At some point in your life, someone will ask you this question: If you could go back in time and change one thing about your past, would you do it, and what would you change? My answer is hell yes, I would. I would go back to when I was five, when my mom tried to kill me, and I would make sure she succeeded. Then I wouldn’t have to live with this curse for the rest of my life. But Jude, you may ask, why don’t you just kill yourself now? Because I’m a fucking coward. That’s why.
I’m such a coward that I needed someone to comfort me in the middle of the night, so I went crying to Maria. What kind of man does that? I suck.
“Are you awake?” Maria whispers next to me.
“Unfortunately,” I groan, not opening my eyes.
“Good. I think Hazel and Toby may have gotten the wrong idea when they found out that you were in here. Sleeping on my bed. With me…”
“That’s their problem, not mine,” I mumble.
“I agree, but then again, you do have a reputation.”
I sigh and open my eyes. “Fine. Kick me out of your comfortable bed.” She’s laying next to me, staring at me with those gorgeous soft-brown eyes. Whatever smartass comment was on the tip of my tongue is gone, lost in her gaze.
“What is it?” she asks, looking concerned.
I shake my head, and sit up, breaking the trance. “Nothing. I’ll go now.” I leave quickly, before she can see me blushing. What is wrong with me? This is not me. I don’t get tongue-tied around pretty girls, and I most certainly do not blush.
Maybe I’m just not myself right now. I had a tough week. That must be it. I’m just a little out of my mind right now.
I take a shower and get dressed, pretending like everything is normal. When I go into the living room, Toby and Hazel are nowhere to be found, and I can hear Maria in her room opening and closing drawers, presumably trying to find the perfect outfit, even though everything looks perfect on her.
Distracting myself, I start looking for breakfast. Just as I pull out a jar of peanut butter, I hear a car pull into the driveway. Glancing out the window, I immediately duck out of sight and rush over to Maria’s door.
“Maria! There’s a cop car in the driveway!” I hiss through the door. Her door flies open, her eyes wide.
“What did you do?” she demands. What the hell? Why does everyone just assume that I did something wrong?
“I didn’t do anything!” I protest. I don’t think I did…
Someone knocks on the door. Not a pounding knock, just a regular knock. Can you tell if you’re under arrest or not based on how a cop knocks on the door? What if they think we had something to do with Sarah’s murder after all? I’m too young to go to prison! I spent my whole life practically in a prison disguised as a mental hospital!
While my mind panics, Maria calmly walks over to the door. She’s actually going to open it?! When she finally opens it, I want to punch the cop in the face. It’s Owen. I should have known he would come to make sure Maria was okay. What a jackass.
Maria is standing awkwardly, her body rigid. “What are you doing here?” she asks, not politely.
“Nice house. He your new boyfriend?” Owen asks, nodding in my direction. I’m still halfway crouched behind the wall.
“So what if I am?” I say haughtily, stepping out so he can see my full glory. I lean against the wall casually and stare at him hard. To my dismay, he seems unfazed, and looks back at Maria for an answer.
“No. Not that it’s any of your business,” she says.
“He seems a bit young for you, doesn’t he?” Owen says with a smug smile.
“Fuck you, pig,” I say angrily.
“Careful, kiddo. I’m in uniform. I’m sure I could easily dig up dirt on trash like you.”
I start toward him, without really thinking about the fact that he’s a cop. He’s just another asshole that I want to beat up. Maria steps in front of me suddenly.
“Enough. Seriously, are you guys going to start comparing dicks now, too? Jude, go cool off. I’ll hear what this pig has to say, and then he’ll leave.”
First of all, I would obviously win. Second, she’s treating me like a kid. I resent that. However, I’ll respect her wishes and leave her to talk. I’ll just go around the corner and listen without them knowing.
“Quite the temper,” I hear officer assface say.
“Well, he does know what you did to me. He doesn’t like you very much.” Damn straight I don’t like him very much.
“Oh, right, because he’s a psychic or some shit, right?” It’d be hard to miss the extreme sarcasm. “How’d he convince you? Probably asked vague questions, then learned everything about you from that. Or maybe he stalked you and pretended to coincidentally run into you.”
