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My Little Time Demon
What do you do when a stranger appears in your car? This week, in the first of four free-to-read (and share) stories for July, Moses Ose Utomi’s time-trapped narrator and his guest connect in ways that won our hearts across all time and space. ~ Julian and Fran, July 2, 2023
My Little Time Demon
By Moses Ose Utomi
I have a sixth sense: I can tell when someone’s given up on life. In this case, though, the guy’s ice-cream-cone face tattoo says enough.
“Don’t play with me, I will fucking kill you,” he growls, a redundancy—again, I got that from the tattoo. He presses the barrel of the gun against my forehead.
I’ve never been much of a fighter, but there’s no time like the present, right? I swat the gun away, the barrel explodes, and my alarm clock is blaring in my ear with the fury of a thousand displeased mother geese.
I shower, brush my teeth, get dressed, then walk out of my house and into traffic. When the van hits me, all my organs splatter, my teeth detonate, and my alarm clock is blaring in my ear like an auntie trying to redeem an expired coupon.
I do not understand the Time Demon, despite my uniquely intimate relationship with it. I know that on paper I’m thirty-nine years old, but I’ve been thirty-nine for at least a couple decades. I don’t know why. All I know is that no matter what I do—where I go, who I speak to, whether I live or die—I will wake up in my bed at 8:00 a.m. and my alarm clock will be blaring in my ear like a drunk Red Sox fan on a missed call.
I have a job—I’m a financial analyst at a nonprofit, which means I’m a professional tax evader. I haven’t worked consistently in years, but some days I’ll show up to pee on a desk or slap my boss. On those days, everyone is in a new place in life. Cecilia was promoted from senior product manager to director of product. Anoop went back to school to get his doctorate in industrial engineering. Elliot died—cancer.
My boss—a role that has been held by at least four different people over the years—always asks me if I’m thinking of buying “that new cellular phone from Apple,” yet in their hands is the latest iPhone, a phone that has not been “that new cellular phone from Apple” in years. Ray, who works in maintenance, asks if I want to get in on the office Super Bowl pool. Alex, on the accounts team, tells me about how her divorce went, despite the fatty diamond ring on her finger that at some point disappeared, then later reappeared as a different ring with an even bigger diamond.
So it’s just me. The Time Demon’s sole victim.
Today, rather than killing myself or going into the office to pee criminally, I take a road trip. I drive west from Jersey City until I run out of gas near a town called Manns Choice, Pennsylvania, which is a real place that I assume was founded by a man whose wife was in every way his superior. I “buy” some Skittles at 7-Eleven and nod to the cashier on my way out. I think she is so shocked at my brazenness that she doesn’t even call the police, which happens more than you’d think.
When I get back to my car, there’s a monster in the passenger seat. If I were a writer, I could describe it eloquently, but I’m not, so this is the best you’ll get: it looks like an elephant was beaten to death and resurrected, then bred for centuries with other zombie elephants—among whom only the smallest and most docile were chosen—until eventually there’s an entire species of designer zombie elephant that can fit in a Louis Vuitton handbag but is instead sitting in my car.
Oh, and it has wings.
“You good?” I ask, but it doesn’t respond.
When I pick it up, it yelps like a kitten, then yawns with a pink curl of its little slip of undead tongue. Then it immediately falls asleep, head heavy against my neck and soft, wispy hairs a breeze on my cheek. Despite its fugliness, it smells like a baby—innocence is the only way I can describe it.
I walk back into the 7-Eleven and set the thing on the counter.
“I forgot something,” I tell the cashier, who is caught at the axis of surprise, anger, and blood-frozen terror.
After getting rid of the zombie-elephant thing, I spend the day watching TV in a house I broke into. Until the owner comes home and beats me up—I guess I just didn’t take all the boxing trophies in the hallway seriously. I go back to 7-Eleven to apply medicinal booze to my brain trauma, and at some point I pass out in the Doritos aisle, only to wake up with my alarm clock blaring in my ear like a hotep outside a Walgreens.
I have no bruises, no hangover, and everything from the day before is an uncertain memory.
I roll over to go back to sleep, but beside me, snuggled under my covers, is the zombie elephant.
“Where the hell did you come from?” I ask, but it doesn’t respond.
