The wind wailed overhead. It was bitterly cold and attacked my pixie-like nose and ears. I peered up at the sky, blinking at the stars. It was a clear evening and I could see branches entwined up towards the heavens like long, crooked fingers looming down to ensnare me – I looked back down, shuddering at the thought. The moonlight shone clearly through the trees, enlightening the murky fog and the moss growing up the trunks.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, all I could hear was droplets of water falling from ferns and one bird called out to signal the sun had set. This was Mother Nature’s sanctuary – cool, dark, quiet – a place of serenity.
Alexander, Phoenix and I were stood in a clearing. The three of us had eight torches switched on and surrounding us in a circle, flooding their light inwards. We were stood in a triangle shape holding hands, Phoenix had said this would increase our “spiritual power” so we didn’t argue. We stood alone and desolate within the castle of dark fog.
No one had spoken in a while. Not a murmur, nor a whisper nor a cough.
The sun had been up a mere few minutes ago but now the forest seemed to be sitting under a dark, foreboding air. In the clearing nothing grew but scraggly thorns, it felt like I was being watched. Wolves with hollow eyes roamed these woods; however there was no rustling of leaves or any snapping of twigs to signal their presence.
Now I thought about it, the woodland was unnaturally silent, the breeze breathed down my neck. It was a strain on my eyes to make out the tangle of shapes around us. The silhouettes of branches towered towards our group, sending shivers up my arms.
Phoenix had her eyes closed. Her eyelashes fluttering gently against her olive skin, her dark hair cascaded down over her shoulders like a chocolate waterfall. Alexander and I watched her without interfering, politely waiting for her to address us. Her perfectly-defined lips were twitching to form soundless words, mouthing some sort of chant.
Something moved in the corner of my eye. My eyes darted towards it, there was nothing there. Only shadows. I squeezed Alexander’s hand tighter, trembling all over. Suddenly there was an eerie chill in the moist air and Phoenix’s eyes flew open, glassed over.
“It’s here,” She muttered softly.
My eyes flitted backwards and forwards along the misshaped trees, searching for any sign of movement. I felt numb with fear. That familiar chill crept along my skin, causing my hairs to stand up. A branch snapped behind me, I stared at Phoenix in helpless desperation.
“It’s all right,” She said, and I believed her. “There’s one of them and three of us, we’re prepared Ivy, don’t be afraid.”
Alexander gripped my hand closer to him in encouragement. I stole a quick glance at him. His eyes were bright with fright; I knew he was just as scared as I was.
A gust of wind blew and seemed to sweep all the life away from the clearing. My hair twisted and turned, and all I heard was heavy breathing behind me getting closer and closer.
I whimpered. I couldn’t stop it. My chest was tight and heavy. I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. I wished none of this had happened. I just wanted everything to be normal again... I had a feeling my life would never be the same ever again.
A low growl from behind a curtain of dead bushes filled my ears. “Ivy...” The voice was rasping and could have easily been mistaken for the air current whispering through the trees. I could tell that Phoenix had heard it too because her eyes widened and she flinched away from the sound.
“What if it doesn’t work?” I murmured in a panicked tone, “What then?”
Phoenix didn’t answer me, she just looked at me, despair deep in the creases of her forehead.
Alexander just shook his head and determined he said, “It has to work. There isn’t another option for us. This will work.”
That’s when I saw it. The Shadow. It had stepped inside the circle of light. It screeched and writhed in suffering. Phoenix and Alexander span around to face it, and we stood in a line to watch it squirm. It clutched at its head, round eyes as black as coal, rows upon rows of jagged shark teeth glinted in the moonlight.
I covered my ears, the constant shrieking hurt. The demon looked as if it were pure evil to its very core. It appeared to be made of intertwining branches, making it resemble a tree bare of leaves. Two giant hands, with extensive fingers and rough claws that were as thick as knives, stretched towards me.
Its figure was spine-chilling. Darkness screamed from it and made me feel cold. The very sight of it was alarming, I didn’t want to watch but I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
Its eyes landed on me for a second and all emotion drained away from me, seeping out of my fingertips. Then something unexpected happened, something I did not expect. It spoke.
“Ivy...” It pleaded clearly, “Help me...”
I managed to gasp the words, “What did you say?”
“Help me...” It howled. No whispers now. “It burns...”
I felt faint, unexpectedly sick and sank to my knees. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
The demon continued to twist and fit in its own seizure. It collapsed in on itself, caught fire and it was gone.
