Chapter 3: First Taste
“Daron!” Evelyn shouted at me through the crowd around the bulletin board. There was a single piece of paper on the board with a single name: Dr. Hauser’s new assistant. But between me and that board was the entire class, nearly twenty people, all trying to see who it was and ignoring the fact that I was one of the few people who might actually be on that list. There was silence at the front, then people turned to face me. As new people came closer, they looked at me, and at Ricky, who was also trying to push through. Everyone knew who had been invited to interviews. One of us had gotten it, and one of us hadn’t, I knew. They were waiting to see both of our reactions. I reached the board at the same time as Ricky and my heart jolted. It was my name. My name was on the paper. Not Ricky’s.
“The fuck is this,” Ricky said, his coarse language startling me into meeting his gaze. He glared. “What did you give him for this?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You didn’t earn this,” Ricky said with a scowl. “That’s my spot. My assistantship. You stole it. I’m asking you how.”
My heart skipped a beat. Had I stolen it? Had I gotten it because I was a demon and no other reason? No, surely not. I earned this job. I hadn’t stolen it from anyone.
“I guess he thought he could work with me better,” I offered, and the other students close enough to hear snickered. They all knew how insufferable Ricky could be. Then they started congratulating me. Evelyn wormed her way through the crowd and shared my excitement. Less than ten minutes later, we were filing into the classroom. My mind was spinning. I had gotten it. At the end of class, Dr. Hauser requested I stay and I obeyed, though I was aware of the dark looks Ricky was shooting me. Maddie had congratulated me and seemed sincerely happy for me, though she would have liked the job herself. She wasn’t a sore loser and I hoped she got something good in the future. People who accepted loss well were the people who deserved to win big later in life.
Dr. Hauser had me clear off the board and do a few other custodial chores and I obeyed without comment. This was part of the job and while I knew I was going to be stuck with a lot of tedious chores like this, I was prepared.
“What is your schedule like this evening?” Dr. Hauser asked.
“Um, just studying,” I said. “Do you need me for something?”
“We need to work out your hours. I have something I’d like you to help with, but we’ll see if you’re a good fit first.”
He gave me an address and told me to meet him there at exactly seven that evening, then he dismissed me for the day. The instant I was back at my room, I looked up the address. It was a psychiatric hospital, to my surprise. I hadn’t heard that he did anything with psychiatry. I wasn’t sure how much use I could be, but I would help as much as possible.
I entered the hospital nervously, looking around for Dr. Hauser. I was a little early, but I didn’t want to be late. I didn’t know what he meant by exact. As I lingered by the entrance, one of the orderlies approached. I smiled and explained that I was waiting for someone, and she crossed her arms.
“There are better places to wait,” she said, and I wondered if she meant I should wait outside. Was I really a distraction standing by the door? It was freezing out; was she really kicking me out? Just then, Dr. Hauser came in and smiled at me and the orderly.
“He’s with me, Jessica,” he said.
“Oh,” she said, and smiled at me sweetly. “You should have said something.”
I smiled back at her, not knowing what exactly she would have wanted me to say. It was my business who I was waiting for, not hers. But I didn’t want to get on her bad side. It was important to stay on good terms with as many people as possible. Dr. Hauser led me to sign in and then Jessica gave me a visitor’s pass. We headed through stark white hallways and I wondered where everyone was. I had expected to see people wandering around, as seemed to happen at all hospitals, but no one was here except the occasional doctor or nurse.
“I have one patient to see today,” Dr. Hauser told me. “There’s a new, somewhat controversial method for dealing with people in certain conditions. I’m one of the few practitioners.”
“How is it controversial?” I asked nervously, wondering if I wanted to risk my reputation before my career had even begun.
“There are some serious side effects, but I’ve never had any problems,” he said calmly.
There was a doctor waiting by one of the locked rooms and he nodded at Dr. Hauser before eyeing me curiously. Dr. Hauser smiled at him.
“This is my new assistant, Daron,” he said. “Daron, this is the doctor who usually assists me, Dr. Hunt.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I said, extending my hand automatically. But the doctor was staring at Dr. Hauser in surprise.
“What do you mean, usually? I always assist you.”
“I have an assistant now,” Dr. Hauser repeated.
Dr. Hunt looked at me closely and I drew my hand back slightly, unsure what to make of the resentment in his eyes.
“You didn’t tell me your assistant would be able to help with this,” he said slowly, still staring at me intently and still not shaking my hand.
“I didn’t know,” Dr. Hauser said. “And I haven’t told him how he’ll be assisting me yet. Don’t be rude.”
Finally, the doctor took my hand. He flashed a smile and as he did, his pupils flashed red for a moment. It was brief and would be unnoticeable to humans, but it was the way demons introduced ourselves to each other. I was stunned for a moment. We only did that to each other when we knew for sure the other person was a demon. How did he know? But I responded in kind. He sighed dramatically.
“I suppose it can’t be helped,” he said. “I should have known you would eventually replace me.”
“I’ll still have plenty for you to do,” Dr. Hauser said, then shooed him off. He gestured to the door, which was exactly like I pictured from a movie about an insane asylum. It was solid with a window in it.
“This is my patient,” he said. “I don’t know how much research you did on this place, but they specialize in criminals. Violent criminals. My patient murdered his entire family and hasn’t had a coherent thought since. He attacks everyone who comes near and nothing they’ve done seems to be able to reach him. He’s too violent to even take medication that would help with his symptoms. The goal of the method I use it to calm the patient enough to be able to take medicine and regain a sense of normalcy.”
I stared at the door. “But it’s safe, right?”
