Rachel Toliver


Karen had been spacing out, but when PastorMike said the word demons she started paying attention. She wasn’t a secret Satanist. She liked some aspects of Satanist fashion, but Satanists listened to terrible music.

“They aren’t real demons,” PastorMike was saying. “I mean, guys, god wouldn’t be that literal. When I say demons, I’m talking about a choice. Are you going to listen to worldly music, do the stuff that goes on out there in the world?”

Karen’s best friend Marie sat on the mealy log beside her. Karen and Marie weren’t the kind of girls who worried about log-pulp on their pants. Actually, most of the youth-group girls didn’t seem worried about it. A few of them—Jessica, that one no-name 8th grader, Lauren—put sweatshirts under their shorts (Lauren actually had Todd’s sweatshirt; good looking out, Todd). Karen and Marie were like: cutoff jeanshorts, funky-smelling Army Navy parachute boots that maybe real parachutists died in. Bring it, grossest log and grossest log-larva. We’re not gonna go eeeeeek.

There were Pros and Cons to everything. The ones for the annual Calvary Youth camping trip were like

       Pro: Marie; river under certain circumstances; fire once the boys finally get it started

Con: Marshmallow gook smudged on sweatshirt sleeve (stuck there for whole weekend); setting up tents (one of those         things, like playing pool or skateboarding, Karen wanted to be good at—ended with bent tent stakes); closing eyes                 while figuring out what to say; watching boys build fire (watching boys Monty Python swordfight with the firewood);               mealy log; Diskman running out of batteries; closing eyes while figuring out what to think; clammy mealy log

She’d been tuning out PastorMike, making her list. But now: demons. Difficult to know if they went under Pro or Con.PastorMike had a goatee and a cross-and-thorns tattoo; Karen’s parents smoothed their napkins when they talked about him at dinner. Karen had a job, so Calvary Youth Nights were a no-go this summer. She worked at Saxby’s, pretending she knew cappuccinos from lattes. On Sunday nights, she imagined… what? the boys smashing their guitars at the end of worship? dry ice fog during “My God is an Awesome God?” Marie, who worked mornings at the IHOP, swore nothing was different. “He referred to Edward Scissorhands in a talk,” she’d told Karen. “That’s the craziest it’s gotten.”But demons. Maybe it was significant that demons were in the mix now—the summer between 11th and 12th grade. All these years of everything being the same had built up, like ridges of sand next to the river. Karen wanted current, movement, flood: sediment churned into glittery swirl.

“Guys,” PastorMike was saying. “We’ve all got demons that we’re listening to. But sometimes it’s better to take on the demons we can touch, and see. And hear. And, guys.” He paused. “I’m not talking about my off-key singing.” The Calvary Youth kids laughed—boy-laughs that were basically a quick nod, girl-laughs easing out past lipgloss. Karen laughed with them. Then she realized she’d been holding her breath; laughing pushed the exhale out.

“Seriously, though, guys. What I am talking about is secular music. Everyone has that one album. And you know it doesn’t glorify Jesus. I told the board that I was gonna shake up the Calvary Youth. And I’m here to tell you. Tomorrow night, it’s gonna happen.”

Marie was making a face that other people would call a purse-lipped smile. But Karen knew that look: half mocking, half bring-it. If Karen made that face, she’d look horsily incredulous. Marie had dimples, which made her expression coy. Marie’s eyebrows arched into a snotty hmmmmm? But she could get away with it; her eyebrows were dark, her face pale and unpimpled. Karen had seen this expression a thousand times, over a thousand different Eras—the James Era, the Eric Era, the Making Out with Guy from SAT Prep Era, the Many Philosophies about Making out with Many Guys Era, the Eric Era (redux), the Chastity is Probably Best Era, quickly followed by the Maybe John-Mark but I think Eric Is Interested Again? Era.

Marie didn’t wrestle with demons, but boys were a whole thing for her. Karen had seen Marie afflicted by boys. A few months ago, during one of the Eric Eras, Marie’s parents were out of town and Karen was sleeping over. Marie wanted to hang out with Eric, but he wasn’t calling her back. It was obvious: Eric was with one of those 12th grade sluts. It started with Marie pacing, then murmuring; it ended with her kicking over the cat’s litter box and throwing last year’s yearbook across the room. Karen, stricken on Marie’s kitchen linoleum, thought of that Bible story, the one where Jesus heals the demon-possessed man. Not just one demon: they called the guy Legion, and they couldn’t even chain him down. As a kid Karen imagined Legion as some kind of superhero; the demons would’ve streamed out like hornets—a gazillion of them, buzzing out of his eyes and mouth and ears. Karen always felt bad for those pigs—the ones Jesus sent the demons into. They were just minding their own sloppy piggy business. Next thing they knew, they were plunging down a hill and drowning. Karen tried saying “He’s probably grounded” and “He’s a jerk anyway.” Finally, out of options, she said, “I should pray for you.” Marie splatted whimpering on the floor, said “OK.”  They bowed their heads and Karen said, “Lord, I pray that Marie would be free of this,” though she wasn’t quite sure what “this” was.

Now, Marie nudged Karen as PastorMike said, “I’m not gonna force you guys to do anything that you don’t want to do. But I know you guys have CDs and diskmen with you. So just imagine this. We’re on our way home. You’re sitting in the van. You’ve given your CD