?” Cory stopped for a moment.
    “To me.” By now his breathing had evened out and he could stand up again. Moriah accepted his hand and let him help her up. “Mr. Baker wants to see you.”
    Mr. Baker’s faint voice was calling for her from somewhere on the stage. “Can you flick the regular lights back on? The stage lights aren’t working right.” After casting one last look back at Cory, she melted into the darkness to find the switches.
    He stared after her for a moment before turning to find a chair and pulling out his notebook. More nightmare images found their way into the pages as he scratched and erased, scratched and erased. Slowly, one of his demons turned into something else; something that had long, thick dirty blond hair and white spaces for eyes because he couldn’t accurately draw them. He colored her hair and shirt with assorted gel pens that he had acquired over the course of the school year. Just as he was putting his things away, he glanced up and was startled by the sudden appearance of a shadow creature before him, causing him to scatter notebooks and pens all over the floor. “Shoot…” He picked everything up, careful to stay out of the shadow’s range, and went back into the main auditorium with his classmates.
    Moriah looked down to check the time and realized her watch was gone at about the same moment Cory came back in the room. As much as she’d noticed him recently, she didn’t register him to be the blur that went past her as she went back to the lobby. Her watch was lying by the wall, just as expected. Something else caught her eye as well. She picked up the neatly kept composition notebook and opened the front cover; there was no name, so she carried it back to the auditorium and put it in her own backpack.

    In her second-to-last class, math, she remembered the notebook and pulled it from her book bag. The first page was blank, but the ones after it were covered with writing. The first entry was dated January 4 with no year, but the writing looked old and the pages were wrinkled.
    The shadow things have never actually touched me or hurt me before. Usually they just watch and follow me around. I stopped telling people about them. No one wants to help. No one believes that I see them. The demons are everywhere…wherever there are people. How do you tell someone that the face of death is breathing down his or her neck? I don’t know what’s going to happen to me; that’s why I’m writing this down. It’s so people will know. I’ve seen them ever since first grade. They just started popping up everywhere, following and haunting me. I had nightmares and woke up screaming because I imagined their dagger-like teeth sinking into my neck, but they never really touch me. They just stare.
    Underneath the first entry were rough drawings of things Moriah wished she hadn’t glimpsed. Some had wings, some had claws, and most all of them had fangs and spikes running down their back or arms. There seemed to be two different types throughout the drawings: smooth ones more like liquid, and rougher, spikier ones. One of them was drawn with a miniscule stick man beside it, showing the creature to be absolutely huge. She wanted to slam the book shut, but there were more entries that compelled her to read them.
    January 5
    They’re getting closer to me. It seems like more of them live in the dark than in the light. Light doesn’t kill them, but I think it’s uncomfortable. Something else is happening too; I sit on the front row in Spanish class. I had my hand raised for five minutes, waving back and forth right in front of Miss. Vandingstee’s face before she finally noticed me. Is there something wrong with me? I mean, more wrong than I already am?
    January 8
    A demon did something to me that I can’t explain, and I’m not sure if I want to or not. He was about the size of a housecat, the smaller side of the average, and was completely black, just like all of them. We were supposed to be doing crunches in P.E. class, so I was on my back on the floor. Mr. Hamilton was coming around with duck tape to hold our feet down, but I was at the end of the line. I was watching a group of demons running around on the ceiling in the shadows created by ribs in the roof. I don’t know why, but one of them let go and fell right on top of me. It kind of sat there for a minute, probably just as surprised as I was. I didn’t move while it sniffed me, but I couldn’t help jerking when it put its foot through my heart. The thing kept sinking until it was all gone and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Why does this happen to me?! What makes ME so special that they have to go and start possessing ME?

    More drawings decorated the pages and filled the margins.

