Gravel crunched and popped underneath the car’s tires as Katherine Williamson sped past the manicured trees that lined the long driveway of the Asmodeus estate. Her jaw was set hard, so hard that her cheek muscles were visibly clenched, and her chin was stuck out slightly in determination; she kept her eyes staring stonily forward, dead set on the end of the driveway up ahead. Katherine was doggedly resolute in her expression — as soon as she had gotten in her car and sped away, she had steadfastly wiped her mind clear of any thought or reflex that might have caused her to question her decision to drive away and leave her only son with that…that demonic family. The 40-year-old woman knew that she was going to suffer guilt and regret around her decision to abandon Clayton to the Asmodeus clan, but her will and determination to extricate herself from that whole situation overcame any second thoughts she might have entertained, had she more time or inclination to ponder her decision.
The well-cared-for landscape passed by on either side as Katherine neared the green hedge of the estate’s entrance.
‘This is all Jonathan’s fault, anyway,’ Katherine told herself, referring to her recently-deceased husband. ‘If he hadn’t gotten himself involved with that demon Kazehana, then none of this would’ve happened. I wouldn’t have been forced into this terrible position, and Clayton…’
Katherine shook her head and blinked her eyes rapidly. She could feel the pressure beginning to build a little behind each eyeball. Even thinking about her teenage son, alone and abandoned to that family, made her start to feel the early pangs of an emotional deluge. But she sniffed and gripped the steering wheel harder, refusing to go down that particular avenue in her brain.
‘It’s just not my fault,’ she said to herself, over and over, ‘It’s not my fault…it’s not my fault…I did all I could do…everything in my power…without completely giving myself up. This is Jonathan’s legacy — Clayton has to spend a year in servitude because of HIM, not ME.’
Katherine knew that she was right about her late husband, and she tried to build on that emotional momentum she was giving herself. Her car passed underneath the green hedge, and a moment later, she was turning back into the main road, accelerating away and down the mountain…away from that terrible mansion in the forest.
“And anyway,” Katherine said to herself out loud, taking solace in the sound of her own voice, “It’s only for a year. He’ll only be taking Jonathan’s place in the contract for a year, and then…well, he’ll be free again. And…maybe he’ll learn some valuable life lessons along the way. It’s not the typical teenage experience, sure, but…well, that’s the beauty of it, right? He’ll have a unique experience to draw from in his adult life.”
Katherine stopped herself talking out loud right then and there. She knew that she was starting to sound a little silly — even to herself, her logic was beginning to sound strained and desperate. As she flew on down the highway, she shifted her focus back to herself, where she was most comfortable.
“I did what was best for ME,” she said out loud again. “I did all I could for…for Clayton…but sometimes…even as a parent…your hands are tied.”
Katherine thought back to her husband, and the tragedy of him disappearing from her life when Clayton was only 5 years old. He had gone to live with that demon Kazehana…that amazonian, voluptuous terror. Katherine felt her stomach clench inside of her as she thought back to a little while before, when she had actually looked at the 7-foot-plus amazon demon. It was easy to see why Jonathan — or any man, for that matter — would have chosen to be with such an august, curvy, and powerful entity, but it had all come at a price.
‘He was buried in…a matchbox…’ she thought, recalling Kazehana’s mocking declaration. ‘He had shrunk down so much that he was only…a few inches tall.’
Katherine shivered, feeling an uncomfortable chill creep over her flesh. It was all just so horrible…horrible to think about. She felt so many competing emotions around her dead husband that it was difficult to alight on one in particular. She felt terribly, tragically sad that he was dead, but she also felt a poisonous resentment against him for leaving her to bring up Clayton by herself. And that wasn’t all — Katherine also felt a brutish, almost sadistic kind of enjoyment thinking about Jonathan’s last thoughts, as he succumbed to the effects of shrinking, and of simply being with such a powerful demon as Kazehana.
‘It’s what he deserved, the fucking lowlife,’ she thought savagely, even going so far as to unconsciously bare her teeth as she drove down the road, thinking about it all. ‘What a fucking loser…what a pathetic excuse for a man. I can’t believe I ever saw anything in him. Fuck him…I’m glad he’s dead…and fuck him for putting me in this situation in the first place.’
