• On Monday morning, everyone groaned as the teacher explained all the details of a huge assignment that was worth two test grades. The writing we would have to do seemed endless. Cason actually buried his face in his hands in exasperation and muttered, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Jean wrote down everything we had to do with a solemn expression. I wrote everything down too, but I was more bored than worried. Things would work out and I’d eventually get it done, probably just in the nick of time. I also knew that I would worry obsessively about the project until the day it was due, and there was no need to go ahead and start worrying now.

    “…And this will all be due on the twentieth. Any questions?” the teacher asked jovially. Of course she was happy. She didn’t have to do the project. The twentieth was in two days. Even though I was pretty sure she meant the twentieth of next month, I wanted to be sure and decided to raise my hand.

    My heart skipped a beat when nothing happened. All of a sudden, I felt unbearably tired, like the weight of the world had just come smashing down on my shoulders. I dropped my pen on the desk and slumped over a little, barely able to hold my head up. Only my mind raced; my heart was just as relaxed and heavy as the rest of me. No… no, no, No, No, NO! I shot my hand into the air and sat up straight.

    “Yes, Seth?”

    “You mean the twentieth of next month, right?”

    “Yes. We already answered that question. Please pay attention.” Now my heart was racing, right alongside my panicked mind. Sudden weakness. Crushing depression over the extent of the project? Just knees giving out? Difficulty breathing. Asthma? My eyes were fine though when I checked them in Jean’s mirror. At least I hadn’t passed out yet. I tried to slow my breathing so no one would ask what was wrong. At least you haven’t passed out, I said again to comfort myself. Only if you pass out do you need to worry.

    “Psst,” Jean whispered. “Are you okay? You’re breathing really hard.”

    “I’m fine,” I whispered back. I think I have the demon virus, but I’m fine, I thought to myself.

    “Just relax,” she said quietly. “We’ll all work together on this junk if we have to.”

    “Thanks.” I gave her a fake smile. It was one of my first ones ever, so I don’t know how it looked, but she smiled back and returned to taking notes. At last the bell, the class’s saving grace, rang. At last we were free of this wretched period.

    As I stood up, the world jerked sideways and I stumbled into the desk beside me. “Seth!” Cason said in alarm. “Are you okay?” I quickly righted myself and smiled – my second fake smile for today.

    “Yeah, I got up too fast. I hate it when I do that.” He dismissed the incident immediately, probably since he’d done the same thing before. Everybody had; it was a fact of life. People just get dizzy sometimes. And that’s what happened to you, I thought. You just got dizzy.
    Throughout the rest of the day I couldn’t concentrate on what the teachers were saying. I was constantly paying attention to anything even slightly suspicious about myself. Was my vision going black?! No, a cloud covered the sun. Was I passing out?! No, the path was going downhill. Was I having a hard time breathing?! No, the wind was just blowing forcefully in my face. Was I feeling weak?! No, I just couldn’t lift that many weights. The constant agony of worry wouldn’t leave throughout the day. Even on the bus, I couldn’t shake the feeling. I made a playlist of all the happy, upbeat songs on my ipod, but it did nothing. Nothing really helps when you think you’re going to die. I flipped my beat up and dented ipod over and looked in the reflective back, using it as a mirror. I slumped down in my seat so no one would see me and put a hand over my eyes.

    As much as I wanted to know what would happen, I couldn’t bring myself to pull my hand away for a moment. Come on, I thought. If you’re going to die, don’t you want to know?

    No, I answered myself. Nevertheless, I snatched away my hand. I started to fill my lungs for a sigh of relief, but the air was coming too slow. My heart beat faster as I leaned back and took a slow, sucking breath. Oh please no, I said to the bus roof with wide, scared eyes. Without warning, the tightness in my chest disappeared and I sat there wheezing for a moment. What kind of asthma attack was that? I checked my eyes again.

    Still clean. The bus slowed down and the doors opened, waiting for me. I hadn’t been paying attention, so I had to quickly snatch up my belongings and rush to the door so I wouldn’t hold up the route. “Seth!” the bus driver called. I whipped around before I took the last step. “Are you okay son?” People were noticing the effect of my worry.