    January 10
    The shadow things don’t speak, but when they get under my skin (which is what I choose to call it now) I can see what they know. I know why they come after me and not other people now. Most people are sealed to where these dark things can’t get inside them, but somehow I got broken. My seal is fractured and therefore useless except to slow them down. They need other lives to feed on and keep THEM alive, even if their host dies. Weak and sick animals lose their seal and so the creatures usually take them, but apparently humans have so much more life that an open one is irresistible. Maybe a million can feed off of them before their life is gone. The amount of time before they die depends on the power or size of the creatures that use them. I have seen shadows the size of a blue whale. From what I’ve learned, things like that one would kill me if they tried to get under my skin. The creatures don’t understand that if they gave me a break, we could BOTH live. I’m dying. I lose a little more every day, but I think it will still be a while before I’m gone, eight years maybe. That would make me eighteen. It could be more or less, depending on what kinds of demon things manage to catch me. I would be able to avoid most of them except that I have to sit still for so many classes and I have to go to sleep. I can’t believe I’m dying…

    There were a few more short entries about some of the creatures the writer saw, but the pictures gradually took over until there were no more entries, only drawings. Moriah flipped through the pages, scared to examine any of them too closely. She shut the book and looked it over again, checking for names, until she found something written on the spine. There was the word Cory along with a number 1, designating it as the first in a series. Her hands were shaking as she put the book back in her backpack.
    Was this really an illness like Shannon has said? If it was, then Cory had it bad. Most of the kids in ninth grade were fifteen, so he would have three years left if his guesses were correct and he really did see these…things. She suddenly realized that he had been ten years old when he’d written these entries. Cory…what are you?

    Cory ran wildly back to the lobby after noticing that one of his notebooks was missing. No one turned to look or ask why he was running; he just glided around them smoothly. He searched frantically around the auditorium and where he had been sitting, but turned up nothing. The discovery of that particular notebook, depending on who read it, might determine whether or not he would be sent to a mental hospital.
    He was late for class, but he didn’t really care at the moment. No one would notice him come in anyway and he would still be counted present. Finally he gave up the search, realizing that someone must have taken it, either intending to use it or give it back to its owner. Another surprise came his way when he saw a shadow standing out in the bright sunlight and appearing unbothered. The second thing different was that it was a deep blood red instead of inky black like all demons and shadows were. It was only rabbit sized, but Cory ran from it all the same. What was that thing? He was answered by images and thoughts turning up in his mind from the many sources he housed.
    Don’t let him touch you…
    Extremely powerful demons turn red…
    They become small again so that they can survive with less life sources…
    Bigger ones can easily kill you…An image flashed in his mind of a wicked-looking red creature on four spindly legs and covered in thorns, much like the shadow he had seen earlier. Apparently red creatures of this size would kill him.
    Take much more life than us…
    100 times stronger… By summarizing the things that he heard, he discovered that the rabbit-sized demon would not have killed him, but it would have been like a shadow that was two stories tall. Things of that size had gotten under his skin before; it was never an enjoyable experience. He also discovered that the more powerful a demon became, the more intelligent it became. A truly great one might be capable of communication.
    Cory ran the rest of the way to math and, as expected, was able to slip in unnoticed by anyone. He moaned inwardly when he saw a demon crawling beneath his empty desk. Were they waiting for him now? Nevertheless, he sat down and tried to ignore the tingling in his leg as the shadow melted into it. He glanced around, trying to pick up on what the class was doing. What was Moriah doing with his notebook?! Cory was stunned, sitting completely still while Moriah re-read the entries and flipped through the pages of pictures.
    “Moriah.” She jerked in surprise, nearly dropping the book. One look at Cory’s face kept her from making excuses. “Give it back.” His voice was low and serious, so serious that it was almost frightening. She put the book in his outstretched hand, brushing his fingers.
    In the split second that their hands touched she let out a loud squeak, just barely holding back a shriek.
    “Something you want to add to the class?” Mrs. Todd asked sternly, annoyed at having been interrupted.
    “There was…a bug on my desk.” The class burst out laughing, but Moriah was just glad that her normal vision was back. Cory was looking at her too, his face one of surprise. Moriah waited a few more minutes for the class to settle down and turn back to the teacher. Slowly, so he wouldn’t pull away, she held her hand out to Cory as if she wanted him to shake it. He wasn’t sure why he was doing it, but Cory slid his hand into hers. He saw her eyes get wide and flicker around the room.
    “What do you see?” he whispered, anxiously glancing at the demons in the room and wondering if maybe…just maybe… Moriah snatched her hand back, not able to stand another second of the things she was seeing.
    “What are they? Why can’t I see them?” she asked, her voice low and trembling.
    “They’re nothing.” His voice was hard and convincing now, easy for her to believe. “They don’t really exist; just forget them.”
    “You in the back! What’s your name…uh…Cory! Turn around please,” the teacher ordered.