“None of the above. Why are you here?”
“Nothing but business, as usual, I see. Fine. I need to make sure you don’t drag me into ghost hunting drama again. I could have gotten fired, you know. I had to lie to my superiors about why I made that call.”
“You had to come all the way out here to tell me that? Fine. I promise I will never call you again.”
“Also, if I catch any of you snooping around the crime scene, or hear that any of you are bothering the family, I will personally arrest you myself. You hear that, freakshow?!” That part was directed at me, I assume. How original. Like I’ve never heard that one before.
“Get out of here. If I see you in my driveway ever again, I will file a restraining order. Won’t that look great to your superiors?” Maria says in a falsely sweet tone.
Owen’s voice turns soft. “Look, Maria. I don’t want to be hard on you. I just don’t want you getting involved in anything dangerous. I know a troublemaker when I see one.” I’m not positive, but I think he’s referring to me as a troublemaker.
“I bet you do, since you have to look at yourself in the mirror every day.” Oooooooh snap! No she didn’t! “I just wish I would have seen it before I got involved with you.” I hear the door slam shut, and I stifle a laugh.
I step out into view and I almost say something snarky, until I see the look on Maria’s face. She looks angry, for sure, but she also has tears in her eyes. “I…” I start to say, but she turns away.
“I’m going to lunch with my mom. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone. Got it?” She turns and has a smile on her face, but she can’t hide her feelings from me any better than she can hide them from Hazel.
I pretend like I fell for her fake smile and give her a thumbs up. “You got it boss. No stupid things.” Was that natural sounding? Or did I just sound like an idiot? By the way she’s looking at me, I’m guessing the latter. Crap.
She raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything. Instead she grabs her purse and slowly backs out the door, probably just as uncomfortable as I am. As soon as the door closes, I let out a sigh of relief. I’m glad that awkwardness is over.
I turn around, trying to remember what I was doing before that loser knocked on the door. I see the jar of peanut butter on the counter and, as if on cue, my stomach growls. I walk over to the counter and reach for the peanut butter. Instead, my hand passes through empty air. The peanut butter is gone, and so is the counter. And the kitchen. Looking around in confusion, I groan. I’m back in the weird place with two moons. I quickly check my chest to make sure I’m not a girl again, and sigh with relief. I’m still me.
I hear something move behind me and spin around. Behind me is a young woman with hair so blonde that it looks nearly white. Her eyes are large and bright blue, and she’s wearing a deep red cloak. She’s oddly beautiful.
“Oh! It finally worked!” she squeaks. “I’ve been trying to talk to you, but I was having trouble with the execution.”
I step back a bit. “Who are you?” I ask hesitantly.
“Right, sorry. I’m Avva.” Instead of trying to shake my hand, she bows elegantly. Weirdo.
Avva, as in the girl that I turned into the last time I was sucked into this place? That ends up dying? Or is she already dead?
“I know this may be confusing,” she says, as if reading my thoughts. The last time I tried talking to you, it didn’t turn out so good for you. I’m sorry you had to experience that.” She looks down at the ground in shame.
“What do you want with me?” I ask, taking another step back. “What is this place?”
“I’ll answer the easier question first. This is purgatory. As for the second question, that’s a bit more complicated. I’ll have to make it quick, though. I can’t keep you here for very long.” Purgatory?! I’m sort of freaking out, but she seems fairly calm for being in PURGATORY! “I know you’ve been investigating murders. The girl who was beheaded. She isn’t the only target. The man who killed her is only one of many. They are possessing people from your realm and killing pure souls and absorbing them. Once they get enough energy, they plan on using those souls to resurrect their god, Inus, in the living realm.”
She’s talking so fast that I am barely keeping up, but I definitely got the last part. Inus is going to be resurrected. I don’t know who Inus is, but I’m assuming that if these guys think he is a god, then it can’t be a good thing.
