Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
The world hung suspended in a shiver. The lake at her feet looked a shade she could only think of as Prozac-blue and the sky overhead wrestled with determination, seeking a place of greater dominance. Addison Belle watched the surface intently.
That morning, the preacher had rolled up his sleeves and taken a young boy by the wrist, pulling him out to the deeper waters. She thought she saw the demon he'd pulled loose from the boy, a squirming, squalling red-headed five year-old dappled with bruises, into the water with him. His hand had covered the top of the boy's head, and he had mouthed a prayer, the words spoken quietly but reeking of ecstasy. He had shoved the child beneath the water, then, and the world had plunged into silence. It had for her, at least. Somewhere far away from her, the congregation had writhed, their movements frantic, reminiscent. She had watched a boiling pot of water take on the same desperate, overeager quality now displayed in the holy mob.
At thirteen and a half years old- the half mattered, because halves round up, she insisted when her mother introduced her without the half- Addison knew better than to believe in demons. That didn't change the fact that she half-swore she'd seen it tear loose from the boy, squirming its way like some slimy gray worm from the child's ear canal. Halves, as she always said, mattered, and so she peered into the depths of Lake Miriam to see if she could spot a demon lurking somewhere.
She crouched down, stirring the water with a quivering hand. Addison didn't think she wanted to see a demon- not really. Especially not if demons were as mean as the men her mother brought home. They had a way of eyeing her mother, like she'd seen a butcher in a grocer apprising a steak.
When she was younger, she thought the noises that drifted from behind that intimidating, darkly-prominent locked door might be demon noises. It unsettled her even more knowing they were sex-noises. If sex always left bruises the way it did on her mother's form, Addison Belle didn't think she wanted anything to do with it. It seemed a foul, nasty business, even if, as her mother retorted every time her own mother said something to her about the men, "It pays the god damn bills now, don't it?"
Grandmother- the warmest name Addison could think of calling the woman- had, more or less, ceased bringing it up when her mother had relented to Addison accompanying her to the lakeside church services.
The old woman, stretched thin and wrinkled, her humanity sagging loose as her skin, had stood beside Addison that morning as the boy's demon was scoured from him. He had come up, red and flushed and beaming, and the chorus of Hallelujahs that emanated from the crowd did not seem as holy as Grandmother's cold nod of approval.
Addison Belle gave up looking for the demon. She rolled up the bottoms of her ragged capris, slipped off her sandals, and began to wade out into the water. It stirred around her restlessly. She supposed it was in a race against itself, and thought wistfully that she understood the feeling.
She had made it all the way to her waist before she saw it.
There was a dark patch in the water ahead of her, a moving dark patch, and as it drew nearer, the water grew colder. The sunlight overhead quivered in fear, but continued despite its waning courage to shine down, as well as it could through blossoming clouds. It might have been all in her head, except that the dark patch was becoming more clear and solid-looking and identifiable.
It was a man. A naked, pale man, and his head broke the surface of Lake Miriam, and he rose from beneath the waters with frantic pants.
"Holy hell," he spluttered, spraying what must have been at least a gallon of murky water from his curiously small, petal-colored lips. "I don't suppose you've got anything warm and dry I could slip into, kid?"
Addison Belle felt herself go sun-set red. She shook her head, casting about frantically for words. Her tongue failed to close in on them, however, and so she stared, open-mouthed, at the man that came beside her.
He covered his front with large hands. They looked like hands that could swallow the sun.
"Not here, I'd imagine not," he said, and he shook his head, looking like some curious, dark-haired bemused dog. "But I suppose you could lead me something warm and dry I could slip into, yes?"
Her head nodded. Addison Belle did not nod it; it nodded itself. But a nod is a nod, even a slight one, and the man grinned in response. It was such a hearty, face-fracturing grin that Addison Belle supposed there was no nice way she could go about attempting to change her impulsive answer.
"If you would, then," he said, "lead on to the something warm and dry, and I'll just follow you. Mind you keep your eyes ahead, too."
"You talk odd," Addison Belle murmured as she turned her back to the man.
"Oddly," he corrected. "I talk oddly."
There was a strange, lilting accent, and a curious formality to his voice. It seemed out of place, but no more out of place than a naked man suddenly appearing in the lake.
The shore of the lake sloped upwards, a gentle green incline. Behind the stretch of grass rose up chain-link fences, and behind that, perfectly polished white houses. They were arranged in a neat line, boasting of refinement and symmetry and elegant white columns, stood in a long row. The houses watched Addison from behind perfectly manicured lawns. The grass was so green and springy, she knew, from all the times she'd cut corners and hopped fences in search of the most efficient shortcut, that she didn't think any of it could be real.
Addison led the man past the houses, on the appropriate side of the fence, and towards the wide, black road that promenaded behind the houses and the lake. They sought theof the sidewalk. It hugged close to the side of the road, apologetic beneath the scrutiny of the houses.