“Look inside,” he offered, and I peered through the small window. It really did look like a movie. I wondered if this were typical of places like this. The walls were padded and there was a man in a straight-jacket strapped to a bed, jerking against the bonds every once in a while.
“How long has he been here?” I asked, appalled at the thought of living like that.
“Long enough,” Dr. Hauser said. “Let’s go in and I’ll explain more.”
We entered and now I could hear the man’s low, guttural noises. They weren’t words, just snarls. Dr. Hauser shut the door.
“Now we have some privacy. Before we start, I know you feed on the corpses sometimes.”
I straightened, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, sir-”
“Is that the only way you feed?”
“Have you ever fed on the living?”
“No,” I said slowly, unsure whether or not this was a trap.
“Well, you’re about to learn,” he said with a smile. “The method involves using a demon to draw out the violent tendencies. Normally Dr. Hunt assists, and gets a good meal out of it. That’s why he was upset I had found someone new. I want to see if you can handle it.”
I was a little stunned. Drawing out the violent tendencies? What did that even mean?
“Here’s what you’ll do,” Dr. Hauser said, and explained exactly what he wanted me to do. I felt like I was in a dream. My entire life, I had hidden my demonic tendencies. I had denied my hunger. When I was bound, I had no hunger. That was the main thing being bound did: removed the hunger and because there was no food, there was no energy to use your abilities. I snuck food from the corpses and sometimes also from the emotions of those around me, but only when I was desperate. I had never knowingly, intentionally fed on someone. Was this really okay?
“Just try it,” Dr. Hauser said, and pushed me towards the man on the bed. The man growled at me.
Cautiously, I drew nearer. I could feel the emotions pouring off him and my stomach twisted with need. I rarely felt emotions this pure. As Dr. Hauser had instructed, I reached out and made physical contact with his skin. The emotion spiked and I grabbed him, drawing in that negative emotion desperately. As it filled me, I felt a deep hunger start to be satiated. I had never really fed, ever. And this was everything I needed. I drew more, desperate to fill that void within me, and it was ecstasy but not enough, I needed more and the man wasn’t providing more, I tried to draw it out of him-
“Daron,” I heard, and someone shoved me off the body. I gasped as the link between me and the body snapped. I could barely see, barely hear, but my body began quickly readjusting. I was full for the first time in my life. I didn’t need more, though I certainly wanted it. I licked my lips and looked at the man, who was now completely limp. Then I looked at Dr. Hauser, who looked almost amused.
“You nearly killed him,” he said, and I gasped, looking at the body again. It was a little too still. “I hadn’t realized you would feed that deeply. I’ll be careful in the future. How do you feel?”
“Good,” I said without thinking, then blushed. “I mean, how is he? I didn’t hurt him, did I?”
“I stopped you in time,” Dr. Hauser said without a hint of blame in his voice. I hung my head. I had nearly killed someone. What would he say if I killed someone? He wouldn’t just be sending angels after me if I ever did something like that. But as I flexed my hand, I felt strength as I had never felt before rushing through me. I opened my left hand and allowed my sigil to show. The star was made of thick ebony black lines and it almost seemed to glow a purplish hue. Normally my sigil was thin lines like they were drawn with a pencil. The angels couldn’t remove my demonic heritage, but they could starve it, and they did. I had never had this much power in my entire life. I clenched my fist. I would not let them steal it from me. I would not let them bind me.
“You seem quite a bit stronger,” he observed, and I nodded.
“Thank you,” I said softly.
“You can see why Dr. Hunt was annoyed at losing this privilege, I’m sure,” Dr. Hauser said. “I come here every week. Can I count on your help?”
“Every week?” I asked, startled. Could I handle that much power? But in the course of a week, the potency would weaken. Perhaps I would even start getting hungry again in a week. It could work. “Of course, sir.”
“Good,” Dr. Hauser said. “Now I’m sure you understand that the exact nature of this method is private. The specialists know how it’s done, but we never reveal names of practitioners in our reports. No one will know that you are the demon who is actually performing this.”
“Do they know?” I asked, gesturing to the still body.
“Their families know,” he said. “Right now, it’s only approved for extreme cases where we feel the individual’s life or the lives of others are at risk.”
“What would you have done if I’d killed him?” I asked softly, unwilling to admit that it was a possibility, but needing to know what would have happened.
“It’s a risk of the treatment,” Dr. Hauser said, putting his hand on my shoulder. “There have been casualties. That’s one reason it’s controversial. You would not have been blamed for anything, though I likely wouldn’t have invited you to try again.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t stop on my own,” I said. “You told me when to stop and I couldn’t remember. It just felt… so good.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, and led me to the door. He entered a code on the pad beside the door and it opened. To my surprise, Dr. Hunt was leaning against the wall. He grinned at me.
“Did you leave anything for me?” he asked, and I blinked, feeling flustered. What did that mean? He peered in the room and whistled. “Next time, leave some for me. I’ll make it worth your while.”
What did that mean? I looked at Dr. Hauser for help but he just rolled his eyes and led me towards the exit. Was I supposed to leave some of the emotions intact for the other doctor to feed on? But wasn’t the purpose to drain all emotion? The purpose wasn’t to feed, it was to help, so why would he imply that I should have left food for him? Unless he was just making a joke? I wasn’t sure. I had so few interactions with other demons that it was hard to judge.
“Come to my office at noon tomorrow,” Dr. Hauser said. “I’ll need your help before class.”
“Of course,” I said as I handed my visitor pass back to Jessica. We split up and I returned to my car, flexing my hand again. My body vibrated with power and I felt like I shouldn’t let it go to waste, but what could I possibly do?