I don’t know how drunk I got, but I have to trust that I wasn’t drunk enough to bring home a monster. Although, now that I’m seeing it again, it’s definitely a baby. On top of the delightful smell, it has those maximized-for-cuteness Pixar proportions.
Maybe I thought she’d make a good pet?
“Beer goggles are a hell of a thing.”
Which sets her off.
She starts braying, a rhythmic and miserable distress call that pours out of her and rebounds against the walls of my bedroom.
She does not respond to words. She does not respond to more blanket, or less. She does not respond to baby carrots, which makes sense because she has no teeth; but she also does not respond to swallowable mashed-up carrots.
So I take her outside, set her on the sidewalk, then clean myself up and go back to sleep. Fortunately, my walls are thick enough to block out the braying.
Unfortunately, as my alarm clock blares in my ear like a Fela track at an uncle’s retirement celebration, the baby is in my bed again.
She’s just like me.
Whatever strange vendetta the Time Demon has against me, it has against this creature as well. I was not aware, until that moment, how lonely I was and how much everything I did was a feeble raging against that loneliness. I could have stayed home every day; that might have been the sensible thing to do. But I threw myself endlessly into the world, and it seems obvious now that I was secretly praying for this, hoping that my uncommonness wasn’t so uncommon.
Here my prayers are answered.
But then she starts that braying again, and I’m too tired to do anything else but grab her and crush her ever so lightly against my chest—not to hurt her, but to muffle her sound to a low enough volume that I can tune it out.
And that, of all things, gets her to stop.
Silence—what a sound.
She seems to shit every few minutes, so I drive to the store to “buy” diapers, then change her. I also get her clothes, because I’m just not comfortable walking around with a naked baby of any species. Specifically, I get her a little devil outfit from the costume section. It’s red and soft and perfect—I cut off the costume wings, then cut little holes for her actual wings to stick out. I take her to a park, then to the aquarium, then to “eat” at the most expensive restaurant I can Yelp.
With my life as it is, I’ve forgotten a lot. I know I had a life prior to the Time Demon’s curse, and maybe that life was great and full of love, but as far as I can remember, this is the most special day I’ve ever had. As DeeDee and I fall asleep in bed, I feel an overwhelming gratitude that this little monster found her way into my life.
“See you tomorrow,” I whisper as her breathing softens into sleep.
My alarm clock is blaring in my ear like a biblical trumpet.
Despite the alarm, DeeDee wakes very regally, stretching against my chest and yawning, blessing the world with her little freakish baby-sloth cuteness. I smooth her hair and lift her above me, dangling her roly-poly fresh-from-the-oven legs over my chest, admiring her in her devil costume.
She’s in her devil costume.
She’s in her devil costume.
Her eyes are so unaware, so unfocused. She doesn’t realize anything is wrong. But as long as my day has been repeating, I’ve woken up in the same outfit. Everything resets, not just my location.
I put it to the test. But the next day and the one after, whatever I dress her in is what she’s wearing the next morning. I draw a Sharpie sad face on her hand, and that remains too.
Weeks pass. DeeDee’s hair grows, her eyes focus better, and she starts to gain control of her “fingers.” She changes. The only thing that resets for her is the location, back to my bed each morning.
So she’s like me, but not quite like me. My life is half superhero, half damsel—immune from consequence, but in turn inconsequential. Her life is laden with consequence, not just of her own actions, but also of those around her.
One day, weeks later, I wake up and DeeDee’s there beside me, but she’s not opening her eyes. At first, I think she’s still sleeping. Then I think she’s being silly, which she does sometimes. Then I realize she’s not breathing.
I can tell you, unequivocally, that I did not know what fear was until this moment. Every mistake I’ve ever made in my life, every class I should’ve tried harder in, every failed relationship that was probably my fault in hindsight, every word spoken in cruelty to someone who didn’t deserve it, every red light run and litter littered, every refused single-dollar donation to help blind orphans—all the tiny poverties of my character sit up from shallow graves to enjoy the most unfair of last laughs.
For all of ten seconds. Then she burps, sighs, and cracks her leathery eyelids open, wagging her trunk.
If you’d asked me minutes before when last I cried, I honestly could not have told you.
Now I can.
I’d been resistant to taking her to a doctor. I imagined they would want to keep her in some lab or museum or something for study. But my new anxiety that she’ll stop breathing again—permanently—demands some soothing, or I’ll never enjoy another night of rest. So, through a weeklong word-of-mouth game, I find an unlicensed, off-the-grid doctor who I hope is somehow both educated by and banned from the broader medical community.
