Needy’s first memory is of Jennifer’s voice.
She can still hear it, the way she sounded then, feeling the phantom grind of sand against her bare kneecaps and palms just as Jennifer said “What’cha doing?”. That had been it, sandbox love from here to eternity.
Back before, in the world they lived in that had no demons or shitty indie bands or dead classmates, Needy had never really wondered why that was her oldest memory. Not her mother or first swim or anything else but Jennifer Check’s voice then Jennifer Check herself.
She does now.
It gave her something to think about during the trial. An out for her thoughts so they wouldn’t be on the gaping hole that Chip used to fit into, or Jennifer’s tear stained but still beauty queen perfect mother, the hard assed bitch of a bailiff, the wrinkled judge that smelled of prunes and called her young lady and especially her own mother, looking lost in an oversized jacket.
The fucking reporters had made fun of her for it, because it was stamped with the old logo for the municipal waste disposal. It was my dead fucking father’s jacket, assholes, it comforts her she thought and breathed out “Bitches”.
Her attorney, almost always mustard stained somewhere, look back at her and frowned. She glared back.
Grew a pair, huh Needs? said Jennifer’s voice, so close it moved the hair at the back of her neck.
Needy whipped around so fast that the whole courtroom started.
Even her goddamn principal, who barely fucking knew her anyway, had stopped droning in the witness box.
Later, the press would say it was a gambit, trying to get her insanity plea. She wasn’t really looking for one, though her lawyer was.
She was just too over the bullshit to make something up. At least the truth, psycho indie bands, succubi and ritual murder that it was, was easy to remember.
Like Jennifer’s voice, hissing, what? Thought you could get rid of me that easy? when she tried to get to sleep that night on the scratchy cot she’d practically been living in since she’d been denied bail.
There were three other girls in with her, one for drugs, one for hooking and one for trying to drown her toddler. They all act like the hooker is the worst. That was fucked up, in Needy’s reckoning.
“No” she said out loud, and her cellmates had gotten so used to her they didn’t even look up. I never thought I’d get rid of you at all she thinks, fingernails digging into the throbbing scar left by Jennifer’s teeth.
After the trial, the loony bin is kind of a relief.
It’s actually called something pretentious and euphemistic, but most people call it the Crazy Bitch Pen. Needy likes that better. It’s honest.
And it’s not that bad, for the most part. The cot’s less scratchy and she doesn’t have any cellmates.
Everyone’s too scared she’ll find another box cutter, at first anyway, so they leave her alone. Then she kicks Celia for taking too long in the lunch line, kicks Guard Welker for saying something about the way Needy fills out her jumpsuit and Florence just because she’s so goddamn annoying.
They really get out of her way after that.
Jennifer laughs in her ear every time, delighted. That might have something to do with how easily K-I-C-K-E-R goes on the front of her chart.
Needy doesn’t even bother to pretend she’s sorry. With three squares a day and a roof over her head she feels she’s doing pretty well and it’s not like she owes them, anyway.
They even let her in the tiny box they call a library. There’s absolutely no occult books, not that she’d ever be allowed to read them, which sucks.
Instead, she dives into the finest Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks and Stephenie Meyer they have on offer.
Jennifer offers commentary the whole time, harping on the sex scenes (have any of these fucking virgins even seen a dick?), the dialogue (even the most socially fucktarded rejects at our school would know not to say shit like that) and the heroines (O-M-G Needs she’s just like you! If you had Dolly Parton tits and like, a sucking fucking head wound. So the reality TV version you).
Needy kind of loves it.
At first she tried to ignore Jennifer, dismissing it as guilt or a roided out version of PTSD or just plain old vanilla flavored psychosis. That had pissed Jennifer the fuck off.
They’d watched Ghost once, because it was supposed to be hot and shit, and Jennifer’s mom had the tape. An actual fucking VHS tape and they’d had to do it in the middle of the night, kneeling close on the scratchy living room rug because that was the TV with the player.
Which is what Jennifer reminded her of before going full Swayze in that thing and refusing to let her sleep. She had a lot of talents, Jennifer, but singing wasn't one of them.
