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Demon in the Whitelands by Nikki Richard
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Sixteen-year-old Samuel, son of a devout cleric, has endured shame and prejudice his entire life. Though he is destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, he longs for an ordinary life in the whitelands away from talk of demons and holy roots.
When the mayor claims to have captured a mute demon-girl, Samuel is forced to become her caretaker. But as Samuel gets to know the prisoner, he finds her not to be very demonlike. Instead, she is intelligent, meek, and an exceptional artist. Despite her seeming goodness, some more concerning things cannot be ignored. Samuel is hard-pressed to reconcile her uncanny strength and speed, one missing arm, ambiguous gender, and the mysterious scars covering most of her body.
Samuel forms a deep attachment to the girl with predator eyes and violent outbursts, against his father’s advice. As their friendship threatens to become something more, Samuel discovers the mayor’s dark intentions. Now, he must decide whether to risk his own execution by setting her free, or watch as the girl is used as a pawn in a dangerous game of oppression, fear, and murder.
2. Samuel recalling his first animal kill
Samuel was seven the first time he’d killed a deer. Samuel had previously watched his father put down ensnared animal many times, but when it was his turn to cut, he forgot all of his father’s past instructions. His slice was crooked and shallow, and he missed the deer’s artery. His father had to come over to him and do it right. Samuel was humiliated. Even as his bastard, he continually felt like a disappointment to his father. He wouldn’t only make a poor cleric, but a poor man. He was weak, his branch-like arms and legs too dainty to overpower much of anything, and he cried way more than a boy should. He wanted to be strong, to do what was necessary in order to survive. Even so, it was one thing for him to watch his father put a deer down, and another when he was the one holding the knife.
I know it’s hard, his father told him. But this is something that one day you’ll have to do on your own. A man must learn to provide for himself in this world. The scriptures tell us this.
This animal is a gift. We honor it with our eating, and we honor it by returning its body to the roots.
But it’s in pain.
I know, his father said as he wiped his blade across the snow, cleaning off the blood. Everything on this earth is subject to pain. Including us. Azhuel has given man dominion over the beasts, which makes us stewards of this world. We should strive to live in harmony with the living, no matter their size or disposition. But humans need meat. This is why you must learn to put a trapped animal down. Sometimes, a quick death is the most merciful thing to give. We thank the creature for the nourishment it will provide us, and we thank the roots. It is Azhuel’s gift to us. We are but dirt. To dirt we return.We are all dirt. The notion brought Samuel no comfort.
Nikki Richard is a sensitive queer writer with moods and coping mechanisms. An MFA graduate from the University of Baltimore, she lives in the city with her hot wife, amazing daughter, and fluffy cat.