“Room and Board Included, Demonology Extra”—A Story by Eden Royce

(Broken Eye Books 2020)

At the start of hurricane season, our house would get up and move inland. Most of the time it stayed where it was, its oystershell frame crouched in the middle of Charleston harbor, surrounded by lapping waters the color of collard-green liquor. But when the air grew thick and electric with ozone, filling with dense, wet clouds, that meant hurricanes were coming. The house sensed this even before we did. It swayed gently, rocking from side to side, and stretched up, lifting its long stilts, spindly as crab legs, and headed to safety.

Once settled, the house would crouch down into the moist dirt, nestling in to weather the storms. There we would spend the rest of the season, secure in our little house until the weather calmed again. 

When the season was over, our house would rise up, shake like a wet puppy, and stomp back to the water. In those few months, August to November, we would rent our extra rooms to people who didn’t have anywhere safe to weather the storms. 

As a nine-year-old, I thought we were rich, having a place we could let other people use for a while. At least we had enough to share with others, even if we did charge them for it. Our rooms were few but nice—came with a poster bed covered in clean sheets off the line, a desk and chair, plus a hot breakfast.

Mamma had her hoodoo parlor and receiving room downstairs, right before you got to the dining room and the kitchen. The bedrooms we rented were upstairs, along with my room and Mamma’s. 

People would stay until the storm passed over, usually a couple of days, before returning to where they came from to clean up, repair, and get on with their lives. Most of the time, they were all good people, happy to have a clean room and hot meals and to let me and Mamma take care of them for a short while.

Most of the time.

One morning a few weeks into the season, I woke up crying. Hot tears poured down my face. I gasped for breath, my chest heaving. I clutched the bedcovers, trying to control my sobbing. But there was no way. It grew so big inside me that it finally burst, and I had to let it all out.

I didn’t know what it was; I wasn’t sad at all. I’d had a good summer, and so far, even with the hurricanes coming off and on, it had been a good school year. I’d met lots of people, and Mamma had made lots of money. Enough to last us through the winter. But this crying… where did it come from? Soul deep loss and pain. I got visions from time to time, which Mamma said I would one day learn to control, but today wasn’t that day.

As much as I tried to be quiet, my sobs were loud enough for her to hear as she walked past my door on her way to make breakfast. She opened the door and came in, gathering me up in her arms. She smelled like she always did: good, clean Ivory soap, a touch of scalp oil, and cherry vanilla lotion.

“Jamie Lou, what is it, baby?” she asked. “What happened?”

“I don’t know!” I choked out. “I don’t know whose pain this is.”

Mama rocked me in her arms back and forth until I calmed down. She wiped my face with a handkerchief. “It’s okay. It’s okay. You always was a sensitive child. Always wanting the right thing for people.”

“But why not do the right thing? Why not help others when they need it?” 

She patted me on the back a little too roughly, but it was her way and a comfort. “People don’t always do what’s right if they ain’t forced to. They don’t wanna take the time, or they feel like it ain’t worth their while.”

Pain still rolled inside me, stinging and burning. But I wiped my face, swallowed the morning air. My eyes felt puffy, the skin around them sticky and tender. “But someone is really hurt.” 

“It was only a dream, baby.”

I wasn’t sure. But I wanted to believe she was right, so I rubbed my eyes with my palms, smearing away the last of my tears. When I dreamed, I could remember bits and pieces of what I’d seen, but this morning, there was nothing except a lingering feeling of wrong. Sometimes I picked up other people’s visions instead of my own. Things that couldn’t be in this world. Things that made my skin crawl and my scalp itch, so I tried to forget about them. Mamma was teaching me to focus, but I hadn’t quite got the hang of it. 

“Come on, get up now, Jamie Lou,” Mamma said. She opened my blinds, letting the welcome, white-hot rays of sun pierce through the blue sky and into my room. With a sky like that, it was hard to see how I could have been crying so hard a few moments before. “Let’s get you something to drink and some breakfast. You’ll feel better.”

