Arden Bishop has been possessed by a demon for the fourteen years.
It sounds worse than it is.
When Arden was four years old, they were adopted by their parents, Maggie and Adam Bishop. They were kind people that had never had a child despite desperately wanting to have one. They had been on a waitlist to adopt a child for two years, and when Arden was placed up for adoption, they leapt at the chance to adopt them. The Bishops spend months preparing their home for a blind child, learning Braille so they could help Arden learn it, going around the house blindfolded to make sure everything was accessible and anything that could hurt Arden was put away. When Arden arrived in Maggie and Adam’s home, they were welcomed with open arms.
Two days later, Benetraeth showed up.
Arden learned that their mother had been dying of cancer ten years earlier. Desperate to save his wife, Adam made a deal with Benetraeth to cure her cancer in exchange for their first born child. After they were sure that Maggie was cured, she got her tubes tied and Adam got a vasectomy. They were happy just being the two of them for a long time, but eventually they started to want to have a child of their own. They thought that by preventing themselves from giving birth and adopting, they fooled Benetraeth, and they could live their whole lives without having to deal with him.
But he came back anyway. Arden remembered waking up in the dead of night to the sounds of their mother begging and pleading with a terrifying voice not to take Arden. Worried that something bad was happening, Arden wandered into the hallway, their hands running along the wall of the still unfamiliar house. When they felt the fridge brush against their fingers, the voices in the kitchen stopped talking.
“Mommy?” Arden had asked hesitantly.
“That’s the child?” a deep voice that made Arden want to run and hide said.
“No, no you can’t take Arden!” Maggie protested, “I never gave birth! You said my first born child, but Arden’s adopted!”
“I know. That was clever,” Benetraeth said. Even at the time, Arden was certain that the demon was almost sounded impressed. “I’m still taking what’s mine.”
Suddenly Arden felt white hot hands on their arms, burning their skin and making them scream. The fire lasted only a second before Arden passed out, but the burns on their arms caused scars that would never go away. The last thing they remembered was their mother and Benetraeth screaming.
When Arden woke up, they were lying on the couch with cold cloths on their arms and the sound of their mother and father sobbing nearby. When Arden’s eyes fluttered open, Maggie and Adam cried out in relief, showering them with hugs and kisses.
“What happened?” Arden had asked, feeling groggy.
“We’re so sorry, sweetie. We made a mistake so long ago and we almost lost you. But its okay,” Maggie said, brushing Arden’s hair from their face, “You’re safe now.”
Arden remembered frowning, feeling odd. They sat up and shook their head a few times. They could hear something, but it wasn’t a noise coming from outside. It was a noise in their head. After a moment, they heard a terrifyingly familiar voice.
Where am I? Benetraeth asked. Arden had started crying, barely able to tell their parents what was wrong.
“The monster’s in my head!” they remembered bawling.
They didn’t stop crying and Benetraeth didn’t stop yelling for days. The next few weeks were a terrifying blur of Benetraeth threatening Arden, Maggie, and Adam, Arden crying and refusing to tell their parents what horrible things that Benetraeth was saying. It had been terrifying.
It took a long time for Arden to get used to having a demon in their head and even longer for Benetraeth to get used to being trapped in the mind of a blind four year old. His threats were very vivid and graphic, but after a while they lost their effectiveness. Especially when Arden kept asking things like “What does garroting mean?” and “How does electroshock work?” The questions would catch Benetraeth off guard, but he would stop his rants to explain his torture methods to them. By the time they were five, Arden was able to list medieval torture techniques the same way other kids did the alphabet.
Arden adapted to the situation surprisingly quickly. They even heard Maggie and Adam talking about how it was unsettling how well they were starting to get along with a demon. However, being so young, the one thing they did struggle with was learning how to pronounce Benetraeth, so they started calling him Benny.
“Don’t call me Benny,” he would grumble. Back when they were young, Arden let Benny speak out loud all the time. It wasn’t until they were older that they realized how unsettling the demonic voice sounded coming out of a child’s mouth
“But lots of my friends have nicknames,” Arden would reply innocently, “Abraham is Abe, Katherine is Kitty, Daddy calls Mommy Mags sometimes …”
“I’m not your friend. Demons don’t have friends,” Benetraeth would retort. Arden would just shrug and continue to call him Benny. The few times they attempted to say Benetraeth, they would butcher it to the point where Benny would beg them to stop saying it. It took a few months before Benetraeth stopped fighting being called Benny.