Katherine knew she didn’t totally feel this way, but there was no denying that it was definitely PART of how she was feeling. That was why she had left Clayton and driven away. She needed to be rid of her husband’s awful legacy of submissive, selfish, and prostrate lust. She knew that she just couldn’t take it anymore — she had a burning desire to start her life anew, and her teenage son had unwittingly given her the chance to do just that.
‘It’s what Clayton owes me, at the very least,’ she told herself, trying hard to convince herself of the righteousness of her own decision. ‘I’ve brought him up myself practically my whole life. I’ve sacrificed soooooo much for him…years and years of time and effort…it’s the least he can do to repay me, staying with them for only ONE year. It can’t be so bad! I made the right call.’
Katherine turned the whole situation over and over again in her mind, echoing these same patterns, as she drove back home. The hours flowed into each other, and by the time she was pulling her car into the driveway, she had done a solid job convincing herself that everything was going to be ok, that she was not to blame, and that she had made the correct decision for herself. She was actually beginning to feel positive and light on her feet as she opened her front door and went inside. She looked around…everything seemed eerily normal. But things smelled…different.
Katherine was so wrapped up in the surreal moment in her own mind that she didn’t recognize the smell as something meaty cooking on the stove. Right now, her olfactory senses were temporarily muted as she realized, with a sickening shot, that there was no Clayton anymore. His school bookbag sat in the corner, without an owner. For a sharp, poignant moment, Katherine felt an intense stab of emotional pain, and if she had allowed it to linger, she would have burst into tears. She missed her son terribly, even if he looked too much like Jonathan, even if, with every passing day, his face reminded her of her husband’s betrayal.
But Katherine wiped her eyes, took a deep breath, and went over to the kitchen sink. Her tunnel vision was such that she completely missed the figure standing over at the far right of the room, stirring a large pot on the stove, grinning silently.
Katherine ran the tap and splashed her face with cold water, over and over again, until her cheeks were numb. Her eyes burned from the water’s cold sting, and yet still she continued splashing herself. When at last she turned off the water and stood up, the cold water had shocked her back into the reality of her own plan. She reached for a towel and wiped her face off, delighting in the soft warmness of the fabric on her face. This WAS a new beginning. This was EXACTLY what she had been waiting for…for YEARS. And now, finally, her pathetic husband had died, and had given her an opportunity to move on and find a new man for herself, and a new life, free of the insanity of that horrible demon world.
“Oh my GODDDDD!” exclaimed the figure in the corner, “Are you seriously just going to keep standing there without even noticing me!? Puh-leeeeease…AS IF I’m easy to overlook!”
Katherine nearly jumped out of her skin, giving a great yelp as she stumbled backward into the sink in surprise, looking toward the source of the voice. A moment later, she was staring at a young, beautiful teenage girl, with strawberry blond hair that was done up in two large pigtails behind her head. This girl, whoever she was, was dressed in a form-fitting black skirt that only went down to her upper thighs, ending in a dash of blood-red fabric at the bottom. Her dress was open at the chest, showing off an impressive pair of breasts, which were large despite the girl’s otherwise slender appearance. Her forearms were bare, and one of her hands was placed on her hip, in evident vexation. But one look at this young girl’s face was enough for Katherine to realize that there was much, much more going on…the teenager was grinning at Katherine with a kind of coquettish smirk that indicated a disturbing degree of self-confidence. Her pale blue eyes were large and penetrating, and as they both stared at Katherine, she couldn’t help but feel that this teenage girl was looking straight into her soul…and laughing at it.
“Aaaaaaand she’s at a loss for words,” chuckled the girl, seeming to narrate what was happening out loud as she continued to stir the pot on the stove. “What a shock…if she waits around any longer, I’m gonna lose my mind with boredom.”
“Wh-who…who a-are you!?” stammered Katherine, “A-and…and what are you doing in…in my house!?”
“Oh great!” giggled the girl sarcastically, rolling her eyes, “Two of the lamest questions you could’ve asked…sooooo borrrrring already! I’ve really gotta do something to spice this whole thing up!”