After lunch, a hurricane crept up without warning to beat the Carolina coast, headed toward us. As Mamma rushed to get us ready, a man came scuttling up to the front door, fighting the pre-storm winds. He had his face tucked into his shoulder, and he held his hat on with one hand. The other hand clutched a road-weary leather case.

This man was skinny and dark like me. And he smelled like my gramma used to say old Southern gentlemen did: bay rum and Royal Crown hair pomade and lots of spray starch. His clothes were still wrinkled though, like he’d been on the road a long time. When there was a gap in the wind’s blustering breath, he looked up at us on the porch. Round spectacles with blue lenses—blue lenses!—covered his eyes. 

“Afternoon, ma’am,” he said, flashing us a hint of gold when he opened his mouth. “May I?”

Mamma nodded, and he stepped up onto the porch with long, spidery legs—hovered in the corner next to the bannister like a spider too—and smoothed his straightened hair. He told Mamma that he was traveling and had been on the road a long time, exactly like I’d thought. I smiled to myself, pleased at guessing right. I hadn’t yet come into my second sight real good, and I didn’t always trust it, but I was pretty good at putting myself in other people’s shoes, trying to be understanding. 

The man introduced himself proper to Mamma and me, earning himself a bit more respect in her esteem, as Doctor Bug. She ushered him inside, closed the door behind him. 

“How long you planning on staying?” Mamma asked.

Even though Dr. Bug was tired, he tried to smile. It looked like a real one, but it took all the rest of his energy. “Oh, long as I can, I expect,” he replied. “For now, let’s call it a week.” He handed over enough money for two weeks and waved off Mamma’s argument. 

“For your trouble. I didn’t book a room in advance, and I expect you got enough to get you and your chile through this hurricane, not planning on having any guests, until it blows over.” 

Mamma nodded, handed me the key to room three. “Go on, Jamie Lou. Take the man’s bags.”

He let me take his big leather case without any protest, and I thought he might believe I was a boy. I looked like one with my white T-shirt and overalls and my close-cut hair. Mamma never had time to oil and braid long, thick hair, so she kept mine cut short. I didn’t care. Never liked the fuss over hair and things. 

Dr. Bug followed me up the stairs as I hauled the huge bag to room three. 

“Your bag sure is heavy.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, surprisin’ the hell outta me. “I should have carried it myself.”

“No problem. I do it all the time.” I peered at him with a squint in my eyes. “What’s in there?”

“Just necessities.”

I unlocked room three and handed over the key.

Dr. Bug’s eyes grew large. He froze up like he’d seen a snake coiled up, on the edge of striking.

“That’s a four-poster,” he said, pointing.

I nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“You got any rooms without a poster bed?”

“No, sir. All our beds are posters. Mamma says they’re the fanciest ones, and people tend to like ’em. Makes them feel special.” 

I looked up at him. It seemed a long, long way, almost like he was towering over me. But a tower that wasn’t quite straight, one that leans slightly to the side, making his shadow on the floor bent and awkward-looking.

He trembled a bit. “Fanciest ones,” he repeated. Dr. Bug stared at the bed like he was thinking of what to do next.

“You don’t like ’em then? Why not?”

“Too much of a… perch.” He blinked, and the pleasant look was back on his face. “I’ll have to make do, I guess. Or don’t you have a room without a bed a’tall?”

Now why would you want that? I shook my head. “No, sir. Mamma ain’t going to let you sleep on her kitchen floor.”

Dr. Bug shrugged and tossed his hand on the bed. “Don’t worry. It’ll be all right. It’ll have to be all right.”

I couldn’t understand what he didn’t like about the four-poster. It was beautiful, dark wood, and Mamma had me keep it polished to a high gloss. Mahogany, I think it was. The headboard was smooth and undamaged even though it had belonged to my great, great, grandmother. Most people oohed and ahhed when they saw this room but not Dr. Bug. He seemed unsettled and unhappy.

“Okay, if you’re sure.” I walked into the room, set his bag on the floor. “If you need anything, let me know.”