I stared at the fragments of ash glowing where the demon once stood. I didn’t understand. My mind was hazy, I was unable to make sense of anything. Nothing, my head was spinning, knocking me dizzy. I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. What had we done? What had I done?
Alexander laid a hand on my shoulder, “It had to be done. We had to see if it would work.”
I didn’t notice the tears until one rolled off my nose and into my lap. I sniveled, “I don’t get it.”
Phoenix knelt down beside me and wrapped her arm around me, offering comfort and safety. “It would have killed you Ivy. We had to do it.”
“It’s kill or be killed now,” Alexander echoed, “There was nothing else we could do.”
I nodded, “I know you’re right, you’re both right. But, why am I so confused?”
“It’s playing on your heart strings, it wants you to feel sorry for it. That’s its job. We had to destroy it.” Alexander explained.
Phoenix made an agreeing noise, “Yeah, this isn’t the first one to be killed and it certainly isn’t the last.”
Realization sank in, “That’s it isn’t it?” I looked hopelessly at both of the faces gawking blankly at me. “This is what we’ll have to do for the rest of my life; we’ll have to fight the demons.”
Alexander looked grim and Phoenix stroked my hair.
“To be honest, if this means staying alive,” I stood up, my posture strong. My legs no longer shaking, my eyes no longer shedding tears. I held my head high and took a deep breath. “I’ll do it. I’ll become a demon hunter.”
My life would never be the same again.
The alleyway was pitch-black, quiet and cold. A year ago I would have wanted to turn-tail and bolt, but I had learnt much since then; been through too much since then.
In my right hand I held my torch like a police officer, protectively and securely, ready to attack at the slightest sound or movement. I had grown accustomed to the way they moved, the way they attacked. The Splinters. They were quick and wouldn’t hesitate to kill me.
I had been on the run for six months now, never staying in one town for too long, never using my real name. I was Suzanne now. We all had new identities now. We had new bank accounts, new ID’s, new hair, new lives. I had dyed my hair dark, almost black. We couldn’t risk anyone recognizing us from the news. We had been in the news a lot at first. We all had to make changes to our appearances. We stayed inside during the day to avoid a member of the public noticing us.
Somehow though, they always knew where I was, what I was doing, where I planned to go. I assumed they were into dark magic, a location spell… I didn’t care. All I knew was, they wanted me dead and I had to stop them.
My great-great-great-grandmother’s necklace swayed from my neck, reflecting the moonlight onto the walls of buildings and metal bins around me. It flickered left and right as I moved, like a beacon saying “Come and get me.”
I wasn’t sure if they were boys, or even men (they could be female for all I knew), but I didn’t care. I knew what they wanted from me, and I wasn’t prepared to hand it over to them.
I moved like a hungry cat stalking prey; my body pressed low to the ground, my footsteps light and slow, creeping forwards and ready to spring at any moment. I was on constant alert, my eyes always watching and my ears always listening. I had grown accustomed to their horrific smell, that murky and muddy stench.
Suddenly, a fox exploded from a nearby pile of rubbish. The light of my torch was immediately on it. I observed closely as it scampered away and I let myself relax. I proceeded onward still, waiting for them to emerge. I knew they would come. They always did, and I was ready.
A shuffle came from behind me, followed by that recognizable whiff of dirt. I span round with the speed of a lightning bolt, torch at the ready.
There was nothing there, but they were close and I could sense them. The hairs on the back of my neck were tingling wildly, as they always did in a situation like this – it was the only familiar feeling that had continuously followed me from home.
Out of nowhere, they grabbed me. I couldn’t see them, it was too dark, but there must have been two of them because both of my arms were paralyzed. I couldn’t move. My torch fell to the floor and I was stuck. I kicked out with my legs but it was no use. They had finally caught me. It was all over.
“Ivy...” They snarled bitterly into my ears, they no longer whispered to me, they no longer tried to scare me. They feared me now.
I tried to spin my body around, but their hold was too tight. I tried to call out but something was blocking my mouth. I couldn’t breathe. I was going to die.
Then the pressure on my arms and mouth released, and the demonic shrieking started. I ran for my torch, which was lying on the ground. I snatched it up and turned around to face the Shadows. There were two of them, now convulsing and holding their heads in torment as their big black eyes cursed me.
“How many times have I saved your life now?” Alexander appeared from behind them, grinning wildly. He looked rough, we all did nowadays, his face was dirty and his golden hair was sweaty.
I put my torch back into its hold on my belt and laughed, “Who’s keeping count?”
“Me.” He chuckled as the two demons burst into flames, “Twenty-Six.”
I playfully punched him in the arm, “Hey! I can look after myself.”