It’s 9:00 p.m., well past DeeDee’s bedtime, and we’re sitting in the lobby of a “clinic” that is just a very small home with a single couch and no decorations. The doctor enters in shorts and a New Jersey Devils jersey, and the first thing she says, in that nonchalant professional aloofness, makes my throat stop.
“You’ve got a Time Demon.”
“What?” I breathe.
She asks questions about corn tortillas and perennials—DeeDee’s favorite foods.
“Yep. Can’t be anything else, really,” she says. “If you’d ever astral-projected through the Netherrealms, you’d recognize ’em.”
I have a million and one questions, but only one presses urgently enough against my tongue to force itself out.
“But is she okay?”
Time Demons, I learn, are two things:
2. Poorly named
They’re beings from another realm with a reputation for getting lost. They don’t cause time loops, but their biology makes them sensitive to time, and interactions outside their native realm can be unpredictable. Their biology also demands that, after a certain duration, they leave their current realm for the next one.
So they’re less time demons and more time puppets, moving however time tugs at them.
And the breathing thing is just a thing that happens, apparently. Human babies do it too.
“How long?” I ask.
“How long what?”
“Before she flies away?”
The doctor shrugs. “No one knows. It may differ for each Time Demon.”
The doctor sends us on our way, but I feel worse than when I went in. My fear that she’ll stop breathing forever is gone, replaced by the fear that she’ll leave me and that my uncommonness will become again uncommon.
I watch her wings the way a dog watches a vacuum.
But her legs mature first, and soon tadpole DeeDee becomes frog DeeDee, hopping around the house with unnerving confidence and a complete lack of self-preservation. It’s a new challenge, and I’ve been living challenge-free for a good while—I don’t always handle it well. Suddenly things aren’t always where I kept them previously. Or I’m watching television and she’s jumping headfirst from the couch or, worse, a countertop. Once, when she spills literal milk on the floor, I say, “What’s wrong with you?” in a quiet voice. I know she doesn’t hear it, but she feels it, and she’s bawling and I’m apologizing and cleaning it up and even deliberately spilling a glass of milk myself to show her that there’s nothing wrong with her that isn’t also wrong with me, but all she can do is cry until I take her and hold her against my chest like I did when she was a baby.
Then my alarm clock is blaring in my ear like an exhausted train conductor telling some asshole to either get in or get out.
Through squinty, sleepy eyes, I watch DeeDee climb the bed rail and jump off, hovering with beating wings.
I am immediately and fully awake.
I launch myself across the room, grabbing both of her feet in one hand. She startles and tucks her wings, tipping forward like those perpetual-motion bird toys and smacking her face hard into the vertical wooden rods of the bed rail.
“Daddy!” she screams, and it’s the most helpless, confused scream I’ve ever heard.
I pull her over the rail, into my arms as she sobs. She’s not injured in any visible way, but it feels like the horrifying sequel to the spilled-milk incident—like I’ve broken the covenant between us that said I would never hurt her.
A trend: she tries to fly away, I stop her. Each time, I hurt her: sometimes physically, always emotionally.
Immortality encourages certain habits. Rituals. Coping mechanisms. Call them whatever you want. One of my habits before was to kill myself. Maybe I’d planned to go to the movies, but the movies were closed because of an employee strike. Or I wanted to explore the sewers but couldn’t find any way to lift the manhole cover. To you, these probably don’t seem like big deals at all, but when the world is your playground, setbacks like this become frustrating, and certain solutions to that frustration become unbearable.
I had dozens of methods, but my favorite—reserved for the worst days—was to jump off a skyscraper. There’s a freedom in the weightlessness, in the unmediated conversation between body and gravity. Those seconds of time before oblivion are a therapy like no other.
Then I’d wake up and it’s 8:00 a.m. and it’s a new day.
So while DeeDee is at school, I’m at home, terrified that she may fly away while I’m not there, and terrified that, if she doesn’t, I may keep hurting her.
I decide to go see my therapist.
It’s not my alarm that wakes me; it’s DeeDee muttering in my ear. Her eyes are so swollen that it looks like she’s been beaten. I’m instantly alert, arms around her as I blearily try to understand what is happening, understand why she’s melting into a panic. All I want is to make her feel better, but she’s not making sense and—
“I thought you were dead!” she says in a broken voice.