    “Yeah. Thanks.” I quickly turned away and started shuffling down the sidewalk in a jerky, distracted gait. The demon virus: one of the most torturous viruses, not because of its symptoms, but because of the agony of waiting. Some people who have the virus die not because of demon possession or natural causes, but because they have worn themselves to nothing with worry. A slow suicide. I thought about Cason and how I had promised to tell him if I thought I had the virus. But would I, should I tell him? I thought about my parents, about Jean, about the sadness that I would cause if I told people that I even suspected having the virus. They wouldn’t look at me the same. They’d look at me like they’d looked at Gary for that one day he was here. They would give me the same horrible look of pity that came from knowing that I was a dead man walking, that I was doomed to lose my mind and body to an invader of the evilest kind. And my parents…

    I could never tell them. I wouldn’t tell them, even if I did have the demon virus, because they would…would… I don’t know what they would do, but it wouldn’t be good. These symptoms, no, these things that were happening to me should be kept a secret from everyone I love, because worry is the very last gift I would ever wish to give them.

    “Oh, that I had waited,” a familiar voice said with a sigh. I whirled around and gasped.

    “Gary!” I exclaimed.

    “Not Gary,” the demon said, “just his body.” The eyes themselves were familiar, but they way they scanned me up and down was foreign. “You’re worried about it, aren’t you? Oh, that I had waited,” the despicable creature repeated. As much as I loathed the revolting creature that had killed my classmate, a small part of me was curious.

    “What do you mean you wish that you had waited?” I asked. The demon inhaled and smiled.

    “If I had waited, I could have had you.” My blood froze and I dropped to my knees in the middle of the sidewalk. “Are you really surprised? You smell so much better than Gary did, even though he was the one that infected you,” he said dreamily. “Too bad I won’t be the lucky demon that gets you.” My hands shook as I placed them on the ground to steady myself. I was infected. I was now officially a dead man walking.

    “But my eyes…”

    “Those should be changing any minute now. They probably won’t be the same the next time you look in a mirror. You must be a good host, to have been infected this badly in only a little over a week. Usually it takes months to have all the symptoms, but it looks like you’re almost there.” I felt like I was falling, spiraling down into a pit with an end that I could only imagine, not see. I also felt like I was going to throw up, which wasn’t helped by the feeling of spiraling to my death.

    “What makes you want me so badly?” I forced myself to ask. Gary’s mouth turned upward in a grin.

    “The stronger, the better for the virus to grow and spread and infect. Look at you! Strong body, strong mind, strong spirit… You’re as close to perfect as most demons will get.” That time I did throw up, messing up the lovely bushes that lined the sidewalk. The demon tossed a pack of tissues at me: his way of helping. Nevertheless, I used them to wipe my mouth and spat out the disgusting taste before standing back up. “Done now?” the demon asked with a grimace. Apparently even he could get squeamish.

    “I should have hurled on you, you disgusting murderer!”

    “Come now,” he said with another infuriating smile. “Gary’s still alive, thus I am not a murderer. He’s just very, very quiet.” I tried to punch him, but his hand flew up and stopped my fist with unnatural ease. “What use is fighting, Seth, when you’re going to die?”

    “What use is not fighting? What use is breathing? What use is loving? What use is anything anymore?!” I screamed at him in blind rage. People stared at me, but I didn’t care. “You disgusting murderer! I hate you! I wish you’d just fall off a cliff and die!” I kept on screaming until my throat was raw, spurred on by that stupid smile of his that kept coming back to taunt me. I could have gone on forever if the world had not lurched and spun without warning. My last memory was of the demon catching me as I fell, slipping into the abyss of unconsciousness.

    I jerked awake at the sound of my Mom’s high-pitched, frightened voice. “Seth! Oh my gosh! What happened?” Where was I? I wasn’t standing, but I wasn’t lying on a bed or couch either.