The girl reached over the counter and picked up Katherine’s jar of cayenne pepper, opening it and shaking a hefty amount into the bubbling pot, which hissed and steamed in response.
“I’m…I’m serious!” exclaimed Katherine, her voice rising a little as she stood up to her full height, putting her hands on her hips. At 5’8, she was accustomed to standing taller than most women she encountered, and this little teenage brat was no exception — Katherine figured that she had her by an inch or so in height…and, considering the girl’s slim build, the middle-aged woman was confident that she could overpower her physically if she had to.
“Oh yes, that much is obvious!” laughed the girl, still stirring the pot. “You’re sooooo very serious and you’ve got your hands on your hips there because you think you can intimidate me and kick me out of your house, huh? Is that about right?”
The girl took the wooden spoon she had been stirring with and brought a little sample of the soup up to her mouth, puckering her lips as she slurped it up. She smacked her lips approvingly as she nodded her head.
“Whoooo! Yeah! That’s more like it — it’s really got that spicy kick it needs now!”
“Alright — that’s it!” said Katherine determinedly, getting a little red in the face as she stomped over to the girl. She didn’t quite know why she was reacting this way to this mysterious intruder — normally, she would have just called the cops and been done with it. But there was something chilling about this teenager…something almost scary…in the way that she was grinning at Katherine…leering at her…as those big, pale blue eyes stared deep into her mind, into her soul. It was too much for Katherine to bear; she wanted this girl gone…NOW. And she was going to make her leave by sheer brute force.
A moment later, she had reached the girl, who hadn’t even budged from her position next to the stove. It was so odd…this girl appeared to have absolutely no concern whatsoever for Katherine’s incoming, threatening figure. This apparent nonchalance made Katherine even angrier, and she reached for the girl’s shoulder, with plans of yanking her away from the stove and forcing her out through the front door. However, after Katherine grabbed hold of the girl and tried to force her away, she was met with a frightening reality: the girl wasn’t budging. Even though Katherine was pulling on her hard, it was as if she was trying to pull along a solid, heavy marble statue. She couldn’t move this girl…she couldn’t even BUDGE her…and the teenager was still grinning at her, like she had known this was going to happen the whole time.
“Oh whoops? What’s the matter?” she teased mockingly up at Katherine. “Having a little trouble there?”
“I…y-you…you need to…get…OUT of here!” grunted Katherine, her face getting redder with effort.
“And what? You’re gonna make me?” giggled the girl. “Doesn’t seem to be going so well, is it? Ohhhh nooooo, I’m sooooo intimidated by you, hahahaha!”
The teenager’s biting sarcasm was only making Katherine madder, and the way those pale blue eyes were staring at her, twinkling with mysterious teasing mockery, made her snap. Balling up her fist, Katherine clenched her teeth as she aimed a punch at the side of the girl’s face. But before she could even bring her hand forward, the girl shot out her open palm, thrusting it straight into the middle of Katherine’s chest. Even though this simple motion seemed to take net to no energy from the teenager, Katherine found herself flying backwards, propelled back by a shockingly powerful force. She flew back a full ten feet, before crashing backwards into the dining room table and falling in a crumpled heap on the floor. More stunned than hurt, Katherine lay there for a few moments, hardly believing what had just happened. This skinny teenager had literally just thrown her back, all the way across the room, with a casual little push of her hand.
“Hahaha, how pathetic!” the girl cackled, putting down the spoon and walking over to stand, with both hands on her hips, over Katherine’s crouching form on the ground. “You think you’re all big and tough…you think you can push me around just because I look like a skinny little school girl, huh? Well, joke’s on you, Katherine Williamson! Heheheh…a LOT of jokes, actually!”
“I…y-you know my name!?” stuttered Katherine, sitting up in place, with her back to her dining room table, as she stared up at the looming figure of this imperious girl. Even though Katherine was an inch taller, and a respectable few pounds heavier, the way that the teenager was standing over her, with such authority, made Katherine feel instantly intimidated. That, and, of course, the fact that this girl had literally just thrown her across the room with one hand.
