The clapping and cheering of the crowd was marvelous and washed over me like a tidal wave of happiness. I gave the decent crowd in the gymnasium a coy smile and bowed low so that the long, stringy black hair on my head hid most of my face from them. Next to me, my best friend Ria bowed too, with much twirling of her hands.
“How about that!?” said Rodger Cunningham, the Student Body President and director of this year’s high school talent show. “Well done ladies! How about one last round of applause for the Twisted Witches, Gina Wellington and Honoria Amos!”
Over the noise of the audience cheering our performance once again, I heard Ria huff angrily. She always hated it when people called her by her full name. Ria’s full name was pronounced “On-NOR-ee-ah” but people had a tendency to pronounce it so that it rhymed with gonorrhea. I grinned at her and the two of us walked off the stage so Rodger could bring up the next performance.
“We’ve been in the same class since fifth grade,” said Ria. “Rodger knows to call me Ria. Everybody except my mother calls me Ria, why does he have to announce it like that.”
“Don’t read into it too much,” I said. “He probably just wants to be formal.”
“It’s a high school talent show,” said Ria, glancing around at the gymnasium in which we were performing and scowling. “What is there to be formal about? I mean, look at us.”
I laughed. Ria was right. We didn’t look formal at all. She was wearing fishnet tights under short cut-off black jeans and combat boots along with an American Gothic T-shirt. I was no better with black slacks that I’d cut up and safety-pinned together and a black vest that had originally been a Halloween costume until I cut it up. I also had some gaudy jewelry and we were both wearing a lot of mascara and black lipstick.
This was something of a running joke between us and the rest of the school. You see, I am not really a Goth and neither is Ria. The costumes are just something we do for fun whenever we sing. We dressed up like this for Halloween back in seventh grade and we got up and sang “I Put A Spell On You” in choir class. We all laughed about it but then people started suggesting that we do the same thing on karaoke nights at a local pizza parlor. So we did and it turned out to be a lot of fun. We’ve been singing karaoke dressed like Goths ever since. We even came up with names for our singing alter-egos. My name was Raven and Ria was Dead Alice and we were the Twisted Witches.
We went into the girl’s bathroom to get cleaned up. My long black hair is actually a wig, which I was very relieved to be rid of when I took it off. I ran my fingers through my real hair, which is short and brown and had streaks of artificial hot pink in it, and tried to fluff some life back into it. Ria was already washing the black make-up off her face. Her black hair was real, unlike mine, and it was elegantly wavy when she didn’t tie it back in a braid. Her skin was perfectly tan and she always wore just the right amount of make-up.
I don’t have that kind of luck. I’m too tall and too skinny and my nose is too long. My eyes are black, so it looks like I have no irises, just really big pupils. Basically, when comparing the two of us, Ria was Cher and I was Ichabod Crane.
“Not too bad for a talent show,” said Ria, who was washing her face of the last of the make-up. “Looks like the Twisted Witches strike again.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Next to us, the best act was probably the Girl with the Orange Hair. Her dance routines are unrivaled.”
Ria snorted. “That walking enigma? Right. Sure she’s got rhythm, but she’d be better received if she wasn’t so weird!”
“Be nice,” I warned her, good naturedly. “Still, it was a good show. Too bad Mom and Maggie couldn’t come and see it.”
“Did Maggie have preschool?” Ria asked.
I nodded. “And Mom had to work. Shame. I was looking forward to having them hear us.”
“Wouldn’t the Goth costumes scare Maggie?” Ria asked. “She’s only four, right?”
“Maggie’s brave,” I told her. “Plus, she’s already seen my costume so she knows it’s me.”
“Your little sister is so cute,” said Ria with a sigh. “I wish I had a sweet little sister like her but no! All I’ve got are a couple of bratty cousins.”
I smiled. Ria was my best friend in the world, but she was kind of a complainer. She wasn’t without reason, though. If her parents knew that she was dressing up in Goth clothes and singing karaoke in restaurants and bowling alleys, they’d probably ship her off to private school somewhere. They were super strict and had more money than most in the mediocre town of Ammonville. I was middle class but her parents still seemed to like me so they didn’t mind our being friends. If, however, she brought over a friend with a tattoo, face piercing, or anything remotely abnormal then they would disapprove and forbid her from seeing them again. Ria hated it, but put up with it as best she could. She could always complain to me, however. I’m a good listener.
I finished washing off my make up and got back into my normal clothes. In the pocket of my jeans, there was a silver charm bracelet that I slid onto my wrist. This bracelet was a gift from my dad and always gave me good luck, but only when I put it in my pocket, never when I wore it. So, if ever I needed a bit of luck I would slip it off my wrist and put it in my pocket. Works every time.
“You still have that thing?” Ria asked, noticing my bracelet and glowering at it warily.
“Of course,” I said. “Why would I not have it?”
“Because that slacker gave it to you,” said Ria. “Isn’t that all he does? Send you a charm every year to put on that bracelet to make up for the fact that he dumped you and your mom?”
“That’s not it,” I said reproachfully. “Dad didn’t dump us! Mom dumped him and he’s not a slacker. He just . . . doesn’t really know what he wants, that’s all.”