It didn’t actually work at first because Needy has those memories too. It was entirely possible it was her own brain acting out. And it had plenty of reason to.
That was around sentencing, and she’d actually been looking forward to it because her cellmates had gotten old and fast. They’d changed, technically, but it was the same fucking deal, same charges over and over again putting more lines in prematurely old faces with meth mouths more often than not.
It smelled, too. Not just the regular smell, but more somehow.
Needy’s nose was getting sharper. Her ears too, which she found when the crack whore du jour started humming off key and it was so loud she’d thrown one of the other girls’ shoes directly at her nose.
Except she’d never actually gotten her hand on it.
Needy had reached, full of intent and it had flown on her own. Or she’d made it do it, somehow.
The shock must have shown on her face, more openly emotional than she’d been since she’d killed Jennifer and the whole mess had started.
“Ibs okhey” the girl whose name Needy hadn't bothered to register had said, through the hands clapped around her nose, vainly trying to keep the blood inside her skin. Her words were careful, like it had been beaten into her to be, “Ibe hat worz”.
“Fuck” Needy had said and the girl cringed. Ditto, bitch Jennifer said, sounding truly impressed.
Needy didn’t think she’d ever, ever heard her sound like that. Awed, in the old biblical sense of the word.
That was when she knew it really was Jennifer, outside of Needy’s head. What was left of her, anyway.
That night, with the smell of blood still in the air, Needy finally spoke back. “What’s happening to me?” she said into the dark, feeling like she was starring in a fucked up adaptation of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
There had been a silence, broken by the snoring of her cellmates, one of them noticeably wheezier than the others. Why in the fuck should I know, Jennifer said finally.
That was when Needy stopped having doubts that it was her.
She’d sounded fucking terrified.
The next day, she’d finally been told where she was going. The loony bin? You’re gonna fit right in Jennifer said. “Fuck you” Needy said, and smiled when her lawyer turned around, startled.
It actually turns out to be a cakewalk, living there, between her new found rep and Jennifer’s voice in her ear, happy to share all her knowledge about cliques, manipulation and all the bullshit Needy never had a talent for before.
The food’s pretty good too, surprisingly. It’s getting a hold on her powers that’s the real bitch.
They agreed– alright so Needy decided and Jennifer was too happy talking shit about the surroundings, What do you think that color’s called: puke green or yeast infection yellow? to argue– that they need to settle in first.
But after a while the excuse wears thin, especially given that her cell sleeps single, with only a tiny window in the door for the authorities to peer in. How much you wanna bet that creepy orderly, the one with the pornstache, watches you sleep to get his jollies? Jennifer says on the first night.
It’s a lot harder than it looks, trying to get a hold of the nameless something she can feel building behind her eyes.
It takes her nearly three days to make one of her standard issue mostly-made-of-foam-and-good-intentions slipper shoe things across the floor, Jennifer whispering Wiggle your big toe much? right in her ear the entire time. She’s no fucking help.
When Needy asks how she got a handle on it, Jennifer claims godhood. Again. Which means really, she has no clue. Bitch.
The last time, when she makes it move without coming close to heaving out her entire stomach, and when Jennifer laughs, she chucks it over her shoulder, where Jennifer should be. It kind of hurts to realize she’s not there. She’s with Needy without being with her, either.
“I’m gonna fucking kill all of them” Needy chokes through her tears because it’s not fair. You fucking better. Wear their faces, even Jennifer says and it feels like a hand in hers.
It gets a lot easier after that, if exhausting. Half the time she ends up soaked in sweat. And every time she ends up ravenous.
Food just doesn’t taste right anymore to Needy. She used to think that it was probably because it was shitty assembly line cafeteria stuff, no more care or nutrition put into it than there would in prison. Or school. So Needy sticks to Toast'ems and Tater Tots, takes a risk –Ooh, walking on the wild side there, Needs– on the concentrate OJ every once in a while.
But then one day they get a treat says the sing song voice of one of the more annoying nurses, the tiny one that talks like she’s on speed and working somewhere considerably less fucked up.
She hands out a bunch of brownies –think those are laced? Never mind, you’re still too fucking prudy to try them– from some local Christian bakery doing its best to save their deeply damned souls.