Alexander held back a smile, “Oh, really?” Then he looked at the pile of ashes, blowing away with the wind, and sighed, “I wish they would send more than two at a time. It’s getting too easy for us.”
I started walking down the alley in the general direction of our motel. “Be careful what you wish for,” I called back.
Alexander put his double-ended torch into his loop strap and jogged to catch up with me, “You know I like a challenge.”
I smiled wryly, “You can say that again,” I paused for a moment, “How was she when you left her?”
His face fell, “Still ’Nix, she hasn’t turned into anything unnatural... yet.”
I shook my head, “I don’t think she will do, The Shadow didn’t bite her. It’s just a deep scratch, is all. Just as long as it doesn’t get infected, we’ll keep an eye on it.”
“I hope it heals soon... It’s difficult fighting them with just two of us.” Alexander mused, “I mean, you don’t really do anything.”
I glared at him, fuming. He winked back at me, a cheeky smile on his face. I giggled and nudged him gently, “Oh yes, it’s you who does all the work.”
“You’re just bait.”
“Oh that’s me, a fish on a hook,” I looked up at him through my lashes, “Bite me.”
“You think you’re so clever, don’t you?” Alexander asked with an amused look on his face.
“Alex, I don’t think; I know I’m clever.” I returned his wink.
“You’re right about the not thinking part,” He teased.
We had almost reached the end of the alley and the start of civilization. I dropped back a few steps and watched Alexander turn the corner. We always did this now, took it in turns to walk to our motels, just to make sure that if we were being watched they could only watch one of us at a time.
So, I sat and I waited. It was nearly midnight and the air was cool. The stars were twinkling up above and the crescent moon shone brightly. I sighed and let my figure slump beside a dustbin. It was a beautiful night, it’s a shame I couldn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy anything anymore.
A pile of broken glass next to me gave off the strong scent of beer – I wrinkled my nose at the rancid odor and coughed. I was wearing my loose leather jacket and my matching leather trousers which made it easier to swing my arms and my legs. My utility belt was fastened tight around my waist, it was heavy but it’s saved my life on countless occasions.
After a while, I got to my feet, wiped myself down and left the alley. We were currently in Ohio. We’d been hitch-hiking around America for a couple of months now. It wasn’t anything like I imagined. I missed England. My heart wrenched at the thought. Home, and everyone who lived there, was far away and safe.
I had to walk a long and twisting route back to the motel, even at this time of night, as a precaution. My hand was flexing and un-flexing, still prepared for another attack. My brain never turned off lately; it was hard to sleep with danger hanging constantly over my head.
I swept through the streets and back roads, leaping over wheelie-bins with agility and grace. I could compare myself to a Shadow. Fast movements, even faster reflexes, with silent footsteps, if you weren’t looking for me, you wouldn’t have known I was there. I slipped through the indistinctness of the night like a shade.
The motel we were currently living in wasn’t the nicest, in fact, it was disgusting. Foul smelling and earlier that day we had found a cockroach nest living in our sofa. I grimaced, my nose scrunching at the thought of returning to our room.
I climbed up the fire escape without the slightest clatter of metal and glided in through the open window, shutting it silently behind me.
“You took your time.” Phoenix grumbled from a dirty mattress lying on the grubby floor, a lit cigarette in her hand, “I thought you had forgotten about me.”
“Is Alex not back yet?” I looked around the room. His backpack was stashed in the far corner.
She exhaled smoke, “I sent him for a bagel.”
I frowned, “Nowhere is open?”
She sat up, wincing in pain as she did so, “A delivery van is due at the shop down the road tonight. He’ll be in and out.”
I rolled my eyes, “Stealing? Again? What if he gets caught this time?”
“We’re moving on tomorrow, it won’t matter...” She took another drag of her cigarette and stared with longing out the window and at the night’s sky.
“Wait,” My brows drew together to form a scowl, “Moving on?” I looked at her in anticipation, “We can’t go anywhere.”
“Why not?” Phoenix glowered at me, “Is it because I can’t walk?”
“Yes, it’s because you can’t walk! You have to rest, you’re leg isn’t going to heal if you carry on like this.”
“I have been sitting on my arse for a week, it’ll be fine.” She said, “I mean it.”
“I won’t let you,” I shook my head, “I can’t. Does Alex know about this?”
Phoenix looked down, stubbed out her cigarette and looked me straight in the eyes, “Ivy, we got a call today.”
I looked back, stunned, words failed me. A call? We had left our friends with a contact number, untraceable and new but we hadn’t had a call for months. Nobody ever called. Not now, not really.