    “He tripped as he went down the sidewalk, Ma’am. He knocked his head pretty good, but I don’t think he has a concussion.” When I opened my eyes, I saw an unfamiliar face staring back and I suddenly realized that someone was carrying me. “He’s coming to, Ma’am,” the man said politely. Then his mouth curved up in a wicked smile and I realized that it was still the demon, just with a different appearance. I was set down on a couch where my worried mother could better attack me with questions. I answered all her queries with the story that I’d tripped and hit my head just hard enough to pass out and nothing more, not even break the skin. The demon lied with me, telling Mom that he’d seen me go down and rushed to help me.

    “Oh, Seth,” she said, stroking my hair and running her fingers through it. “Don’t scare me like that, coming in all unconscious like you did.”

    “I’m sorry Mom.” I gave her a hug and she smiled.

    “Does your head hurt?”

    “A little,” I lied.

    “I’ll go get an icepack.”

    When she was out of earshot I quietly said, “Thanks for lying for me.”

    “No problem. See ya later, kid.” The man/Gary/the demon walked out the door and disappeared down the street just before Mom came back in.

    “Did he leave?” she asked in surprise, juggling an icepack between her hands.

    “Yeah. He said he had stuff to do before the stores closed.”

    “Oh… Well, here’s your icepack. It’s the last one, though. I’ll have to buy some more.”

    “Thanks.” I pressed it to a random spot that seemed like a likely place to fall on and forced myself to hold it there even though the cold stung my scalp. “I’m gonna go lay down. School really wore me out today.”

    “Okay, sweetheart.” Mom kissed me before I hurried off to my room. I felt a weak spell coming and I didn’t want to be around her when it happened. Then, in a very manly way, I shut the door, crawled under the covers, and cried.
    “Cason!” I said cheerfully, attacking my goth friend in a hug. “Man, I love you so much!”

    “Gah! What is with you?” he asked, laughing and struggling to get away. “Did you just come out of the closet?”

    “No, I just love you so much!” Over his shoulder I saw Jean looking at us in bewilderment.

    “Jean!” I released Cason and attacked her instead. “Girl, I love you so much!” Jean started laughing and hugged me tighter.

    “I love you too, but what’s all this about?” Now people were really staring at us, but as yesterday on the street, I didn’t care. What use was caring about what people thought when you were going to die?

    “Nothing,” I lied. “I just feel like loving everybody today.” I would do this every day if I had to, every day that I had left, as my goodbye to them.

    “Seth?” She pushed me back a little so she could see my expression. “Seth? Why are you crying?”

    “What? Oh…” I quickly brushed away the tears as if they’d been an accident. “My eyes have been really watery today. I’ve been…yawning a lot, and that makes my eyes water.” A glance at my watch told me we had only a couple minutes before class started. “Come on guys,” I said, wiping away the last of the tears. “We don’t want to be late.” They looked at each other for a moment, wondering why I was acting like this, before following me to our first period.
    “Seriously, man. Are you okay?” Cason asked at lunch. Cason, Jean, and I sat at the same long table that we usually sat at with one half all to ourselves. From where I sat I could see out the huge glass windows and into the green campus that the landscapers had worked so hard on, all highlighted by the bright sun.

    “I just feeling like being happy today,” I said, staring at the perfectly manicured lawn and not meeting my friend’s eyes. If he did meet my eyes, he might have seen the lie that lay hidden behind them, because happy was the last thing I wanted to be right now. I just felt like I owed so much to each and every person that had ever been kind to me and I wanted to give something back. I also knew how much it would hurt those around me, especially Jean, when they realized that I was no longer Seth anymore. I had to make up for that too, and for breaking my promise to Cason about telling him that I had the virus. My head bowed a little when I realized that I understood Gary’s situation perfectly now. Of course he hadn’t told anyone. Of course he hadn’t turned himself in when he first noticed how small or how large his pupils got. Of course he hadn’t asked for help or cried on anyone’s shoulder. It would hurt them too much.