Well Needy’s is, seeing as there’s a demon attached to it. She’s not so sure about the others.
At the time though, all she thinks is whatever, I’ve missed chocolate. So has everybody else, judging from the orgasmic noises they make as they rip into their share like the fat kid from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Jennifer says It sounds like the office end of a phone sex line in here, sounding impressed and a little jealous. Needy doesn’t know if that’s because of the chocolate or the orgasms. Smiling, she takes her brownie in both hands and takes a giant bite.
Less that a second later she spits it out. It tastes like ash and sawdust, held together by bile.
Everybody stares. Fuck are these bitches looking at, Jennifer snarls, helpless.
Needy throws the brown chunk she’s been crushing in her hands at the chipper nurse and dives for the plastic Tupperware container the brownies came in.
Nothing else comes out of her but harsh breaths and gobs of spit. Above her the nurse twitters like a trapped bird and awkwardly pats her back.
She’s actually sad enough to find it comforting.
Needy doesn’t talk to Jennifer that night in the medical ward, staring at the wall.
God Needs it’s just chocolate she says, starting to sound just this side of desperate. You can probably still enjoy booze. Look, with the fucking reprobates that work here I’m sure we can find some contraband. Needy takes her pillow and holds it down on her ears.
It doesn’t work, of course, but it’s the thought that counts.
A week later, she can hover nearly half a foot above the floor. You give some, you get some. The fact that Jennifer laughs in delight helps too.
That’s when she starts pretending to be maybe sort of on the path to redemption to get a tiny bit of computer time.
The machine is beyond ancient, creaky and dusty like they pulled it out of a tomb somewhere –Like in The Mummy, Needy. God, Brendan Fraser used to be so hot– and their internet is like half a baby step above dial up.
The half an hour she gets twice a week is supervised, of course. Nurse Whateverthefuck is as ancient as the machine, reeking of moth balls and Werther’s Original.
She’s sharp too, not a nodding off kind of grandma. But all Needy’s doing is visiting Low Shoulder fansites, the kind that crop those evil motherfuckers into collages that make them look like boys to take home to mom.
“It’s my favorite band’ she says, baring her teeth at Nurse Big Brother. The old lady says they look like a bunch of pussies.
Needy likes her.
She likes numberonelowshoulderfan.blogspot.com even better, because the bitch is crazier than Needy. She, the tiny glasses wearing and cat surrounded shut-in proudly displayed in the ‘About Me’ section, makes Needy’s obsession look tame. Jennifer has a lot to say about it. But Number One keeps a minutely detailed touring schedule for Low Shoulder nearly instantly updated, and tracks their every move.
Then she predicts where they’re going next. According to her, they’ll be back in Needy’s neck of the woods, close enough to touch, in under a year. So far she’s never been wrong.
And by the time they swing by again, close enough to get to, Needy’s got to be strong enough.
My big tough butch Jennifer whispers in her ear when Needy makes it all the way to the window and kicks it in. Needy bares her teeth in something like a smile.
Low Shoulder is a fucking joke when she gets to them. After a quick stop at Home Depot, just like old times! Jennifer has to comment, it’s so easy to just slice through them.
Even if Needy didn’t literally have the strength from Hell, or the anger, or the telekinesis, they were just spoiled, weak boys.
Most of the damage to the room comes from them running around like headless chickens, getting in their own way.
It’s so fucking laughable that it takes her a minute to realize what’s wrong.
She can’t feel Jennifer. Not even in the scar. And she doesn’t even know where to look.
Needy finishes trashing the room herself, screaming like a banshee.
When she’s finished, staring at the cracks in the wall through the shards of glass that have gotten everywhere she realizes that it was probably what the Devil had planned all along.
Pay up, collect early, and gather broken souls along the way.
Well Hail Fucking Satan she thinks then, because Needy was going to get on his good side.
Before leaving, she takes the box cutter and pries Nikolai’s chest open, and takes something out.
It’s lighter than she expected.
The dark roads to Devil’s Kettle are both familiar and not, almost a year out from the last time she’d been close to the place that had been home.
