The kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off. Bridal magazines lay scattered on every available space, pages marked with colorful sticky notes and scrawled with his fiancee’s neat script. John hesitated in the doorway and wondered if he could escape before his bride-to-be noticed him.
Too late. Julie lifted her head to glare at him.
“This would be a lot easier if your mother weren’t the devil!” She huffed and flopped back against the wooden chair. She hadn’t bothered to change out of her scrubs.
He shouldn’t smile. It would set her off. With some effort, he suppressed his grin.
“Remember, she’ll be your mother-in-law after the wedding.” This comment earned him a scowl in addition to the glare.
He pulled her out of the chair and into a hug. The tension bled out of her as his hands moved up and down her back. He wondered how much longer he’d have to hold her until she calmed down.
“She’s making me reconsider going through with the wedding. Couldn’t we live in sin instead?” She groaned and buried her face in his shirt.
“You’re under a lot of stress. You might just be overreacting.” He muttered into her ear. Wisps of her blonde hair tickled his nose.
Julie tensed against him. Probably not the best response. John stroked her some more to make up for it.
He tried again. “What’d she do this time?”
She pulled away to pace the kitchen. “Every day– no, every hour!– she sends me long, detailed messages about how the wedding should be.” Her hands fluttered around her face as she marched back and forth, “and I mean everything; what music the DJ should play, pictures of what cakes she likes and a different menu selection everyday! And get this, today she sent me a picture of what dress I should wear. Some frumpy, frilly thing that makes me look like a walking cupcake!”
John flinched as her voice hit octaves reserved for shattering glass.
Oblivious to his wince, Julie dragged the laptop toward her and pecked at the keys. Brushing her hair out of her face, she gestured to the screen
He leaned over and took in the photo. “It’s definitely cupcake-like. You’d look delicious.” He resisted the urge to lick his lips.
“Seriously? That’s not helpful.” Her lips pressed into a thin line. She crossed her arms and scowled at him.
He stepped behind her to rub her shoulders. Usually the caressing calmed her down. Today, it didn’t have the desired effect.
“Mother wants to be part of our special day.” His voice was low and, he hoped, soothing.
“Yeah, right. She can’t be bothered to meet me or talk to me, yet is trying to dictate my wedding. Oh, I mean, our wedding.”
“Let’s go to dinner. I made reservations at The Happy Tuna. You’re not too upset to enjoy sushi, are you?” He grinned as a small smile appeared on her lips. “After I drop you off, I’ll go home and call Mother, okay?”
“I’d prefer to talk to her myself. Why won’t she even talk to me on the phone?” The smile faded and John worried he’d have to keep rubbing her. She brushed his hands away and headed toward the hallway. “Dinner sounds great. Give me a minute to change.”
After a meal that included no mention of his mother, John drove Julie home. He opened her door with a gallant air that made her giggle and walked her to the door. Julie rose up on tiptoes to wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him.
He’d forgotten that ‘goodnight’ meant more petting.
“I know I insisted on waiting, but I was thinking…with the wedding so close…” She glanced up through her lashes.
His arms tightened around her. It took a deep breath before he trusted himself to speak. “You’ve saved yourself this long, Julie, and I respect that. We’ll wait until the wedding night. It’ll make the whole thing sweeter.” He touched her cheek with one finger, tracing a path toward her lips. Her breath caught and he bent his head to kiss her one more time before turning to leave.
“I love you! Don’t forget to call your mother!” Julie’s voice followed him down the sidewalk. Gritting his teeth, he waved over his shoulder. Once in the privacy of his car, he expelled a sigh of relief before heading to his house.
In a secluded neighborhood, not more than a five-minute drive from Julie’s home sat the little ranch house where John stayed. He strolled through the front door and dropped his keys on the table next to the door. He didn’t bother to turn on the lights as he made his way toward the kitchen. The meager furnishings offered no obstacle to his destination. He didn’t care about acquiring more, however, they were necessary to the charade.
Once he reached the kitchen, he clicked on the lights. Brightness reflected off the pristine granite counter tops. He filled a glass at the sink and took a long drink to get the taste of raw fish out of his mouth. The water tasted crisp and pure. Much like he imagined Julie would taste.
The thought of his fiancee reminded him of what he needed to do. He couldn’t put it off anymore. It was time to talk to Mother.
The glass clinked on the counter when he set it down. John headed toward the basement door.
The steps leading to the unfinished basement were simple pine. His footsteps echoed off the cinder block wall. At the bottom of the steps, he kicked off his shoes. Barefoot, he padded toward the little room in the back of the basement.
Between one step and the next, a black smoke rose up from under his feet. It grew thicker, swirling around him until it completely enveloped him. It danced across his skin and erased the illusion he’d adopted years ago. In the blink of an eye, it vanished.
Free of the confining disguise, he paused to scratch under his arm. That itch had been driving him crazy for hours. It was a relief to finally get it.
His clawed fingers tapped across the cement blocks until he found the loose one. Dust rained down with each slight shift of the block. The key nestled in the back. He unlocked the dark wood door and stepped inside.
With a careless wave of his hand, he lit the candles in the room with a ripple of his power. The flickering light reflected off the pentagram etched in the floor.
The cement was cool against his knees. He chanted, the harsh sounding words bouncing off the walls of the cramped room. Thick smoke, identical to his own, rose up and rolled around the confines of the circle. It swelled only to collapse back on itself to form a figure.
Inside the circle, yellow eyes met and held his. He’d always been told he had his mother’s eyes. Guttural words hissed out of the trapped creature’s mouth.
He held up his hand to cut off the tirade, “Mother, you need to leave Julie alone. It’s not fair to torment her before the wedding. It’s hard enough to find a virgin in today’s world, I won’t have you scaring her off.”
The demon in the circle snarled. Her lips twisted away from sharp fangs.
The creature known as John sneered back, “I mean it. Weren’t you the one who taught me not to play with my food?”
C. E. Stokes is a freelance writer living near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She has Bachelor of Fine Arts from Bloomsburg University. Being too much of a foodie to accept the role of starving artist, she turned to writing. Her short stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Quantum Fairy Tales, multiple issues of Dark Gothic Resurrected and the “Tales from the Grave” and “The Key” anthology.