    When I looked over at Jean, I saw something in her face and for a moment, was sure that she knew. Then the look was gone and she just giggled. “People were still talking about your ‘love’ attack all the way in fourth period,” she laughed. “Now they’re all saying we’re going out.” For a split second I thought about replying, that might not be so bad, but then I remembered that we wouldn’t have a very long time to date. Jean losing a boyfriend would be worse than her just losing a friend, so I kept quiet.

    “Do you want to come play Sky Attack after school?” I asked them, to change the subject.

    “Yes!” Cason said excitedly.

    “Yeah,” Jean almost whispered.

    “Jean, are you okay?” I asked. Did she know, or was she just PMS-ing or something?

    “I’m fine,” she said with a smile. “I just got distracted there for a second.” My heart sank as I wondered just how many of us were keeping secrets.

    The bell rang and everyone stood to put away his or her tray. My knees buckled, but I didn’t go all the way down and was able to right myself this time. Tears started to run down my face for the hundredth time that day, and I just brushed them away with the back of my hand. It was so hard to smile at all the people I might never see again, and even worse when a teacher scolded me or someone got mad at a mistake I’d made, because I knew they would act vastly different if they knew the truth.

    Throughout the day I kept getting the feeling that Jean knew something, but I couldn’t tell what or how much she knew. She was just quieter than usual, not adding much to any conversation or raising her hand to answer questions in class. She was still quiet on the bus as she and Cason rode home with me. After Cason noted her silence, though, she started talking more and I became less convinced that she was having anything worse than just a dull day. We all stepped out of the bus together and onto the sidewalk where I’d talked to a demon the day before.

    “Hey Cason,” I asked once the bus had driven away, “what’s that necklace? I haven’t seen it before.” His eyes got wide and he put a hand to his chest where the rest of the necklace was hidden under his shirt.

    “It’s nothing.” Before he could object, Jean yanked the chain up to reveal half of a golden heart on a thin cord.

    “Ho, ho, ho, good friend,” she said. “Who’s got the other half?”

    “It’s nothing!” he said in panic, trying to stuff the heart back into his shirt.

    “All right, who is she?” I asked with an interrogator-like voice. Cason blushed in a very un-gothic way and spluttered for a bit.

    “It’s just…a…um…” I put a hand behind my ear.

    “Sorry, can’t hear you. Who was it that you said?”

    At last, he sighed in defeat and said, “Samantha Akins.” Jean’s eyebrows went up in surprise.

    “Well, now, we’ll just have to invite her to sit with us.”

    “I guess someone finally fell for the ‘mysterious goth,’” I muttered.

    “No!” Cason pleaded with wide eyes. “I don’t want everybody to know! They might tease…Samantha!”

    “We won’t tell anyone,” I assured him. “Just the whole world!” I spread my arms out wide for emphasis, but unfortunately my right one connected with something hard. I gasped in horror when I saw a beefy looking boy crash his bike into the shallow ditch by the sidewalk, right into some muddy ground that was left over from a recent rain. He picked up a smashed iPhone from the mud and looked at me with bloodlust in his eyes.

    “I just got that!” he shouted in rage, holding up the ruined phone for me to see.

    “I’m so sorry, maybe I can-”

    “Aaagh! You’re not sorry yet, but you will be!” This boy evidently had anger management issues, (just my luck) because the next thing I knew, there was a fist in my face.

    “John! Is that you?” Oh great, more beefy friends, only these looked like football players.

    “He smashed my iPhone! I’m gonna kill him!” It only took me a moment to realize that not even Cason and Jean could stop these jerks.

    “Go get help from the convenient store guy!” I shouted, rubbing my bruised jaw with one hand. They immediately started sprinting down the road, hoping to find some authority that could stop a pack of idiots. As soon as they were gone, I had a horrifying realization: if these boys made me bleed at all, the demon virus would be passed on to them. “STOP! STOP!” I shrieked. “Don’t make me bleed!”

    “Oh, we’ll make you bleed all right!” on of the bigger looking boys assured me.

    “Stop it! I’m infected!!” That was the last thing I ever said before a fist knocked me unconscious.

    Click here for part 4!