Then she’s swallowed by a grief that my hugs can’t fix.
The school counselor pulled her out of class and informed her of my death. DeeDee had to confirm my bloated, broken corpse at the morgue, then was taken to a friend’s place, only to wake up in bed beside the body of the father she thought was dead.
I apologize, of course. I explain my time loop, and how I was never intending to abandon her, that I’m just an idiot who has lived a selfish life for a long time.
“You didn’t notice that I haven’t gotten any older?” I ask.
She shrugs before giving the most teenage of answers. “You look old to me.”
She forgives me, I think, but she doesn’t forget. She clings to me the entire day, skipping school, soccer, and her book club as we watch Netflix in the dark of the house. It’s exactly what we need—both of us no longer trust what will happen if we let the other go.
My alarm clock is blaring in my ear like a crying infant who needs to be held.
I’m on the back porch, watching DeeDee and all her friends gathered on the lawn. Her wingspan is over a dozen feet now. To strangers, she’s more of a monster than ever, but her friends adore her. They even made her a corn tortilla cake with her face on it, Our Favorite Time DeeDeemon written in red icing along the bottom. She looks so at peace, so joyous. It’s strange to see that she built this whole life outside of just her and me.
When it’s time, I join them out on the grass. There’s an odd deference to me, people moving out of my way, their hands hovering as if I may tip over and they’ll have to catch me.
“Ready?” she asks.
“Of course not.”
She gives me a hug, her soft, wispy hairs a breeze on my cheek. She smells different now, but I would describe it the same way—innocent. How she maintained any of her innocence after what I put her through, I don’t know.
“I got you this,” she says, and hands me a gift bag.
Inside is a framed photo, split in half. On the left is a selfie I took of us that first week. On the right is a selfie she took of us last week.
At that moment, I realize that Time Demons are perfectly named.
Mirrors are gradual, subtle. They communicate in whispers. Pictures have no such subtlety.
I’m old. She’s aged me.
I’m bitter; she’s taken my years for her own. As she’s matured into a fearless, interdimensional beast, I’ve shrunk and gained new fears and grown dependent on her. But I’m grateful; those are years I would have squandered, mired in inconsequence. She’s the only consequential thing I’ve ever done.
But she’s not mine. And it’s time for her to go.
Her friends back away, give her wings room to stretch. Time Demons can’t smile, so instead they wag their trunks like a dog’s tail. DeeDee wags her trunk at me.
Then she’s soaring into the heavens, and I reach out reflexively like I did the first time she leapt from the bed. But she’s too big, too fast, and I watch her ascend through the curved ridge of my outstretched hand.
“See you tomorrow,” I say.
I’m so happy, and so heartbroken, when I don’t.
 I’ve never met this demon or know if there’s a demon at all; I’m just scapegoating. Please don’t sue me, Time Demon.
 For any demons reading this—do y’all have legal teams?
 Anything I can take without having to pay first gets stolen, not purchased.
 I can’t tell for sure, but I get a very femme energy, so we’re going with it.
 She shit on herself, and me, when I was taking her outside.
 Because I’m hilarious.
 We really did eat. It’s in quotes because I didn’t pay, of course.
 Lil’ Devil → Lil’ Debbie → El Diablo → El DeeDee → DeeDee
 They’re more like bird claws, but soft.
 Also mine.
 “Why are you unlicensed?” no longer among them.
 Apologies for any insensitive comments I might have made about y’all in the past.
 I had to ask—the doctor was very confused.
 I didn’t realize she wasn’t a baby anymore until that moment. Damn.
 She’ll be a senior next year. Where did the time go?
Thank you for joining our journey this week.
Moses Ose Utomi is a Nigerian American fantasy writer and nomad currently based out of Honolulu, Hawaii. He has an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College and short fiction publications in Fireside Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, and more. He is the author of the young adult fantasy novel Daughters of Oduma and the fantasy novella The Lies of the Ajungo, as well as its forthcoming sequel, The Truth of the Aleke. When he’s not writing, he’s traveling, training martial arts, or doing karaoke—with or without a backing track. You can follow him on Twitter (@MosesUtomi) or Instagram (@profseaquill).
“My Little Time Demon,” © Moses Ose Utomi, 2023.
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