    “Sorry.” She barely heard his apology and went on teaching her lesson. Cory was just thinking that this was the most interesting class period he’d ever had when something huge and blood red melted through the wall behind the teacher and looked straight at him. From what he could tell, there were three options: he could run from the class hoping to be unnoticed, he could raise his hand, wait for the teacher to notice him, and ask to go the bathroom, hoping that the creature would be gone when he returned, or he could sit still and seemingly die of a “heart attack” but still be seen as sane after his death. The demon crossed the room with more speed than he had expected. He ran. All chances of going unnoticed were blown when he knocked a chair over and bumped into several people on his way out, but at the moment he didn’t really care. Cory ran through the twisting halls wildly, even though it would take a while for the demon to catch up with him if he had been only walking.
    “I’m supposed to be here longer than this!” he shouted angrily to no one. After a while he walked back to his classroom wondering what kind of pandemonium he would find. The small window didn’t offer much of a view, but it would be enough.
    Everything was normal. The chair had been righted and the students were going on with their lives, even Moriah. Cory was forgotten.
    He punched the door and slid to the ground in utter despair, sobbing. How could everyone forget him? Why did only a stranger try to notice him? Why did no one try to help him when he was ten years old and screaming in terror at things only he could see? Was his real image, the one with a halo of darkness swirling around it, really so terrifying that it frightened Moriah away? The sound of white noise filled the air and a voice scratched out over the intercom.
    “All students please meet in the auditorium seventh period for club inductions.” Club inductions probably meant that kids who brought up their grade were being accepted or invited into special clubs. Cory had been invited before, but he didn’t care to join. He sat quietly, trying to control himself until the bell rang and the door opened for kids to come spilling out. He melted into the crowd right beside Moriah, following her to where she sat surrounded by her new friends. He was right beside her, but she didn’t notice until ten minutes into induction. When she finally did see him, she jumped in surprise.
    “Cory! There you are. Did you leave during class? I turned around and you were gone.” He barely managed to hold on to himself.
    “Yes, I left during class. I knocked over a chair, rammed into two people, and slammed the door.” She laughed, thinking he was joking. “Moriah, I’m serious.” She stopped laughing. A shadow hopped up in Cory’s lap and rammed its head into his chest, sinking through the skin and hitting his heart.
    “Why are you always gasping like that?” she asked, genuinely curious. He was tired of lying about a mental illness.
    “Each time I gasp like that, it’s because I’m dying little by little. Let me show you why.” Moriah looked scared now, surprised by the new turn of events. Cory waited for a spiky demon the size of a German shepherd to come and stand before them before grabbing Moriah’s hand tightly. She gasped and squirmed, trying to get away from the creature. “Just watch,” he said, making her stop moving. Her eyes went wide with horror when the shadow slowly sank into Cory, making his veins stand out black for a moment.
    “What did it do? Where is it?” Shannon shushed Moriah when her voice started to rise in pitch. “Sorry.” She turned back to the boy with soulless eyes. “Where did it go?”
    “That was a demon; it’s inside me now. Most people would call it possession. They love the dark, and that’s why I avoid it.”
    “How often do they…do that?”
    “All the time. There are probably more than a hundred in me at any given moment.” Moriah looked at him in a different way and thought how small he suddenly seemed compared to the number that he had just given her. “But the thing is, you will probably forget most of this conversation because anything pertaining to shadows and demons is strangely easy to let slip out of the mind.
    “Please don’t make me see any more…” she whimpered, looking at the nightmares wandering amongst the students. Cory pulled his hand back and the images faded.
    A balding school official glided up to the microphone, tapped it a few times, and said, “We’re having some technical difficulties with the slide show, so just sit tight for a few more minutes. If we happen to throw a breaker, please don’t anybody start horsing around.” Moriah and Cory both realized what throwing a breaker would mean.
    “Why do they like dark better?” she asked in concern. Cory’s eyes were wide and scared.
    “It’s because they can move extremely fast in the dark. Once the lights go out, the room is completely infested with all sorts of creatures. If the lights do go out, don’t touch me.”
    “Why not?”
    “Because you’ll see them all.” The sentry demon in the corner was alert and ready, knowing what could happen.
    “Should you leave?” Moriah asked.
    “That would probably be…” Blink. In the dead silence and pitch-blackness, Cory’s endless shriek sounded like a banshee despite his tendency to be overlooked. When the lights came back on a second later, Cory was in the middle of the aisle, twitching and foaming at the mouth from the extreme amount of overload.