The truck she’s driving is blue and rusted, but strong. The man that owned it had used it for less than savory hobbies.
Needy had slit his throat and sent him below. Sinners were their favorite meal down there.
The sun is still out, which isn’t pleasant, stinging her skin for all that it’s wintery and low. It’s almost scary how fragile her skin feels without Jennifer sitting underneath it, like it’s barely keeping her inside.
But honestly, she knows it could be worse, was ready for it. After Low Shoulder, all she’d had to do was go to the nearest city to find volumes and volumes on what she is now, and what she can do about it.
That and a bunch of posers and weirdos and genuine Satanists that can tell what she is at a glance. Before all of this, she’d never had people.
Sometimes, when couch surfing with cultists, she’d known what Jennifer would say, could hear the words in her head. It made her lonely, because that just made it clearer that she wasn’t there.
Needy squints at the horizon, watching the shadows get long. Sundown soon.
She eases the truck by the far side of Devil’s Kettle’s shitty little cemetery and gathers her things.
They’re not too heavy, even if she had ordinary strength.
She lifts herself over the sad fence, a quick arc before landing on her feet. Then the walk, almost like she’s done it a thousand times before.
Jennifer’s grave is neat, and her headstone kind of tacky. Roses and cherubs and a quote from the Bible that doesn’t fit her.
Needy digs down a little to be sure, getting the knife wet with dirt and sweat. It’s not exertion that’s making her hands slick.
The rest she parts away with her mind, until she’s kneeling on cracked wood. It splinters easily in her hands.
Jennifer, or what’s left of the body she was born in, looks beautiful.
Like a mummy queen, skin sunken but taught, eyes demure and peaceful. Her lips have pulled back, giving her a knowing blue smile.
Maybe she’s in there. Maybe she’s not.
But it’s not like Needy has anywhere else to be.
When she’s done prying the wood away, she reaches for her bag. The weaving doesn’t look expensive, but it is. Rare and special. Needy had travelled all the way to Rosewood, Tennessee for it. There’s only three things inside it.
A knife with a handle made from something that use to be alive, a small cured leather thing that used to be a vital part of Nikolai and a small breathing thing, lungs moving easy under the scales. Venom too.
There’s a moment when she pauses, autumn wind in her hair.
She could still leave, climb out of Jennifer’s grave and go.
But it passes.
Needy takes the knife, and slices.
On Jennifer’s chest, with the first warm splatters, the thing that was Nikolai’s heart starts beating again, at an unnatural rhythm. The hot salty blood pumps down, filling the coffin.
Jennifer, for a second, smiles her serene and dead smile.
Then she gasps, flailing. Needy smiles.
Enough of her has reformed that her vocal cords are working, and her eyes, her clever fingers. She stays with her as she winds her way back from a death rattle to an even breath.
By then, the moon is low in the sky, well past midnight.
The witching hour.
“Hey, Monistat” Jennifer whispers. “What's up, Vagisil?” Needy whispers back.
They haul themselves back up, out into the cool air and the real world. Jennifer curls her body against Needy’s, still as awkward as a newborn thing. In a way, she is.
They stay there for a long time, bodies getting used to the weight of each other again, Jennifer’s skin warming back up.
They should really go, but there’s something holding them there, the final breath of home, of their real home. The only one they ever had outside of each other.
When they leave it’ll be for good.
Jennifer traces her lips, paper soft now, along Needy’s scar. She chases them with her own.
Jennifer tastes terrible, like grave dirt, old spit and bile and formaldehyde. Needy’s never going to get it out of her mouth. She doesn’t want to.
“....what are we going to do tonight, Brain?” she finally says, when their lips are tired and cold, the sun starting to rise at last.
Her face is tucked against Needy’s neck, breathing, breathing, breathing. Thank you her hands say, fluttering like birds against Needy’s middle.
“The same thing we do every night, Pinky” Needy says back, thinking about the back roads and boneyard spells she’s learned, the things she wants to show Jennifer, the ways she’s thought of to get them to be like Candle Jack so she never has to see Old Nick in the flesh.
And so Jennifer never has to see him again.
“Try to take over the world”.