A long stretch of fluffy, dark clouds slit through the pale, blue sky, sticking out awkwardly like a monolith in the ocean. Hopefully there wasn’t a storm coming. We rarely received any tornado warnings the past couple months. Though everything was deadly still as if begging to be torn apart. It was like the flat terrain decorated with dry grass and the occasional skinny tree was anticipating anything, just like me. After all, break was coming to an end.
Cool air blasted over my face and across my bare neck normally protected by a mass of long, dark waves, though summertime’s scorching heat forced me to wear my hair in a ponytail. Goosebumps rose to my exposed skin. I had grown so used to Katie’s busted car that I forgot any other vehicle likely had air conditioning. There were a lot of things to get used to in Wes’ Toyota 4Runner. With the seats higher above the ground, it felt like I was floating on a magic carpet rather than operating a massive transportation machine.
“You’re doing great,” Wes told me with a bright smile.
While his kind words were meant to offer reassurance, they didn’t help loosen my grip on the steering wheel. My white knuckles reminded me of the nerves running rampant in my body.
Unsure, I responded, “You’d think after practicing all summer I would get used to it by now.”
“It’s all in your head,” Wes assured me. “You are your worst enemy. Really, relax. You’re driving perfectly.”
I can think of even worse enemies other than myself, I thought, but I kept quiet and tried focusing on retaining calm while also concentrating on the road.
“Good news is that we are close to the park, so you’ll be able to rest there,” Wes explained.
Composed, I nodded, though inwardly, I was praising. Although I liked the idea of being an independent driver one day, I feared I wouldn’t get over my general abhorrence for actually partaking in the driving activity.
Soon I pulled into Vineyard Park and parked just beyond a patchy plain interrupted by a small lake. Once the engine was off, I relaxed in my seat, releasing a long sigh. Amused, Wes chuckled. I glared at him, incredulously, soaking in the playful glimmer in his bright gaze.
Flirtatiously, I grumbled, “Don’t make fun of me.”
Wes lifted his hands up in surrender as he chortled. “I didn’t say anything.”
“I only have my permit,” I further defended myself.
“And like I said, you’re doing great,” Wes emphasized. “You’re better than you think. You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself.”
We held each other’s gaze. Bashfully, I looked away. Wes was an awesome boyfriend; the best I could ask for. His family was wonderful as well, accepting me and being emotionally present and stable unlike my own.
I glanced forward, noticing a little boy and his father casting fishing lines into the lake. It appeared that they were the last few besides Wes and I who were out to enjoy the very last days of summer break. It would only be a couple days before I would return to Blackstone, which I was thoroughly looking forward to. It was just a double edged sword. September meant hello to the world where I belonged and goodbye to Wes for another nine months or so.
“You look sad.”
Wes’ voice surprised me. I faced him again.
He observed me carefully, his red bangs falling over one green eye.
I explained, “I’ll miss you.”
Wes frowned, thoughtfully, then nodded. “Yeah, I’ll miss you, too.” Then more enthusiastically, he added, “But I promise to visit Christmas break again. My vacation from college will coincide with yours, so my family and I have been planning another trip to Washington to see Ava and you.”
I felt my cheeks lift to my smile. “You are literally the best.”
Jestingly, he said, “I know.”
I gently grabbed his hand. Reading the encouragement, Wes leaned in and pressed his lips to mine. We never went too physically far into our relationship, resorting to mostly kissing, hugging, and holding hands. It was all new to me, so I figured that was how the dynamics of boyfriend and girlfriend went.
As his kiss molded into mine more earnestly, his hands timidly trailed down the formation of my waist. A tiny moan escaped his throat. He drew closer and embraced me before his touch grew more seductive. My heart rate increased, invigorated by the sudden interaction, though it made sense. We were nearing our last days together. Of course we desired to go farther, and even though I wanted to, my stomach rumbled with nervousness. Hopefully I would be good enough for him.
Strong hands grasped firmly around my hips. The demanding touch took me by surprise; he was usually very considerate. A ravenous, forked tongue invaded my mouth.
My eyes flashed open.
Yellow globes stared back.
I gasped and pushed away the hideous thing in front of me.
Sable, leathered lips broke into a disappointed grimace, showcasing crooked, pointed teeth, and it grunted, “Just when things were getting interesting. It has been a long time since I’ve been pleased by the flesh.”