He looked like he might have been trying to come up with something to say, but Mamma called me. It was time to help her make an extra portion for dinner.

***

Dr. Bug wasn’t a sleeper. I knew because his room was right next to mine, and I heard him moving around. Whispering, scratching on what sounded like a washboard. I made up stories about what he could be doing. That rustling sound could be him practicing some kind of mystical martial art. That scratching could be him writing with one of those old-fashioned quill pens that need the bottle of ink to work. But what would he be writing? About his life of course. His patients and all the people he’d saved in his lifetime.

I pressed my ear up against the wall between us to hear better, and I could have sworn I heard him stop. Then after a moment start back up again, scratching and rumbling and mumbling to himself. 

It didn’t keep me up because I wasn’t a sleeper either. My visions would come at odd times, some sweet but most scary. I’d wake up after the first two or three, my skin itching and crawling. And I’d have to get a dry brush and rub myself all over to calm down. Mamma said the visions would slow down once I’d been having them a while. She said I’d then have to go through something like it when my lady time started, a few months of unpredictable before it all settled down to what it was supposed to be. 

Those early days of my visions set me up to be able to work all day on about four hours of sleep a night. The rest of the time, I’d read or go around the house on tiptoe, making a list of what we needed from the market or what needed repairing. Sometimes I’d draw or play the little banjo someone left in one of the rooms long ago. Quick, strong fingers could only help me. 

I stayed there with my ear pressed against the wall, listening until I fell asleep, and the only visions I had that night were my own.

The next morning, I was up early. I lit the stove and put water on to boil for coffee. When I heard the stairs creak, I thought Mamma was coming down to get breakfast started. 

It wasn’t. Dr. Bug stood in the doorway to the kitchen like he wasn’t sure he should come in or not. 

“You can have a seat,” I said. “Only coffee is ready right now. Mamma don’t let me cook for guests. ’Cept eggs. I can fix those.”

Dr. Bug shuddered. “Coffee’s fine, thank you.” He slid into the farthest seat the table. He wore a suit, not the one he had on the night before, but this one had the same scent. He was clean-shaven, and his hair was slicked down into waves. 

I set the sugar dish and milk jug on the table, but he drank his coffee black while I added two spoons of each to my cup. 

“So what do you do around this place?” he asked, glancing around the room.

I stirred. “What Mamma tells me to mostly. I’m a kid.”

He nodded like he understood being a kid was a job by itself. “But you have dreams, don’t you?”

I nearly jumped in my seat when he said it before I realized he wasn’t talking about my sight. “Not really.”

“There’s nothing in this life that you really have your heart set on doing?”

The stairs creaked again, and I looked toward them. It was Mamma’s footstep pattern; her heels make a certain noise on the carpet. When I looked back, Dr. Bug and the coffee cup were gone, the steam from his coffee still rising in a swirl like a tornado.

“Morning, Jamie Lou,” Mamma looked happy after a night of rest, and she smiled at me as she poured a cup of coffee. “You were up early. And made coffee too? I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome.” I always felt good when Mamma praised me. Not that she didn’t do it often enough, but there was a deep, open part of me that seemed to constantly need filling with her love and appreciation. It was just the two of us, always had been, and I wanted to do all I could for her. 

“Our guest joining us for breakfast?”

“I don’t think so. He had his coffee earlier, but”—What do I say?—“he took it and left.”

“Back up to his room?”

“Um, yes. I think so.”

“Well, this storm is nothing to play with. I hope he made a smart decision and carried himself on back to his room. The way these hurricanes just turn up outta nowhere nowadays. Never know when you might get caught out.” Mamma pulled back the curtain in the kitchen and peered out the window. “Doesn’t look too bad. But I think there might be something off in the distance.”

“He seems like he can take care of himself.”

“And how would you know that? You sounding so grown lately.” Mamma looked at me over her shoulder. “Let’s get some breakfast in you.”