It wasn’t until Arden was seven that their parent finally figured out what happened to cause Benny to become trapped inside of Arden, something even Benny wasn’t sure of. But Arden and Benny came home from school one day to their parents exhausted, and drained. Though they didn’t say it, Arden could tell by the way they grunted and groaned as they moved that they were in pain. They never asked what happened, but they knew it had to have been bad. Arden’s mom and dad had sat them down, holding their hand tightly.
“Sweetie, we found out why Benny got stuck in your head,” Maggie said, “Is Benny listening?”
“Yes,” Benny’s voice said, using Arden’s mouth to speak. Arden felt their mom tense up, wanting to pull away out of instinct. Arden knew it wasn’t personal, Benny had just caught her off guard. But they didn’t like that she was scared of them.
She’s your mother. She’s not scared of you. She’s scared of me, Benny assured Arden, speaking inside their head this time. Sometimes he would surprise Arden with kind words. They nodded, but pulled their hand away from their mom, shoving both hands in their sweater pockets.
Maggie explained to Arden and Benny what had happened, but she never mentioned how she and Adam found out what they learned. Because Arden wasn’t Adam and Maggie’s first born child, Benny couldn’t legally take them. Really, he never should have even tried to take Arden – he should have just accepted that the Bishops had found a loophole and moved on. But because he was stupid and needed to prove that he was competent enough to collect his pound of flesh – they talked to Anoltor, that idiot, Benny had grumbled quietly – the universe punished him. Demons were bound by certain rules, and trying to collect on a deal that had been broken was one of the worst rules for them to break. So when he grabbed Arden, he seared himself into Arden’s soul, trapped until he could do a purely selfless act – something demons were not capable of doing, especially when the demon’s main motivation was freeing themselves from the body of a blind child.
So Benny and Arden more or less resigned themselves to being stuck together. Arden would almost go as far as to consider Benny their friend, despite his constant insisting that demons didn’t have friends.
But having a demon riding shotgun in their brain wasn’t always good. Benny was still a demon after all, and had the impulse control of a compulsive toddler. Arden had to do things to curb Benny’s need for destruction – small acts of vandalism, a little bit of shoplifting here and there, occasionally going out to the dump and destroying old appliances, that kind of thing. At first Arden didn’t like doing it, but they started enjoying the small acts of rebellion, the sneaking around so that their parents didn’t know that they were letting a demon convince them to break the rules and some laws.
Then Arden got into high school. The school in Arden’s town was a typical small town high school – teachers pretended they didn’t know that the seniors where drinking beer in the parking lot, everyone was more concerned with the next football game than whether the art program would get funding to survive the next semester, and there were three grades being taught by a single exhausted teacher. Being blind, Arden spent most of their time studying on their own, following the curriculum and teaching themselves because the TA assigned to help them only knew how to help teach people that could actually see. It frustrated Arden sometimes, but they didn’t mind when it came to history. Especially since Benny had actually witnessed some of the most pivotal parts of history and was able to give Arden some helpful, albeit disturbing, descriptions.
Benny helping Arden with schoolwork was fine until one day when another student overheard them talking with Benny. Even that would have been fine if Benny hadn’t been using Arden’s mouth to reply back. The girl told everyone in school what she saw, and, even though no one suspected that he was possessed, the other kids started treating Arden like a freak.
I mean, you kind of are one, Benny would point out, You’re blind, non-binary, you’re possessed by a demon … you check a lot of the freak boxes.
“Shut up,” Arden would grumble before kicking themselves for responding out loud.
Hey, I’m a centuries old demon trapped in the head of a non-binary blind kid. Let’s be honest, we’re both freaks.
That doesn’t make me feel better, Arden thought, but they were lying. Benny always knew they were lying, but never did call them out on that.
When Arden’s classmates started taking advantage of their blindness to mess with them, Benny started getting the urge to cause some chaos more and more often. Even though he never actually told Arden, he felt protective of them. Arden appreciated it, even jokingly thinking of Benny as their guardian demon. Benny’s abilities as a demon had weakened since he became trapped in Arden, but sometimes he was able to allow Arden to tap into his powers. If someone tripped them in the hallway, Benny would talk Arden through how to make the lights flicker overhead and the lockers to slam open and shut, scaring their classmates. While it didn’t help with the other students thinking they were a freak, everyone was more wary about shoving them into the lockers. Up until the four football players attacked Arden, it had been well over two months since any of the other students even spoke to them.
But then Arden and Benny had the bad luck of chatting out loud as they walked by a group of drunken jocks. And everything went to hell.