    “Cory!” The shriek and the sight of the long-forgotten boy in the middle of the floor made everyone suddenly remember who he was and about the “mental illness” he supposedly had, along with lots of other things that had slipped their mind. Whispers were instantly sent flying through the auditorium as teachers ran across the room and the principle called an ambulance. Cory’s eyes were wide open and blank, searching the room even though he was blinded and dazed by pain and could barely breath.
    Daniel was awkwardly trying to comfort a sobbing Moriah, who didn’t know if Cory’s life had been significantly shortened or if this was just one of those uncomfortable things that happened every so often to him. “Geez, Moriah; I didn’t know you two were that close.” Shannon, Kahlishia, Johanna, and others from the group gathered around as well to help settle her down.
    They heard her mutter something about demons, but couldn’t get anything else distinguishable from her. The induction continued even though no one was paying attention; they were all whispering about Cory. They didn’t just talk about what had happened recently; they were also having discussions about things they were just remembering and wondering why no one had spoken or thought about him for so long.

    The EMTs were stumped when it came to helping the writhing student. Even when they put him to sleep, he still gasped and squirmed unless they put him in harnesses. “What is wrong with this kid?” one of the doctors exclaimed at one point, exasperated. Cory’s mom rushed to the hospital after getting a call asking for her permission to put her son in an ambulance. In her hurry she ended up waiting on the ambulance for ten minutes in the waiting room. When they finally arrived, she started babbling about his mental illness and holding up the medication that he was supposed to be taking for it. It was nine years out of date, but it was something.
    “Ma’am, I don’t think he can take pills at this point,” a doctor finally explained when she wouldn’t stop talking and waving the bottle around. She looked around the EMT and mentally agreed with him when she saw her son trembling violently in a stretcher. Cory quickly settled down, however, and went home after everything was okayed. The car ride home was awkward.
    “I thought…I thought you were over the demon stuff. Do you still see the things in the shadows?”
    “No mom. I’m completely over it.” Three demons were lined up in the back seat, swaying in unison when the car went over bumps. Cory tried to ignore them. A smooth, sleek shadow was in the middle of crossing the road when their car passed harmlessly through it.
    “Do you have any clue what happened to you?” Well, the technical term for this particular occurrence would be “demonicus overloadus.” However, there are rare cases of “majorus biggus demonicus overloadus” that typically result in death, he thought to himself.
    “I don’t know. I guess I’m still a little afraid of the dark.”
    “I’ll say,” his mom muttered under her breath, thinking of the hospital bill she had just paid.

    The next day, Cory was so happy that he was almost in tears. People remembered him! They asked if he was okay and what had happened. Best of all, Moriah didn’t leave his side.
    “You seem pretty happy today,” Moriah said, smiling.
    “I don’t think this will last very long, but I’m going to enjoy it while it does. It’s like coming back from the grave: eventually I’ll have to go back in it.”
    “Don’t think of it that way,” she begged.
    “I’ve always been alone, except for you. The only difference is that now I don’t mind it so much.” They floated on air for the whole day even as people started, very slowly, to forget what had happened yesterday, to struggle to remember who it had been on the floor, to ask their friends when they couldn’t remember the reason that he was afraid of the dark. By the time seventh period rolled around, Cory was forgotten again.
    After school he took a walk through the sunshine in the city, where there were the fewest amounts of creatures because of the lack of animals and darkness. People glided past, not really seeing him, but he didn’t care. Every once in a while someone would bump into him and apologize. They always left with a confused look; they couldn’t understand why he would thank them and smile before continuing on. The sights and sounds of other people were comforting and let him relax. He was attracted to the sound of a guitar and soon found a small crowd gathered on the street corner. Cory and the man both saw each other at the exact same moment and gasped. The guitar nearly fell to the ground and the watching crowd was visibly disappointed to hear the music stop.
    “You…” they both said quietly.
    The man had a scraggly white beard, calloused hands, and a wise look, but that wasn’t what surprised him. Only Cory saw the immense, dark cloud surrounding him and how his eyes burned yellow just like his own did at times. “Sorry folks, my act’s over for tonight,” he said without taking his eyes from Cory. They threw the last of their change in his case and left to find another form of entertainment. Once everyone was out of earshot, Cory spoke up.
    “Are you like me? Do they feed off you too?” The man laughed and set his guitar in its case.
    “No, I’m not like you, but I used to know someone who was.”
    “He’s dead now.”