She’s looking at me expectantly. “Oh. Yeah, bad stuff. And what do I do about it?” I look around distractedly. Is purgatory like hell, or is it something different? I’m not on fire or anything, so I’m guessing different.
“Well, figure out how to stop it! Duh!” Avva says in exasperation.
“Am I dead? Did I somehow die suddenly in a freak peanut butter accident?” I ask, panicking a little.
“Peanu… No! You’re alive! Focus!” She’s getting blurry, and I see my world start to mix with purgatory. “Your friend is a virgin. She’s the next target. Save her and figure out how to stop Inus from rising again.” The last part fades out as my world takes over, and everything is back to normal. Except that I’m on the floor, sprawled awkwardly. I sit up slowly. I prop myself up with my arm, and wince. My forearm has a bruise forming. I probably hit it on the counter when I fell.
I sit there for a minute trying to process what Avva said. My friend is a virgin? Ha! Which one? I’m pretty sure Hazel isn’t, and I highly doubt Maria is, considering she was engaged at one point. Not to mention her age. It’s certainly not Haylee. I know that for a fact. Was I just imagining all of that? Maybe I’m just going crazy finally. Is Toby secretly a woman? It’s entirely possible that he is a virgin, considering his lack of skill with women.
Well… I guess I could just call them all and ask. It’s not like I haven’t asked weird questions before. Toby will probably think I’m high, but oh well. I have a sneaking suspicion that he always thinks I’m high. I’m not, for the record.
I reach into my back pocket for my phone and pull it out. I groan. The screen is shattered and unreadable. I must have fallen on it when I had my little purgatory episode. It’s the only phone here, so that plan is gone. So Maria left to have lunch with her mom, and Toby and Hazel are gone, presumably with the van. Do they still have payphones? I guess it doesn’t matter. I have no change. Or money in general.
I sigh in frustration and run a hand through my hair. Since I can’t do anything at the moment, I might as well attempt to continue making my sandwich. Hopefully nothing else interrupts me this time. I really am starving.
After I eat, I wait impatiently to see if Hazel or Toby will show up. After a few hours, I start snooping in their rooms to see if I can figure out where they went. Or if either of them might secretly be a virgin. I find nothing. At one point, my phone rings, but since I can’t answer it, I throw it across the room in anger. It stops ringing when it smacks against the wall.
Anxiously, I pace the living room, trying to think of how I can get a hold of one of them without a phone. Even if I did have money for a payphone, and payphones still existed, I don’t even remember any of their numbers! I guess this is why people write things down. Stupid people, always being prepared and shit.
While I pace, I hear voices outside and I run to the door, flinging it open. Toby and Hazel jump back from the door, bewildered.
“What the hell, dude?” Toby says, looking me over.
“Are you secretly a woman?” I ask quickly, ignoring their stares.
I turn to Hazel. “Are you a virgin?”
She blushes and crosses her arms. “That is an incredibly rude thing to ask a woman, Jude.”
“This is a potentially life or death situation, so just answer me and be honest,” I say. My look of desperation must have convinced her, because she loses the guarded look and looks away shyly.
“No, I’m not. Not that it’s any of your business…”
“Then give me your phone,” I say. I hold out my hand, then wave it impatiently when she doesn’t give it to me immediately. She hands it over and I find Maria’s name. It rings a couple times, then goes to voicemail.
“Hey, this is Maria. I’m probably busy right now, either that or I’m ignoring you. So leave a message and I might get back to you,” her perky voice says over the phone. I wait for the beep, tapping my foot.
“Maria, its Jude. I need to know if you’re a virgin. Call me back right away. I’m not being a creep, either, okay? Seriously. Call me now.” I hang up, and hand Hazel back her phone. Her and Toby are still looking at me like I’ve gone mad. Who knows, maybe I have. It’s been a rough week.
“Sooo…. What is this all about?” Hazel asks. I explain to them what happened and what Avva said. “Well it’s definitely not Toby, because he’s a guy, and I guarantee it’s not me. Maria… I don’t know. I never really talked to her about that kind of thing before. I just assumed at her age she would have done it by now.” She laughs and shakes her head. “This is kind of awkward to talk about with you two.”