I picked up the container of eggs and opened it. They were all either milk-white or toasty brown. All of them except one. I had to look at it closely to make sure it wasn’t my eyes fooling me. One of the eggs had a slightly blue tint to it. The shell seemed thinner, almost like I could see through it. “Mamma, one of these eggs looks blue.”

“Blue? Let me see.” Mamma glanced over. “That’s just light playing tricks. Nothing to worry about. It’s a plain old white egg.” She sat a pan on the stove, added a pat of butter, and adjusted the flame. 

Maybe I was still unsettled from my crying yesterday, but there was something not right about that egg, and I knew it. I leaned over to look at it in its casing next to all of the other eggs. I picked the egg up, holding it to the light streaming through the twitched-back curtain. An indigo-dark blob of something swirled inside. As I peered closer, that blue pushed against the shell toward me, cracking it.

I yelped and dropped the egg. I watched helplessly as it tumbled, the entire shell shattering on the countertop and the indigo mass spreading out like ink. Mamma turned from the stove. 

“Jamie Lou! This is why I don’t let you cook without me. Now go get a kitchen towel and clean this up. Save that egg. We can’t afford to throw away food around here.”

I grabbed paper towels—two, three, four of them—sure I would need that many to mop up the dark stain. But when I turned back, the blue blob was gone. Only the clear whitish part of the egg and the yellow bubble of yolk remained. Where had it gone? Was it my imagination? I touched the egg white with my finger, pressed into the slick jelly.

I plucked up the broken shell and dumped it into the trash. Then I cupped my hand around the egg splattered on the counter, scooped it into a small bowl, and handed it to Mamma. With half of the paper towels, I wiped the counter clean. I sprayed it with cleaner and used the rest of the towels to remove all traces of the curious egg. I cracked the window to let the overwhelming scent of pine escape.

“You sit at that table there until I put your breakfast in front of you,” Mamma said, cracking another egg into the pot and laying thick slices of bread into a skillet to toast. “Drink your coffee and stay out of trouble until at least I can get some food in you. Then you can help me prepare the house for the storm.”

I sat, waited for my breakfast. 

I poked at the eggs while I munched on buttered white toast. 

“I know you ain’t leaving my good food to go in the trash.” Mamma glared down at me, and under the weight of her gaze, I shoved scrambled egg onto my remaining toast and forced it down with gulps of sweet coffee until my plate was clean.

Hurricane preparation was more than the house up and running for high ground. We still had to protect it, keep it from getting hurt. We also had to make sure we had what we needed in case we got cut off from help: oil for lamps, candles, matches, and lots of water.

Mamma was nailing up thin boards to the windows outside to protect them against flying objects like rocks, trees, and pieces of house that the storm might throw our way. Our house wasn’t like some of the newer homes, made of springy material that absorbed the blows storms dealt. I yanked the plastic foot mat out of the tub in the bathroom next to my room and rolled it up, securing it with a rubber band. Then I scrubbed the tub clean on my knees, rinsing it out three good times before wiping around the lip. I lifted the latch to close the drain and filled the tub with clean, cold water, enough to last us a few weeks if we were careful. Just in case. 

To test it, I scooped up a handful and drank. It was cool but not cold, and there was no trace of the cleanser I used. Mamma got to the bathroom window with her panels of wood, and darkness fell inside the room. Scrabbling came from nearby, probably Mamma searching for nails, but it had sounded more joyful than she usually was. 

I grabbed the mat and left the bathroom. There was still more to do. 

***

The storm came that night. Howling winds muffled the sounds coming from Dr. Bug’s room, but I heard them still. I kneeled on my bed, my ear against the drywall, and listened. Scraping sounds, chipping sounds, and the occasional curse. Finally, around three in the morning, the sounds stopped. The bed creaked, and I heard the deepest, longest sigh ever. I settled down too, for some reason feeling strangely comforted. 

***

Winds still howled outside in the morning. I was up before Mamma, the three hours of sleep enough to refresh me. The house was darker with the windows covered, even though it was morning. Sand and dirt battered the walls and the freshly applied boards. Something metal, a paint can or a bucket clattered down the road. Water splattered in the bathroom next door to my room, like it had been hit with a flat hand. I crept closer, still in my pj’s but with enough sense to put on my sneakers in case I needed to run. I glanced over to room three at the other end of the hall. The door was closed, no sound or movement within. Guess Dr. Bug needed more sleep than I did. 