    “Oh…” Cory bowed his head in disappointment. “I still want to know what you are.” The musician chuckled.
    “I, son, am what every demon, shadow, and creature wants to be.” The boy took a wary step back. “Don’t worry, I can’t hurt anybody anymore; I don’t need to. Have you learned about red creatures?”
    “Just recently.”
    “Then you know how powerful they are, right?”
    “I assume you’ve heard that when too powerful of a shadow possesses a human, the human dies. Am I right?” Cory nodded. “After that human dies, an extremely powerful demon can use him to become a human themselves. It’s called complete possession.” Cory’s eyes went wide in realization.
    “You mean…you killed someone to become a human?! That’s not human! You’re still a monster!” Cory shouted.
    “Settle down! I can understand why you’re scared, seeing as it could happen to you, but you have to understand both sides, and your right, I’m not really human. However, I look like one enough to be mistaken for one. I don’t need other lives to live anymore, so in that sense I am harmless now. You don’t know what it’s like to be invisible, unable to communicate with the people around you and wanting so desperately to have what they have.”
    “Believe me, sir, I know exactly what it’s like to be invisible,” he growled.
    “Um, watch out son…” A cat-sized shadow jumped and slid into his chest.
    “And you can’t imagine how annoying it is to have THAT happening to you all the time!!” he gasped. “I went into convulsions yesterday because I got caught in the dark! Why don’t you try living that life? You have to understand both sides, right? Right?” he challenged, shouting now.
    “Shadows and humans just don’t get along. You’re going to have to accept that.”
    “No! I believe that they can get along. First of all, if creatures would give their host a break, then maybe he could recover and be able to live longer rather than just be sucked dry until he’s gone. Second of all, why can’t you use a little life from lots of people instead of using all of one person’s life and killing them? It doesn’t make sense!”
    The guitarist was shaking his head. “You don’t understand, boy. A shadow doesn’t need just regular life to take form; it needs the pilot light, the part that keeps a man going and lets him keep living even when he’s exhausted.”
    “There’s got to be another way…” His voice began to get quieter.
    “Not that I know of.”
    “So I’m doomed to die?”
    “Everybody dies, son.”
    “But they don’t always have to die early. I just want to know, am I going to be sucked dry by demons?” Cory’s fists were shaking with rage as he looked up expectantly at the man.
    “You’ll probably die of old age before regular demons take out your pilot light, but yes, there’s a good chance of complete possession at some point in your life.” Even though he had been expecting to die early, hearing it this way made tears of rage stream from his eyes. It broke the guitarist’s heart to see Cory in such despair, but everything he’d told him was the truth. “Look, I’ll put in a good word for you with the shadows, but the creatures don’t have emotions so I don’t know how far it’ll go.”
    “Thanks,” he said, wiping burning saltwater from his eyes. “I just…I’ll see you around,” was all he could think to say.
    “Same to you, kid. Get back home before-”
    “Before dark. I know. I’m Cory Sherman.”
    “Cain Johnson.” A demon and a human shook hands in a rare moment of truce. Cain folded his plastic chair and swung his guitar case to his back. He tipped his head to Cory before both people went their opposite ways.
    Moriah couldn’t understand why Cory was so silent the next day after having such a good time the day before. “Is something bothering you?” she asked.
    “Something’s always bothering me.”
    “I mean is something on you mind?” He leaned back in his chair slowly.
    “Lots of things are on my mind.” Moriah waited for him to continue. “I met a guitarist the other day.”
    “Oh yeah?”
    “He was…an interesting guy.” It looked like he didn’t want to answer any more questions, so Moriah left him alone to think. Maybe it was his unique situation, or maybe it was just because of who he was, but Moriah was fascinated by Cory. She didn’t like seeing him unhappy, but she knew that sometimes you just have to let people be. After class he glided out without waiting for her, so she guessed that something was troubling him even more than she’d thought. She sat down in second period without seeing him. She knew that he could slip in unnoticed whenever he wanted to, though and decided not to worry. However, thirty minutes into class she looked up and realized that he still hadn’t come in. She shot her hand in the air and waited for the teacher to see her.
    “Excuse me, I have a headache. Can I go to the office and get some Tylenol?”
    “Sure,” she said dismissively. Once Moriah was out of the classroom, she ran through the halls softly calling his name so as to not disturb the other classes. She worked her way through the school, finally ending up at the auditorium. She saw the spotlight trained on an empty stage where Cory probably should have been.