“It was David; David Cutler.”
“Wh-wh, what did he want?” I asked absent-mindedly, I hadn’t heard from David since before we left home. Why would he ring now?
“He just wanted to know that we were all still alive.” Phoenix shrugged, “Seemed normal enough,” I opened my mouth to ask the usual but she answered me before the words left my lips, “I didn’t tell him where we were, where we’d been. I said we were all okay and that I couldn’t speak to him.” She sat back against a grimy pillow, stained with coffee and sweat, “I followed the rules. Don’t worry.”
I sighed with alleviation, “Thank you, ’Nix.”
“I’m getting good at this, you know,” She smiled, “But you’ll always be the boss.”
“If I’m the boss,” I sat down beside her, “You’ll listen to me when I say we’re staying here. But you won’t, so I’m not. We each call the shots, we’re all in this together.” I smirked to myself, “You’re just the brains and Alex and I are the brawn.”
She laughed quietly, “Damn straight, girl.”
We sat with little interaction between us, not an awkward silence, just one of deep thought.
“I miss Elle,” Phoenix said simply.
“I know,” I reached out and stroked a piece of matted hair back from her face, “Me too.”
“Can’t we call her? Just for a minute?” Light and excitement flooded into her face, the happiest I’d seen her these past few weeks, “Can we? Please?”
I half-smiled, “I wish we could. But we can’t, you know we can’t.” I bit my lip to hold back my tears. I hadn’t cried in a while, in fact, I hadn’t thought of home in a while. All the people I left behind; my friends, my family, my life.
Phoenix and I sat together, holding hands and crying for what seemed like hours. We reminisced about old memories and laughed, I pulled out one of the three photos I’d brought with me; Phoenix and Elle and I were sat together on the beach, all smiling, all happy. The sun highlighting our hair, our eyes filled with laughter.
“We’ll send her a letter,” I said, “We’ll let her know that we’re all right, that we’re safe.”
Phoenix dipped her head, wiping a tear from her face, “Yeah that would be nice.” She reached for her cigarette packet she had bought with the last of her money. We didn’t have much left, enough to last us another month or two, but we cut corners when we could.
I watched as she sparked up her lighter, the amber flame illuminating the room for a split second. “Nix?” I hesitated, “Could, er, I have one of those?”
I had never been interested in smoking, it had never appealed to me. But now I had no home, no real life, so what the hell? You only live once and my life was going to come to an end sooner rather than later.
“Erm...” She looked at me and then back at the packet, she had sixteen left, her last sixteen.
“I’ll buy you some more when you need them,” I laid my hand on top of hers, “I promise.”
She handed me the packet. I flipped it open and slid one out. I turned it over in my hand. It was a flimsy little thing. It was strange to think that so many people across the world practically lived on them, couldn’t live without them even.
I put the end in my mouth and lit it, breathing in as I did. I spluttered as the dense smoke hit the back of my throat, it burned, and it flew out of me in a tidal wave of mist. I coughed.
Phoenix howled with laughter, “You’re doing it all wrong. Watch,” She took another drag, held her breath for a moment then inhaled deeply. “See?” She said as smoke slithered out of her nose.
I tried again. Phoenix’s way was easier, less harsh. “Where are we going then?” I asked, my voice hoarse from the smoke.
“I was thinking Texas.” Phoenix mused.
“That’s at least a day and a half drive away,” I pointed out. Hitch-hiking wasn’t the easiest mode of transportation but it was all we had.
She grinned, “I have something to show you.”
“What is it?”
“Go to the window,” She told me, “Look left.”
I did as she said and gazed out, my eyes hurting as the darkness engulfed the street below. “What am I looking at?”
“You see that van?”
I did. It was battered up and looked rusty, “Erm, yeah.”
“It’s ours.” She proclaimed proudly.
I spiraled round, “What?!” I exclaimed, “What?!”
“What do you think I do all day? I get bored!” She cried, happiness cloaking her tone.
“How? What? When?” I spluttered.
She tapped her nose, “It’s a secret. I have my ways. No more wasting money on awful motels, no more hitch-hiking, no more walking for miles. It’s ours.”
“I hope you didn’t steal it, we’ll have police on our tails, and we can’t afford that.”
“No!” Phoenix laughed, “What do you take me for? I paid for it, legally. In cash.”
“How much was it?” I asked, looking at the vehicle intently.
“Five-hundred dollars. Tank full of petrol.”
I nodded my head, “Good deal.”
“Yes, I thought so.”
At that moment Alexander burst through the door, flustered and panting. “We have to get out of here, now!”