At the bathroom door, I listened. The splat came again, a patter of bouncy rhythm like a baby playing in a washtub. Then a gurgle. A leak maybe? Another customer Mamma had signed in without me knowing? I swung the door open, flicked on the overhead light.

From the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of color. Black and blue sliding by faster than my sight could catch. There and gone. I turned, but I was alone in the bathroom. The sounds, the splashes and gurgling, had stopped. I approached the tub, peered inside. Ripples ebbed away from the surface, and a feather, long and sharp, floated in tight circles. 

What bird could have gotten in here? Had to have been before we boarded the house up. But where had it come from? I plucked the feather from the water, and it left a faint, oily blue outline of itself before dispersing. My stomach boiled. I wrapped the feather in a piece of paper towel and shoved it in my pocket. After, I drained the tub and got back on my knees to scrub it clean again. 

Dr. Bug missed his morning coffee. It wasn’t worried, knowing he’d been up all night. I wasn’t sure why Mamma hadn’t heard his maneuverings, must have been the sound of the screaming wind and the roar of the ocean. I so wanted to watch the waves during the hurricanes. From the news on our battery-powered radio, they got to be twenty feet or more. Churning waters rise up like a hand and smack the daylights outta the shore—that would be a sight to see. But I couldn’t. Couldn’t do much of anything, and I got bored and restless. It was the worst thing about being cooped up in the house during the hurricanes. 

Once when I was real young and Mama was sleeping during a storm, I slid out from her bed. I took a broom handle and knocked loose the hook on the back door. Rain hissed from the concrete gray clouds, the sound like sizzling on a hot plate. Lightning cracked, splitting the sky in three parts. When the thunder boomed, it echoed in my chest, shaking the house. I held my arms out to let the sound fill me up, let the hurricane feed me its energy. I felt whole, safe, the cracks of loneliness inside me filling and sealing up like they were never there. Right as I was about to open my mouth and holler out my thanks, Mamma grabbed me around the arms and dragged me inside. She shook me as she kneeled down and yelled in my face. 

“What the hell you doing, girl? Don’t you ever scare me like that no more in life! You coulda killed your fool self. Lighting woulda struck you dead.”

Her words bounced off me. I heard, I understood, but she didn’t need to worry. The storm was a protection of sorts. A safety. No one would come to hurt me while it raged. 

I took the feather from my pocket. Unwrapped the paper towel, now with a smear of oily stain. The hurricane still roared outside, rain pelting the roof and porch. Daylight was weak as used dishwater, the sun unable to brighten the day. Mamma had gone to balance her books, which meant she had poured herself a Tom Collins and sat down at her desk with her ledger and sign-in books. 

“If Dr. Bug gets up, you tell him there’s biscuits on the counter and cold meat and cheese in the fridge there. If he can’t make it to meals, I don’t cook on call.” Then she paused, probably remembering he paid for two weeks up front. “Make him a fresh pot of coffee if he wants it.”

“Yes, Mamma.”

Only, he didn’t get up. I did my chores, read a book, strummed on the little banjo. Fed up with all of that, I pulled the feather from my pocket again, twirled it around by the tip. It was sometime around noon, according to the stove clock, and I journeyed upstairs to check on him. His door was cracked open, the scent of fresh-cut wood leaking out. I peeked around the door. The room was dim inside, only a little light shining through the edges of the window where Mamma had cut the boards too small, but the room seemed to be empty. I nudged it open more, calling, 

“Sir? I mean, Doctor? You in here?”

No answer. 

I flicked on the light, watched the house’s lights trickle from the vein that ran the length of the wall up to the ceiling and down to hang over the middle of the room. I staggered back when I saw it. 