    “Cory? Are you in here?” She walked slowly around to the other side of the stage and still found nothing. A noise in the prop closet made her change directions. “Cory?” she asked, slowly opening the door and flicking the light on. When her eyes focused, she screamed and ran to the figure sprawled out on the floor with blood trailing from their mouth. His soulless eyes were now lifeless as well, half closed and dull.
    Cory was dead.

    “Cory!” she screamed. “Wake up! Wake up! Please wake up!” Something scuffled behind her, causing her to whip around. She found a blond-haired teenage boy looking at his hands in wonder and running his fingers across the midnight black robe that was draped around him.
    “I did it!” the boy said triumphantly in a rich, deep voice. “I’m human!”
    “What?” she asked in disbelief. “Who are you?” As she backed away from him, her hand brushed Cory’s side, and she saw him the way Cory would have seen him: surrounded in a black aura and with bright yellow eyes. All at once she recognized him for the former creature he was. “You! You killed him!!” She sobbed into the lifeless boy’s black shirt, unable to believe what was happening. “Give him back…” Her voice broke into hopeless crying. The newly formed boy was dealing with something new to him: emotion.
    “W-why are you crying? Stop it.”
    “Boy!” a rough voice shouted. The shadow/teenager whipped around to face Cain Johnson.
    “Er… Yes sir?”
    “Give half back.”
    “What?! Why? It won’t do him or me any good.”
    “Because I told you to leave this one alone! Besides, I’ll help you.” He glanced over at Moriah, who was bent over a lifeless Cory and whispering promises in his ear. Suddenly the blond boy cried out and put a hand over his heart.
    “What are you doing?” Cain demanded.
    “I don’t know; I’m not doing it! It hurts!” he cried, dropping to his knees. “Cain, make it stop!”
    “I don’t know what you’re doing, so I can’t very well stop it.” Everyone went silent when the lifeless boy on the floor suddenly jerked and took a short gasp.
    “Cory?” Moriah said hopefully. The black-haired boy, previously thought to be dead, cried out and put his hand over his heart in the exact same manner that the blond-haired boy had.
    “What is this?!” Cain exclaimed. “They’re both alive?”
    “Moriah…” he whispered in a hoarse voice. “Will you really…stay…with me forever?”
    “Forever and ever, if you want, but you have to stay alive.” He gave her a weak thumbs-up.
    “Right. Stay here.”
    “Do you mind explaining this, son?”
    “Cain? What are you doing here?”
    “I was coming to save your butt, but it looks like you did that all on your own.” For a moment he looked like he was going to pass out from exhaustion, but he started speaking again.
    “I took my life back.”
    “But he’s still…”
    “But I only took half, so he could have the other one,” he explained, looking towards the other boy. “Because we can all get along, right?” With that, he fainted and let the world fade back into darkness.

    Things changed in the demon world after that. Once it was discovered that a human or shadow could start with half of a life and let it grow to a full one, humans weren’t killed any more and creatures learned to cooperate with humans, to an extent, to make things go smoother for both worlds.

    Cory and Moriah were sitting at a table for four at an Italian restaurant after just having gone to see a movie. Somehow, Cain repaired Cory’s seal so that he didn’t have to worry about possessions or dark places again and he could live the rest of his life in peace, though he could still see the things that wandered among people. He and Moriah were together almost all the time now, scared to leave each other unless it was necessary.
    “I hope Thomas didn’t forget…it’s amazing that he can even remember the songs that he’s written with that memory of his,” Moriah noted.
    “Cain said that they would be here about,” he glanced at his watch, “two minutes ago.” They both laughed and Cory took another sip of rootbeer.
    “There you two are!” she said as a bLeach blond boy and Cain came in, stopping at the front counter just long enough to say which table they were with.
    “So,” Cory began when they sat down, “how’s business going?” Cain chuckled.
    “You wouldn’t believe the stuff this kid writes. It’s genius!” Thomas beamed.
    “The songs sound even better when you’re playing them, though,” he said to counteract his own compliment.
    “That music is going to make us famous. I tell you son, we’re gonna be going places!” They all laughed.
    Cory’s eyes sparkled with a newfound life and his mouth curved upward in a smile. “I love it when everybody gets along,” he said. Moriah leaned on his shoulder and inhaled the sweet-ish scent that the demons left behind, making Cain and Thomas grin.
    “Me too,” they all said together.