“You’re too forgiving to that guy,” said Ria, huffily. “He barely ever comes to see you. If my dad was like that, I would never forgive him.”
I just let her rant. Ria doesn’t get my dad. Very few people do. Mom told me everything about her failed relationship with Dad after he left when I was five. My dad was a really big thinker and had all sorts of crazy ideas and get-rich-quick schemes. Actually, that was what drew my mom to him in the first place. He’s a really cheerful and energetic guy, really fun and happy. When they got married, it seemed like everything was great. They loved each other, they had me, and everything was going well. Then my dad’s schemes weren’t working out so well. Mom was working two jobs to support us and Dad was getting involved in one failed plan after another. He never lost hope though; he was still happy and confident. I don’t think Mom ever saw him mad or upset and I know I haven’t. But when he thought up this idea that would have us all move to India, Mom put her foot down.
She told him that things weren’t working out, that she was getting really stressed from working so much, that she was upset at not being able to be with me, and lots of other things. Via mutual understanding, they thought it was a good idea if they didn’t stay together anymore. Dad moved to India without us and I’ve only seen him a few times since then. He didn’t stay in India, but he’s moved other places, wherever the next promise of fortune took him. But he always made sure to visit. I’ve seen him about two times a year since then and he always sends me a charm for my bracelet on my birthday. Some people may not think much of him, Ria included, but he’s still my dad. I generally had to come to his defense a lot. Mom defended him too, but she doesn’t feel for him like she used to.
Once the talent show was completed, the bell rang and school had come to an end. Ria and I got into her car and started to drive out of the student parking lot. Ria’s car was a dark green Jetta that was some thirty years old. It was a little run down and not the most reliable thing out there. Ria complained about it all the time. Her parents could afford to have given her a Mercedes or a Mustang, but they’d given her this two-bit thing in order to “appreciate what she had”. I don’t think it worked.
“The clutch on this thing always sticks!” Ria huffed, trying to get the car in gear. She always referred to her car as “this thing”. “And I’m already running out of gas! I swear I must have a leak or something. This thing guzzles gas like a Hummer!”
“Do you even know what guzzling gas means?” I asked, teasingly.
“I heard those grease monkeys on my Dad’s car repair shows say it,” Ria grumbled.
“Grease monkeys?” I said, laughing. “Did you seriously just call them that?”
“It’s what Daddy calls them,” said Ria, blushing as she finally managed to start the engine. We drove off toward my house first. I have my permit, but not my own car. We don’t have the money for one yet. I was going to start working in the summer to start saving up for one. But, summer was a few months away, so I would have to keep riding with Ria for the time being.
As we headed down the road, a chill started in the small of my back and crawled up to my shoulder blades, making my whole being shiver wildly. “Brrr,” I said, shaking off the feeling.
“What’s wrong?” Ria asked, not taking her eyes off the road.
“Nothing,” I replied. “Just another chill.”
Ria laughed. “Your ESP acting up again?” she asked.
“I don’t have ESP,” I told her for the thousandth time, rolling my eyes playfully. “That kind of thing only exist in urban legends and horror stories and you know it.”
“You could have fooled me,” said Ria.
I really don’t have ESP or anything of the sort. Ria just says that I do because I get those chills a lot, even if it’s totally warm out. I even get them in the middle of summer. I also get déjà vu at the strangest times. It just comes out of nowhere. Ria says that they’re the makings of psychic powers starting to form, but that’s ridiculous. ESP doesn’t exist, of that I was sure. I mean, who doesn’t get chills and déjà vu? It’s just another one of her jokes.
We reached my house and Ria dropped me off. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning,” she promised.
“Alright,” I said, waving to her as I closed the car door. “Bye!”
My friend waved and started to drive away. I watched her until she rounded the corner and disappeared from view before I turned and headed for the front door of my house. Our house had two stories and was white with dark green trim, a nice little place. As I stepped onto the porch, fiddling with my key ring to find the right key to the door, it happened again. A chill crawling up my spine and an overwhelming déjà vu hit my senses like a cannonball. For whatever reason, I raised my eyes and looked around. But everything was normal. I returned to the lock on my front door but then froze, straightened, and looked around again. I had the weirdest feeling I was being watched, another unusual quirk with me. I shook my head to clear my thoughts and finally found the key I was looking for. I slid it into the lock and was about to turn it when it happened again. Instinct took over and I glanced around at the street and our neighboring houses trying to discern what was giving me this feeling.
This time I saw it. In the shadow of the house left of mine, there was an outline of someone there. Feeling puzzled, I leaned forward and squinted at figure. It had to be someone young. Whoever it was wasn’t any taller than four and a half feet. My first thought was it had to be one of our neighbor’s kids, but then I remembered the lady who lived in that house didn’t have kids.
“Hello?” I called.
“Hello,” I repeated.
The figure stayed hidden and quiet.
It suddenly dawned on me that this might be one of those boys in the neighborhood who sometimes came into other people’s yards to play. For all I knew, I could be interrupting on a hide-and-seek game. I laughed at myself a little and opened the door. I glanced back once more right before I stepped into the living room, just to laugh again at my own silliness.
But the figure was gone.