Mamma’s four-poster was ruined. Images were carved into the formerly smooth surface of the wood. Vines and flowers wound their way across the head and footboards and twined around each post of the bed. Deep gouges in the dark wood revealed a paler color to the edges of the raised images. The floor was littered with wood chips and shavings. 

It was beautiful and fearsome at the same time. An entire story played out before me in wood, light and dark, wood smeared with what looked like shoe polish and blood: 

A man walked in a forest of low-hanging trees. He stumbled on an egg, breaking it. He kicked away the shell, angry at it having stained his shoes and clothing. That same man running as an enormous bird chased him until he left the forest. 

“What in the world—” I said. 

“It’s my story.”

I whirled around to face Dr. Bug. His straightened hair was still damp from his wash, and he’d slicked it down so good, I could see the tracks of the comb. Yet another suit, only this one looked easy and comfortable, a long way away from the look on his face. His eyes without their lenses looked watery and nervous.

Before he could see, I slipped the feather up the sleeve of my shirt. “You broke an egg.”

He nodded, his face all serious. “And that thing been chasing me ever since.”

“The mamma?” I didn’t even bother to wait for the doctor’s answer. “Yeah, they’re like that when you do somethin’ to their babies.”

“Well, the storm is on us now, so she won’t be able to fly here. Plus, y’all got the place boarded up and secure, so she can’t get in.” He came into the room, put his blue glasses back on. “I’ll be moving on after it passes over. Won’t leave you all to deal with her.”

“Who is she?” I felt a bit sorry for her, who’d lost her baby because of the doctor’s carelessness. Maybe her egg was like me, the only child she could ever have. ’Cause of Dr. Bug, she would be alone forever. 

“Who knows? Doesn’t matter, no way. I’m gonna get ridda her one of these days.”

I cocked my head. “Kill her?” He messed up her egg, and he wanted to get rid of the bird mamma for being mad? He had some kinda nerve.

“If I have to. If I can.” Dr. Bug sat on the bed, the mattress dipping under his slight weight. 

The feather tickled, but I didn’t dare scratch or pick at it in case it grabbed his attention. “How are you gonna do that?”

“Been tryin’ for what feels like ages now. Best I can do is to keep moving until I figure it out.” His eyes were fiery behind the cool blue lenses. “And I will, I promise you that.”

A sharp jab stung me under my shirt. I yipped at the pain, but it passed quick. 

“You okay, girl?” He was staring at me curious-like.

“I’m fine,” I said, rubbing my arm. I had the urge to smash the whole bed to pieces. Crush the entire story of what brought Dr. Bug here. When Mamma found out… I shuddered just thinking about it. “But Mamma ain’t gonna be happy about her bed.”

At least Dr. Bug looked like he felt bad. “I know, and I’m sorry for that, but any kind of bed raised off the floor will bring her to me that much quicker. Doing the carvings gets me a little more time.”

“Well, you gonna have to tell Mamma you did it and why because I sure don’t want all of that on my head.”

He packed his tools back into a leather case. “I sure will, young miss. I surely will.”

“And you gonna have to pay for it,” I said, meaning the bed.

“Don’t I know it,” he said, seemingly meaning something else. His eyes shifted to the carving of the bird. Its face was a little bit human and a lot furious.

A rush of wind shook the house to its foundations, and it groaned. I turned away to head back to my room. “Coffee’s downstairs if you want it.”

The storm raged on for most of the day. Rain on the roof sounded like stones clattering when dropped from above. Thunder backhanded the sky. The lights flickered and went out, leaving the house dim and riddled with shadows. Wind shrieked so loud, I had to ask Mamma to repeat herself twice, making her snap at me.

“I said, ‘Are you finished cleaning the rooms?’”

“Oh! Yes, ma’am.” I hadn’t cleaned Dr. Bug’s room. The sight of the carvings and the beautiful damage to Mamma’s bed had stopped me.

Mamma hadn’t cooked. When power went out, we ate whatever would go bad soonest without being kept cold. I touched the eggs in their cardboard container, but they would be okay for a long while. By candlelight, Mamma and I shared the rest of the crab rice from the night before and sloshed extra milk in our coffee. The scent of melting wax and fried bacon wafted through the room. Still no appearance from the doctor.

