The Good Inside Me
by Barbara Russell
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Dragons, short-tempered archdemons, and hysterical damned souls—Shax is used to dealing with all that. He’s a young fire demon and lives in Hell, after all. What he’s not used to is being possessed by a human. A very good human and a pretty girl at that: sixteen-year-old Tolis. Despite still having control of his body most of the time, Shax can hear Tolis’s voice inside his head and feels what she feels constantly.
Shax’s mentor claims that Tolis hides an ancient, powerful grimoire, a book of spells, and proposes a deal: if Shax finds it, he’ll help Shax get work as a dragon keeper—Shax’s dream job. Tolis swears she doesn’t have the grimoire and asks Shax to help her father, whose soul is turning evil by the minute. Unless Tolis does something, her dad’s soul will end in Hell. Hoping to convince her to give him the grimoire, and not because Shax cares about the man’s soul, he agrees to help.
Goodness is overrated. Since Shax decided to help Tolis, his life has turned into a hurdle race. Thugs chase him, the scientists in Hell want to prod and examine the first possessed demon in history, and he can’t find the darn grimoire.
And the worst part? Due to the unavoidable presence of Tolis, who keeps intruding into his evil thoughts, Shax discovers an almost decent side of himself. In no time at all, he catches himself doing actual good deeds. Is he becoming—yuck—good?
NOT MANY THINGS scared Shax. He was a fire demon, lived in Hell, and dealt with dragons and other infernal beasts every day. Attempts to stab and roast him were pretty much a part of his daily routine. Not to mention his short-tempered archdemon mentor, who threatened him with disembowelment at least ten times in an hour. Yet, being trapped in the limbo between Earth and Hell, the nowhere space that had no entrance or exit, made him want to throw up out of fear. When he’d dematerialized from Hell to reach Earth, he hadn’t focused on his destination. He’d landed in the middle of the corridor of St. Cecil High School in Auckland, as he was supposed to, but had ended up sandwiched between the infernal portal and the human one. Again. Whoever said ending up in limbo was a rare thing had never dematerialized with Shax.
Blurred figures brushed past the limbo’s walls, and muffled sounds echoed around him. Pushing at the opaque walls that caged him was useless. Screaming didn’t solve anything, and even tossing one of his mighty demonic blazes wouldn’t do any good. The metaphysical cage was fireproof. Besides, he’d tried demonic fire before and only gotten burned. But this didn’t mean he was a hopeless demon, as many said back in Hell. Anyone could’ve made this mistake.
He leaned against the cold barrier and counted the stains of mud on his sneakers. Not much to do but wait for Astharot, his mentor, to rescue him. As only a fifth-level fire demon, Shax needed an expert’s help to jump in and out of limbo.
A tall dark figure approached the wall, and Shax waved a hand. “I’m here!”
He wiped his sweaty hands on his jeans. Great Sathael, not even Hades Park with its roaming werewolves was so creepy. These icy walls, the distant sounds, the fuzzy silhouettes…it all seemed as if he were trapped in a fishbowl.
The dark figure lifted an arm and hit the barrier. A crack appeared, letting in a draft of fresh air. The fist struck again until the fractures expanded like cobwebs. The wall shattered, exploding into thousands of glassy pieces. Shax fell over, dropping onto a blue vinyl floor. He moaned, massaging his back.
Astharot loomed over him. His lips curled to bare his teeth in a threatening smirk—as if being a massive archdemon, almost eight feet tall and dressed in black leather from head to toe, wasn’t menacing enough.
“What were you doing in there?” Astharot pulled Shax to his feet.
Shax adjusted his red hoodie. “I miscalculated the dematerialization.”
“Miscalculated?” Astharot scowled at him. “Your lack of focus will cost you a few points on your final score.”
“Complain and I’ll have you weed dragonwort from my garden.”
“Again? I did it last week.” Shax flexed his fingers, which were still throbbing from the spiky dragonwort’s bites.
“It has regrown.” Astharot grabbed his arm. “We’d better hurry. Our divine colleagues are already here.”
Shax shrugged himself free and dodged a teacher striding past. A long corridor, lined with yellow lockers on both sides, stretched in front of him. Kids wearing blue and green uniforms milled around, bags strapped to their shoulders. Girls with colorful rucksacks covered in freakish rainbows, ugly unicorns, and hideous flowers filed in. Goodness wafted from them like the scents of their flowery perfumes, causing his stomach to roll. A guy ran through Shax as if he were a ghost, and Shax shouted. No point in keeping his voice low. None of these humans could see, hear, or touch him unless he revealed himself.
The students’ chatter and click-clack of lockers being closed and opened echoed off the walls. At the end of the hallway, in a quiet corner, two men stood, dressed in blinding white suits. The shorter one, Jilhael, fussed with his snowy cravat and pulled back his long blond hair.