All I could manage was a disgusted gawk as my pupils absorbed dark, scaled skin with a greenish hue that covered its entire lean, nude body. It outstretched its bony, clawed fingers to brush against my cheek, but I withdrew, protectively grasping the medallion around my neck.
The black slits in its lemony eyes noted my defensive behavior.
“Ah yes,” it grumbled. “He mentioned that thing would protect you. But you see, I was summoned by a masked friend to drain the energy out of you, and I think it fair warning you that I will succeed in that. Though I must say, you are a very sensitive Witch if you can see me. That means you are attuned to the spiritual realm.” Its head bobbled every time it spoke, which waved around its curled horns.
I decided to entertain it.
“So, what? You’re a spirit? You haunt this park?”
It cackled, amused. “No. Ghosts haunt houses, castles, forests, and boats. Demons haunt people.”
My stomach sank. This wasn’t something we learned in Mythology.
The Demon shuddered. “Ooooh! I can sense your fear! It feels wonderful! Mark me, Gennifer Silverbone, I will make your life a living hell, no pun intended. I worked very hard to be able to reach the human realm, so I will be sure not to fail. You must have angered a very strong adversary for wanting to send a malevolent specter your way. Someone must really hate you.”
I blurted, “The man in the mask?”
The Demon tilted its head curiously. “That is what you call him? Zero points to you for creativity.”
I waved aside the insult, demanding, “What did you do to Wes?”
“Your pathetic, little boyfriend is fine. He is not what I want. I’m only out for you, sweet lips.”
With a little more bravery, I muttered through my teeth, “Go away.”
The Demon crowed, flicking its thick, forked tongue. “There are only two types of people that can send me back to Hell, and you are not one of them.”
“I will find a way,” I warned.
It scoffed. “Good luck trying. You may be clairvoyant, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a powerful Witch.”
Before I could argue, the Demon disappeared within a blink and I was once again face to face with Wes. He looked at me oddly then announced, “Whoa, are you okay? I’m sorry. Was I going too far?”
My brain grappled for normalcy, trying to articulate everything that was happening, but I managed to reply, “No, no, no. You’re fine. Everything’s fine. I just…I just thought…I just thought I saw a Copperhead outside, and it freaked me out.”
Wes’ brow furrowed with concern, and he quickly glanced out his window. He said, “Well, I don’t see any snakes. It must be gone.” He turned back to me with a jaunty smile. “Besides, we’re inside a car, Gen. We’d be safe.”
I released a nervous laugh. “Right, right. Yeah, it’s stupid now that I think about it.”
“Hey,” Wes said, sincerely, grabbing my hand. “Nothing that you think or do is stupid. People freak out. It happens.”
My heart fumbled to his statements. Wes really was an amazing boyfriend. It was a shame that I couldn’t tell him about my world, at least, I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to. Though I could really use someone to talk to about my fresh, Demonic encounter. Waiting for Blackstone suddenly felt like it was lightyears away instead of a few days.
“We better get going,” Wes added. “Your parents will be expecting us soon for dinner.”
That was right. Yet another dragon to slay, and I wasn’t sure if I could possibly be mentally present now with knowledge that a malevolent being was haunting me. After a three month hiatus, my enemy had returned. The man in the mask was back in my life, and he was determined to make me suffer.
The 4Runner jerked into a sudden halt once my foot crashed onto the break. Wes released a sigh of relief once realizing that the bumper nearly collided into the vehicle in front, nestled crookedly in my driveway; though it was the fact that it was Peter’s car that almost made me crash.
Why was Peter at my house? From what I understood, Katie and him had planned to go out for the evening. I really didn’t need this right now. With everything that was happening and now I had to be in close proximity to Peter. I had too much on my plate.
Wes seemed to recognize it as well and uttered, “So I thought it was just going to be us and your parents.”
“I thought so, too,” I sighed. “Maybe he’s just picking Katie up.”
Wes nodded, saying with assurance, “Yeah, yeah. It’s probably that.”
But something, maybe intuition, told me that it wasn’t the case. As much as I wanted to grapple onto hope, I had to also remind myself that my life, personally, was not easy. Last year, I nearly died from Hawk’s spell which required four girls as an ingredient, and they almost perished with me, including my friend, Brooke. It seemed I had a lot of enemies just for merely existing.
So, if my life was already that messed up, then with my luck, Peter very well could be staying over for dinner.