“I know you frustrated you can’t go outside and burn off some energy, but we’re in here for the duration. Go on and do something with yourself ’til this storm is over.” Mamma tucked a crossword puzzle book under her arm, grabbed her pitcher of Tom Collins, and sat in her recliner. She worked the puzzle by the light of a hurricane lamp, pushing the tip of the pencil against her tongue as she thought. Likely, she’d doze off until her stomach or her bladder got her up. Sometime after nightfall, she’d make her way to her bedroom. 

I felt so deeply for her, in this house with only me for company. Aching in the arches of my feet made me toe my sneakers off and leave them in the hallway. Wind shrieked banshee-loud, tossing and rattling whatever was outside, and the rain sounded like loads of gravel getting dumped on us, but the oystershell house held on. 

Barefoot, I slid upstairs to check on Dr. Bug. His door was closed but unlocked. When I peered in, he was stretched out on the bed, snoring. A tiny piece of foil lay in an ashtray, surrounded by ash. Sweat beaded on his top lip and forehead, and his mouth worked as if he was mumbling in his sleep.

Inside…

The thought spoke to me like a trusted friend, and I moved quietly forward, closing the door behind me. I could smell the storm in this room, and I saw he’d lifted the window a bit and used one of his woodworking tools to bend and crack away a piece of the board Mamma put up to keep us safe. A large-enough piece for him to look outside. Rain drizzled in, speckling the sill and dribbling down the wall. Anger at his disregard for our property dug into me. He thought nothing of what belonged to others.

I spat on the doorframe, over and over, thick spit that sealed the exit closed. Turning to the bed, I pulled up my sleeves, careful of the feathers that now spouted there. I stalked across the room, careful to avoid any of the floorboards that might creak and give me away. My toes grew longer and spread wide, the baby one melting together with the fourth. I hopped up on the footboard and squatted. One toe on each foot rotated backward to balance me as I perched. 

“Doctor,” I called to him. 

He groaned in his sleep, fussed, smacked his lips. I clutched the footboard tighter. A crack began to split the wood, spidering outward. At the sound, Dr. Bug shook his head, inched up on his elbows. Our gazes met. He opened his mouth to scream, but I spat again, cutting his cry off before it could develop. 

“You broke her egg,” I told him. “You need to apologize for that.”

I couldn’t understand most of his babbling through the sticky muzzle. I reached over with my mostly still-me arms and scooped his mouth clear. He was so scared. I shifted on the footboard, my claws scraping the wood. “Do the right thing and maybe you can leave here.”

He rolled from the bed to try and get out the door, but it wouldn’t move even though he yanked at it with all his body weight. He raced to the window to pry off the boards with his fingers. Finally, he slumped down to the floor, his back against the wall, whimpering and shaking his head. His tears mixed with my spit into a gloopy mess. I joined him on the floor. He’d had his chance.

I clawed open his belly just enough to place a new egg inside. The storm covered most of his screams, but I wasn’t worried about getting in trouble. Once Mamma saw how the doctor destroyed her bed, she’d agree that I’d done the right thing. 

___

Eden Royce is a Freshwater Geechee from Charleston, South Carolina, now living in the Garden of England. Her work can be found in various print and online publications including: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & HorrorApex Magazine, Strange HorizonsFiyah Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, and PodCastle. She’s also a contributor to the Bram Stoker Award finalist anthology Sycorax’s Daughters

Her debut middle grade Southern Gothic novel Root Magic is scheduled for publication in January 2021 from Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins. Find her at edenroyce.com.

Broken Eye Books is an independent press, here to bring you the odd, strange, and offbeat side of speculative fiction. Our stories tend to blend genres, highlighting the weird and blurring its boundaries with horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Discover our books at brokeneyebooks.com.

(Source: Patreon.com)

One response to ““Room and Board Included, Demonology Extra”—A Story by Eden Royce

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