“Duhhhh, of COURSE I know your name!” intoned the girl, rolling her eyes again and shaking her head. Her enormous pigtails bounced and shook every time she moved her head. “Hahaha, look at you there, cowering beneath me — nothing like a little foreshadowing of what’s to come! You humans are all the same, thinking you’ve got everything under control, thinking you’re gonna pull off all your amazing little plans. It’s always all the same, boring story…until I come in, of course! And I make everything taste OH so much better!”
“Wh-who..who are you?” Katherine asked again, but this time with less aggression in her voice. At this point, her question was much more of a plea than a demand. The girl’s mention of “humans all being the same” had set a chilling fire alight in Katherine’s chest; she felt her body start to prickle and buzz all over with barely-contained anxiety. Something was very, very wrong right now, and she somehow knew that the next thing the girl said would be the start of something unwelcomely and luridly new.
The girl stood up to her full height, her hands still on her hips, and she gave herself a little shake, once again vibrating those enormous blond pigtails, as her breasts bounced noticeably on her chest. As the teenager shook herself, she turned her body slightly to the side, and Katherine caught a glimpse of her well-endowed, apple-shaped ass, which looked like it was just about ready to pop out from underneath her short, tight black skirt.
“I’m Junko!” chirped the girl brightly, her pale blue eyes widening with pleasure as she finally introduced herself. “And you’re gonna be stuck with me for a loonnnng time, Katherine! Haha, you have NO idea what I’m capable of, but lemme tell ya, you’re gonna learn PRETTY fast!"
Junko’s sunny and rapid-fire delivery was utterly perplexing to Katherine, who struggled to her feet, rising an inch above the teenager.
“S-stuck with you?” Katherine managed to say. “No, I’m…I’m not going to stand for this. I’m…gonna call the cops!”
“You think a couple little men with mommy issues are gonna bother me!?” laughed Junko, shaking her head. “Clearly you don’t know me yet, Katherine. You humans are always so predictable…sooooo boring!”
“Wh-why do you keep saying…”you humans?”” asked Katherine, not really wanting to know the answer, but asking all the same. “Y-you…you’re a human too!”
“Like hell I am!” shot back Junko, shaking her finger at Katherine as she spoke. Katherine saw that the teenager was sporting long, sharp red fingernails, which matched the fabric at the bottom of her short black dress…blood-red.
“I can’t imagine how low and small I’d feel if I was stuck in that lowlife thing you call a “body,” hahaha! But then again, maybe I could use the crushing existential dread of mortality to accentuate my own despair! Aaaaahh, yes, actually, I’m TOTALLY jealous of you all for that! You have all the ingredients for ULTIMATE despair right there in front of you.”
“Despair?” asked Katherine, bewildered.
“YES…GOD, you really are dense, aren’t you?” chided Junko, twirling her finger through her hair as she grinned at Katherine. “You still haven’t put the pieces of the puzzle together yet. I would’ve thought that spending a little time around the Asmodeus family might have attuned you more to the demon world, but obviously I was overestimating you.”
“How…how do you know about…about all that!?” cried Katherine, her eyes going wide with terror. The creeping sense that she was walking into a nightmare began to overcome her, and she started backing away from Junko, not getting very far before she hit her dining room table once again.
“Mmmmm, you’re feeling it already, aren’t you?” grinned Junko, speaking, as always, in that light, high-pitched voice that was dripping with adolescent glee. “That crushing despair, reaching around your living soul and squeeeeezing it, crushing the life out of it…haha, I can feel it already! And I’ve barely even started with you!”
Katherine opened her mouth to beg with this girl, to plead with her to tell her what was going on. But a horrible blackness had come over her, and she found that she was only able to mouth and gape, without making any noises, like a fish out of water. Junko giggled out in a girlish little squeal and stepped towards Katherine, her hands still on her hips.
“The reason I know about you and the Asmodeus family,” she said, blinking her big eyes at Katherine, “Is because I’m a demon too…the demon of Ultimate Despair, seen before you in the form of this spunky, sexy little high school girl. Haha, I look pretty darn cute, don’t ya think! A cruel little twisted bit of irony, huh…having the Demon of Despair looking this good in a skimpy little dress!”
