For the next week I kept waking up in Hell. And every time I ended up with the same sweat in my eyes, stench in my nose, and chains on my hands and feet. And every time, I fought another demon. Over time, I got stronger, quicker, faster, and smoother with the sword, until I was fighting up to four demons at a time. Don’t get me wrong, it was still hard and sometimes I ended up passing out after the fights, but I kept getting better.
But the weird thing was that no matter how much stronger I got in Hell, I was still just as weak as ever on Earth. I was averaging 4 demon kills a night, but Max was still blocking my punches and denting lockers with me.
So eventually, I decided: what was the point of getting stronger in Hell if it would never show up on Earth?
“Here’s the deal,” I explained to Gary one day at lunch. “Every night I wake up in Hell and I’m an unstoppable demon slayer. It’s pretty freaking awesome. But the next morning I wake up on Earth as my regular self and I can’t stop a bully from taking my lunch. It’s pretty freaking annoying. But the most annoying part is that everyone’s still impressed by me and they think I’m a great hero. But I know the truth—that there’s more to me than what they see. I know who I am. I just want him to show up.”
Gary gulped down his Mountain Dew. “That does sound awesome.”
“No, Gary. Weren’t you listening? It’s not awesome. It’s annoying. I shook my head. “I wish I was the person I see in the mirror.”
“Wow,” Gary replied. “That’s really poetic.”
“There’s nothing poetic about it! I literally see a demon slayer when I look in the mirror.”
Gary put his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay!”
“And you!” I went on, waving my hands at his outfit that he still couldn’t see. “You’re a demon slayer too. You’ve got demon blood on your tunic and battle tears on your pants. But you can’t see any of that. You’re a warrior, Gary.”
Gary looked at his sleeves curiously then shrugged. “Well, I don’t see it. You’re the hero, Daniel. The whole school’s talking about you.”
I groaned and buried my face in my hands. “You have no idea how frustrating this is. I’m a boss in Hell, but a loser on Earth. How do I bring the two together?” I dropped my head onto the table and banged it harder than I’d intended. “Ow.”
“Well, let’s try to figure it out,” Gary suggested. “What’s the main difference between Hell and Earth?”
“Hmmm. Lemme think, Gary. Uh, demons? Fire? Torture? EVERYTHING?! They’re literally the exact opposite of each other!”
“Okay, okay!” Gary put his hands up again. “I’m just trying to help.” He took another chug of Mountain Dew. “How do you feel when you’re in Hell?”
“I feel fine and dandy, Gary, thank you. There’s nothing I love more than the smell of burning sulfur and human flesh in the morning.”
He stared back at me with a straight face.
I sighed. “I don’t feel good.”
“Do you feel scared?”
I thought about that for a second. “Now that you mention it…no, actually. I don’t. I never realized that.”
“Then what do you feel?”
I thought back to the last time I’d been in Hell. The heat. The sweat. The smell. The chains. It wasn’t exactly a Holiday Inn. “Uncomfortable.”
“Hmmm…” Gary took another sip of Mountain Dew. “I have a theory.”
“What if you’re not supposed to bring the demon slayer to Earth? What if you’re supposed to bring Hell to Max?”
I arched my eyebrow at him. “What?”
“The demon slayer comes out when you’re uncomfortable. So what’s the most uncomfortable place for you on Earth?”
I thought the question over for a second and one word popped into my mind. “Home.”
Things had never been the same since my parents’ divorce. That had been five years ago and my mother had remarried two years later. But I still had never spoken anything more than three words to my stepfather. He wasn’t a bad guy. It was just weird. Awkward. Uncomfortable. So I avoided him at all costs.
“Your stepfather, right?” Gary said.
I nodded. “You’re right. I’ve gotta kill him.”
Gary rolled his eyes. “No, Daniel. I don’t think you have to fight your stepfather. You just have to face him.”
Photo cred: Chozley