Andrade drove them to the far west end of Garfield Park, deep into a network of broken houses, sidings crumbling and roofs in shambles, bars on windows and debris on lawns and cars ready to fall to pieces. She stopped in front of one such house. They climbed the disintegrating steps to a front door whose screen was torn in two places and knocked. An elderly woman answered, her gray hair tied back under a kerchief. She looked at them with some apprehension, because she knew who they were. But she only said “Yes?”
“Hello.” Andrade held up her badge. “I’m Aries Andrade and this is Bryan Ivers with O.D.D. We’re here to speak with…um…”
“My granddaughter, yes.” Her face didn’t change, but she moved aside. “Please come in.”
They entered an immaculate room decorated with furniture that had seen better days but was polished to a shine. The old woman went to a chipped but sparkling set of stairs and called up them “Sonia! They’re here!” and then directed them to a worn sofa that had an elaborate quilt folded over its back.
“She’s been waiting for you,” she said. “Have a seat.”
“Thank you,” Andrade said.
“Thanks,” Bryan managed, wondering if Sonia might trip and fall on her way down the stairs, so he wouldn’t have to do this.
But she came down just fine and he looked at her only momentarily before casting his eyes down. She looked entirely different from the terrified girl in the pharmacy. This Sonia was a young woman, a smile on her lips if not in her eyes, wary but confident. Already dealing with what she had gone through. He and Andrade stood to shake her hand and introduce themselves, and he felt the girl’s eyes on him, studying him as if looking for something in particular, but he wouldn’t meet her gaze.
“Thank you for meeting with us so soon,” Andrade said as she sat back down. “We know things are difficult for you right now, and if there’s any part of it you’d rather not talk about…”
“It’s okay,” Sonia said, her voice not entirely steady. “Your psych guys already brought up everything.”
“I’m afraid that’s a necessity these days. But we’re glad you’re considering the position.”
“To be Possessed?”
“Yes, you show an inclination to tolerate demonic possession. It’s quite rare, and we need all the help we can get.”
“I’ll bet. It’s not like it’s fun.” She gave an awkward smile that Bryan caught out of the corner of his eye.
The grandmother entered then with a tray of iced tea and cakes. Bryan snatched up a plate of cake and shoved a forkful in his mouth as if it would prevent him from having to speak. He barely noticed that it was delicious.
“Can I ask why you’re considering?” Andrade went on.
That awkward smile came back. “Well, it pays good, right? I mean, I’m sure you guys don’t live in Garfield Park.”
It was Andrade’s turn to avert her eyes. “Yes, but there’s a lot that comes with the pay. You’ve already experienced a part of it. You’d get used to it, you’d be trained to handle it, but you’d still be going through a measure of physical pain and mental disturbance several times a night.”
Sonia shifted in her seat, as if remembering the pain from the night before. Sure, she had won the lottery. But what was the price?
Still, she looked directly at them as she responded. “A person can get used to a lot of pain, ya know?”
Andrade watched her for a moment, then looked at Bryan, who was still shoveling cake in his mouth. “I know I’m not the one you wanted to talk to. So I’ll let you two talk alone, okay?”
Bryan glared at her, but she stood and went to the kitchen, where the grandmother was clanging dishes together as if to drown out the conversation in the next room. Bryan didn’t look up from his plate.
“Good cake,” he said to fill the silence.
“Nana made it,” Sonia replied.
The silence stretched out to seconds.
“Aren’t you,” said Sonia “supposed to convince me to work for you?”
“Not my job,” he mumbled.
“You just…catch demons.”
“Why do you do it?”
He munched on a bite of cake. “Pays good.”
“Weren’t you serious when you answered money?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’ll do it, never mind why.”
He finally looked at her. She was so small, maybe all of 5’3. She sat with both feet planted on the ground, as if ready to jump up at any moment. She had a little snub nose and short hair that rose in a halo of curls around her head. Her gaze was unsteady, caged, haunted.
“A demon took my family,” he said. “All of them in one moment. Possesseds didn’t even get a steady paycheck back then. But I joined.”
She thought about that. When she spoke again her voice was low and quiet. “My best friend was in Jewel with me. I lost track of her when it happened, when we heard screams from the front of the store and everyone started running. I only found out after that she’s dead. I probably heard her screaming and didn’t know it was her.”
She took a gulp of the iced tea as if it were whiskey. Bryan’s cake sat on the arm of the sofa, forgotten.
“How do you do it?” she asked. “When there’s so much death and screaming?”
“If I didn’t do it, how much more death would there be?”
“That’s a lot of responsibility.”
“Look, sometimes you fuck up, sometimes a demon gets away and sometimes people die because you did something wrong. But you’re trying, that’s all anyone can do at any job.”
She took another pull of the iced tea, swallowed, and asked “Does it always hurt like that?”
He had expected this question. “Yes, but you learn to control it, to deal with it. If you have a good reason to do it, the pain is nothing. The problem is the mental toll.”
“There are no physical scars when a Possessed invites a demon in. But even after it’s gone, a part of remains in your mind. A shadow. A remnant. It becomes a part of you. No Possessed is the same as before they took their job. You’ll find yourself thinking thoughts you never would have thought about a year ago, feeling emotions at times when you never would have before. Its influence stays with you and it changes you.”
His eyes held her own, hers wide and uncomprehending. He was scaring her, and he thought that was just fine.
“So you better have a damned good reason to invite them in.”