Shax waved at his friend. Looking at Jilhael’s sapphire eyes and sensing the goodness in him, no one would ever guess he was half fire demon, half air angel. Jilhael’s mentor, Nithael, surveyed the crowd of kids with his sharp gaze, like a German shepherd watching a flock of sheep, his ebony skin a stark contrast with his white suit. Shax squinted at the circle of blue light on the floor; it marked one of the celestial portals that led to Heaven.
Astharot and Nithael exchanged a curt nod.
Shax playfully shoved Jilhael. “Hey, Jay, ready?”
Jilhael loosened his shirt’s collar. “You were right. This white suit is a tad uncomfortable.”
“Told ya.” Shax tugged at his hoodie and twitched his nose. His clothes smelled of sulfur and French fries. “Hell: less rules, more fun.”
Jilhael raised a golden brow. “This is work. It’s not supposed to be fun.”
Astharot toyed with his dagger—the athame—scrutinizing the oblivious human kids. “Have you already chosen Jilhael’s subject? Who should Jilhael possess?”
Nithael straightened and golden sparks flew about him. They fell on two girls passing by, who laughed. “Sure.” He flourished a hand. A white book appeared in his palm, and he skimmed the pages. “Jilhael has already possessed three young humans with excellent results, despite his lack of control.” He gave Jilhael a piercing look.
Astharot snorted, but Nithael ignored him.
“Jilhael’s subject today will be…Chad McKee, sixteen, prone to anger and envy. He harassed a few girls in the past weeks, and he’s that boy over there.” Nithael pointed to a broad guy with short brown hair and hazel eyes, standing in front of an open locker. A large duffel bag dangled from his shoulder.
Shax poked Jilhael in the ribs. “Looks like a tough guy. I don’t envy you.”
“No pun intended, right?” Jilhael chuckled.
“What about Shax?” Nithael closed the book and made it disappear with a casual gesture.
Astharot scratched his unshaven chin with his blade. “Don’t know…not sure yet….”
“I need to know who Shax is going to possess, Astharot.” Nithael’s hands twitched. “It’s our right to have the chance to repair the damage you and your apprentice are going to—”
“Shut up. I’m no rookie. Let me think,” Astharot scoffed.
“You promised to be ready this time,” Nithael hissed, blue sparks shooting from his body.
Shax stifled a chuckle. Had Nithael believed Astharot would be ready?
“Don’t get your wings in a knot.” Astharot held out a hand. “Give me a minute, and I’ll find Shax’s next target.”
Jilhael leaned closer to Shax. “What creature is next on your list? Or are you still working with objects?”
“I’ve finished with appliances.” Shax gestured to a fly zooming by. “An insect? Or a small animal maybe.” He rubbed his hands. “This is the first time I’ll possess a living thing. I can’t wait.”
“It’s a lot of work.” Jilhael brushed his white jacket. “But I love searching for the good inside a living being and helping it grow.”
“There!” Astharot pointed his athame toward Chad’s left.
Shax squinted. A huge black spider crawled on top of the lockers, but Chad and a pretty blonde girl next to him ignored it.
A spider. Cool. Being a spider for a few days would have to be fun.
The girl shifted sideways, her pink lips and rosy skin, her long wavy hair— Nope. He had to focus. On the spider. Astharot mumbled something Shax didn’t catch—probably the usual list of dos and don’ts. As if he didn’t know that taking a life was a big no-no. Inside a spider, he could scare girls, build cobwebs, sneak into the girls’ changing room. Finally, Astharot had given him an awesome test.
I’m an entomologist and a soil biologist, which is a fancy way to say that I dig in the dirt, looking for bugs. Nature and books have always been my passion. I was a kid when I read The Lord Of The Ring and fell in love with fantasy novels.
When I discovered cozy mystery and crime novels, I fell in love with Hercules Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Then I grew up and . . . Nah, I’m joking. I didn’t grow up. Don’t grow up, folks! It’s a trap.
PS I hate gardening. There, I said it. Sorry fellow Kiwis.
What the characters have to say
I don’t know how it happened. There was a flash of light, a vortex of air, and BAM! I found myself inside a demon. Shax. The most frustrating, annoying, and. . . Okay. I’ll admit it. He’s sort of cute with his green eyes and dark hair. Gorgeous actually. But he has no sense of decency. I’m trapped inside him. Sometimes I have control of his huge body, sometimes I don’t, and when he’s in control, he doesn’t warn me when he’s going to strip naked and take a shower. I mean, he could say a word, ask me to close my eyes to give him a bit of space. Not that I spy on him, but there’s no privacy between us. And yes, maybe I’ve peeked once or twice while he changes his clothes . . .
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