The curtains were all closed over the houses' staring, eye-like windows, and if anyone did watch the strange duo go by, they were curiously quiet about it. She was grateful, when they passed a too-red stop sign and arrived on a stretch of unremarkable highway. Down the streets they passed, the houses became gradually less grandiose until at last they looked to Addison like the sort of places where a normal person might live.
"I left my sandals at the lake," Addison remarked conversationally. The sidewalk felt mildly annoyed beneath her bare feet, but a cooling breeze kept it from becoming too wrathful.
"We could go back for them, if you'd like," he offered.
"I'm fine," Addison said.
"Okay," he said.
"My name is Addison," she said, her eyes still focusing on the road ahead of them.
"My name," the man responded, "is Jack."
They lapsed into an awkward silence again, and just when Addison thought of trying to break it, Addison and Jack arrived at the appropriate street. This street seemed narrower, meaner, and leaner. At least only some of the people that lived here were that way.
The house at the very corner was a dark-sided trailer, and from its rickety porch hollered a rather rotund, red-haired woman, "What the hell is your mother doing now, Addison Belle? You tell her it ain't right for her daughter to be bringin' her customers!"
The woman spoke briskly, her words jostling against each other for space and each attempting to achieve greater loudness than the one before. She reminded Addison very much of a bulldozer.
Addison wondered past, with a perfunctory wave and a promise to provide her with an explanation. At the end of itself, the road took a turn and ended at the foot of a lawn. The lawn was overgrown with weeds, and a spare tire formed a circular rubber oasis in the wilderness. Arriving at the front door of the small trailer, dirty-white and ducking shyly beneath the trees that brunched up beside it, was a feat more akin to wading than walking.
"Home," Addison Belle explained, and the naked man followed her into the house.
"It's a very cozy place," Jack offered, looking around. "Also cold."
It was, as he had said, very cold. It was not, Addison thought looking around, a particularly cozy place, however. The living room they had entered was a dark, dreary room with thick gray carpet, a torn red sofa with only one matching cushion, a teetering pile of trash on the floor beside it. The trash pile was largely comprised of crumpled beer cans, all boasting dents made by her mother's small, piano-like fingers. Her mother did love her beer. She also loved dim lighting, which was why the only source of light for the living room came from a tall lamp in the middle of the floor. Its bulb was old and dirty, but from it came a thin, brave, straggling ray of light.
"Um," Addison Belle said, "hold on," and left the man alone in the cozily small living room and headed towards the back of the trailer. The hallway she wandered through was small, and its surfaces bare and dirty. At the end was the door she aimed for, and behind that door was, hopefully, the person she sought.
Addison knocked at the door and called through its thick timbers, "Mama? Mama?"
The grumbling behind its surface was indistinguishable. If there were words, they were squeezed so close together as to be impossible to discern.
The door squeaked open and a tangled mess of hair poked out. Beneath it was a face, the eyes still matted with the leftovers of sleep and blinking lazily at her, the mouth opened in a yawn vast enough that the woman standing there might have been attempting to swallow the hallway.
"Whatchunee'?" Mama muttered.
Addison explained in a rush what had happened and by the end of the story, her mother had woken up enough to process what she was being told. She disappeared for a second, and when she re-emerged, it was yielding a broom and a furious expression. Before Addison could stop her, the woman had cleared her doorway and was running towards the living room, brandishing the broomstick violently.
The man was sitting on the sofa, the only cushion available politely propped in his lap, and when mother and daughter came spilling into the living room, he hopped to his feet in alarm.
"Wait," he said as a well-swung broomstick narrowly missed clipping his ear, "wait! I think-" he ducked another, more sloppily aimed blow, nearly toppling over backwards in his attempts to escape the woman, "there's been some sort of misunderstanding."
"A naked man," the woman snarled, "some-some pervert coming home with my thirteen year old girl- like hell there's been a misunderstanding."
She paused her onslaught, nevertheless, though she kept the broom pointed carefully at the man's throat.
"Now," she said, panting, "get the hell out of my house."
"Please," the man said, "all I need is something to wear and then- then I'm gone."
Her mother thought it over before announcing, "I got a knife on me, and if you try anything funny, I won't be shy about slittin' your throat, you got that?"
"Duly warned, ma'am," the man responded.
"Well then," Mama said, "you grab that cushion and cover yourself and- and get in front of me."
He obeyed the woman, shrinking beneath the small protection the cushion offered him.
Addison Belle watched the man leave with her mother to get clothes. He came back with them, and with a stern, verbal castigation from her mother. Addison watched from the porch, curious, confused and vaguely sad, as Jack retreated from view, covered in her mother's second-favorite lavender bath robe. It was, she supposed, the last she'd ever see or hear of him again- which was a shame. She didn't think she'd ever met anyone so interesting before in her life than he was, a naked man that crawled out from the water and brought out a broom-stick swinging demon from her usually flirtatious mother.