“The D-demon…of Despair?!” breathed Katherine, hardly daring to believe that this could all be happening, right as she thought she was free of the demon world for good.
“That’s right!” laughed Junko. “The moment you chose Clayton to take your husband’s place in that deal with Kazehana…well, I was dispatched here…to haunt you…to possess you.”
“Y-you’re here to…to p-punish me!?” stammered Katherine, starting to hyperventilate. “But…but no! No, see, I…I HAD to do that, Junko! It w-was all my husband’s fault, and…and it’s only for a year and…and Clayton will be well cared-for, and besides, I needed to b-be free of all that horrible stuff, and…and this was the only way to do it! This was the only way!”
As Katherine blustered and blithered about in her explanation, Junko had gone back over to the pot and stirred it some more, seemingly unconcerned with anything Katherine was saying. When she was finally done speaking, Junko actually opened her mouth wide and yawned a loud, exaggerated yawn.
“Yyyyyuuughhhh! Wow, are you finally done with all that?” Junko yawned. “Again, so predictable. I could have predicted everything you just said in my freaking sleep, Katherine. Boooooooring! I don’t care what you use to justify leaving your son in the hands of that family…hahaha, but let me tell you, Clayton’s NOT gonna be “well-taken-care-of” in the way you just said there. Have you even met Scarlet Asmodeus before?!”
“Kazehana’s daughter?” asked Katherine.
“Yep!” said Junko, ladling the soup into two bowls. “If I know anything about anything, Kazehana has already passed your son off to Scarlet, and that girl…ha…hahaha! Well let’s just say that, in a year, when you come back to retrieve him, I doubt Clayton will even have the sanity to recognize you anymore. That girl is going to torture him insane, you mark my words.”
“That’s…d-don’t…don’t say that!” cried Katherine, getting red in the face. “That’s not true!”
“As true as anything can be!” smiled Junko, tilting her head a little at Katherine, giving her a once-over, seeming to analyze her even more.
“Gosh,” Junko continued, after a few moments of silently staring Katherine up and down, “This is going to be, like, the easiest assignment ever. Sometimes I have to twist the minds of the people I possess, to trick them into giving over to despair…but you?! Hahaha, I won’t even HAVE to trick you, Katherine! All the things in your life, your reality, are, like…PERFECT ingredients for ultimate despair, hahaha! I don’t even have to make anything up! All I gotta do is point out the reality in front of you!”
Th-that’s…that’s your job?” stammered Katherine. “To make me…?”
“Despair, yeeeahhhh!” giggled Junko, handing her a bowl of soup. “And you can try to resist, but good luck with that! I’m VERY good at what I do, and I’ve never failed!”
Katherine found herself holding the bowl of piping-hot soup. Junko started slurping hers loudly, and a few moments later, the teenager looked up at Katherine.
“Go on, try it!” she ordered. “Are you really gonna be that rude and refuse to eat what I made you?”
“I…think I’m ok,” said Katherine weakly.
“Oh you’re gonna give it a taste,” said Junko firmly, with that same confident smile, “Whether you want to or not. You really wanna make me shove it down your throat? Because I will, Katherine, I totally will…try me.”
Katherine didn’t need to be told twice. At this point, she already knew that Junko could physically make her do what she wanted. So she brought the bowl up to her lips and took a little sip. It felt like fire, going in her mouth, down her throat, and churning down in her stomach — the soup was so spicy that the sheer heat of the dish overpowered any other taste that was present. Katherine shut her eyes and coughed loudly, dropping the bowl to the floor and shattering it.
Hot soup went everywhere. Her eyes still closed, Katherine heard Junko laughing at her. When she opened her eyes again, Junko was standing very close to her, so that they were face-to-face. It was only then that Katherine realized, with a terrified jolt, that she had shrunk. She had been taller than the teenager before, but now, they were literally the same height. Junko’s eyes flashed with barely-contained mirth, as her mouth curled into that long, toothy grin that made Katherine’s blood run cold.
“Welcome, Katherine Williamson,” declared Junko happily, “To the start of your epic journey to Ultimate Despair!”
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