I don’t laugh. Maria could be in danger. That is not a laughing matter. “We need to go find her. Do either of you know where her parents live?” They both shake their heads. I growl in frustration. “Why are we such horrible friends?”
I pace the floor impatiently trying to figure out what to do.
Hazel stops me mid-pace and drags me to the couch, forcing me to sit. “Look. Are you sure this is even… I mean, you know… You’ve been through a lot these last few days.” At first, I don’t really understand what she means. Yeah, it has been a horrible few days. I watched two young girls get beheaded. That’s a pretty fucking awful thing to see. I look up her and she looks back almost sympathetically. And then I realize what she’s saying. She thinks that Avva is fake and that I’m just insane and making things up in my head because of stress. Of course she would think that. She can’t sense Avva. I’m the only one who has actually seen her, and she’s claiming to be in purgatory, a place that most people probably don’t even believe exists.
I look down at the floor, trying to process things. And then I decide that processing things are for pansies. I stand up and not so gently push Hazel aside. “I’m taking the van,” I say angrily.
Hazel follows me. “Jude, come on. I just want to make sure…” I ignore her and grab the keys from the counter. Out of the corner of my eye I see the jar of peanut butter still on the counter. I grab it and quickly start making myself a sandwich, because I still haven’t eaten and I’m starving. “What are you doing?”
“I’m making myself a damn sandwich, what the hell does it look like I’m doing?” I yell, throwing my dirty butter knife into the sink. It bounces out and lands on the floor instead. I don’t care.
“If you say that Maria is in danger then I believe you, okay?” Hazel says.
“You just insinuated that I might be insane. So no, it’s not okay.” I take a bite of my sandwich as I open the front door.
Toby chimes in. “Um, well I believe you, so can I come with?” I shrug and toss him the keys.
“You can’t stop me from coming with you,” Hazel says defiantly. ’I’m just going to get into the van. You wouldn’t waste time trying to drag me out, would you?” She says this as she opens the door and climbs in. She’s right. I’m not going to waste time. I don’t even have a plan yet.
Toby starts the van and starts to pull out of the driveway. “So where are we headed then?” he asks.
I tap my fingers on the dash, thinking. “Haylee might have a way of finding her. I can call her. Hazel, give me your phone.” She rolls her eyes, but hands it to me anyways. I dial her number and wait impatiently for her to answer. She finally answers after an agonizing three whole rings.
“Namaste,” she answers. I’m not sure if that’s a question or an answer or what.
“Haylee, it’s Jude. I need your help.”
“Oh no! I’m not getting involved with you again! I don’t want to somehow end up in jail!” The line goes dead.
I pull the phone away and stare at it in disgust. “She hung up on me!” I dial her number again, but it says that the line is disconnected. “Bitch!”
I almost throw Hazels phone, but she shrieks and stops me. Cradling her phone protectively, she says, “There is another option…” I look back at her. “Amy Long? You may not like her, but she might be able to help.”
I glare at her and start to say no, but then I bite my tongue. She’s right. It’s not like I know any other witches, and we have no idea where Maria’s parents live. We don’t have a lot of options to find her quickly. I growl. “Fine. You have her number?”
“I do, because unlike you, I don’t hate people just because they are different,” Hazel says.
“What?! That’s not even… You don’t even know what you’re talking about! Just call her already!” I face forward and cross my arms angrily.
There’s a moment of silence, then, “Amy? Hey, it’s Hazel. From the other day? Yeah. So we have a problem that we were hoping you might be able to help with. Our friend Maria might be in danger and we can’t get a hold of her. Do you have a way to find her?” She listens quietly, nodding occasionally, as if Amy can hear her head moving. “We’re worried that we might not have a lot of time. Would you be able to meet us halfway?” Silence again. “Great! Thank you so much!”
I turn back to her again. “Well?”
“We need something with Maria’s hair or skin or something on it, and she will meet us in Lenwood so that it doesn’t take so long,” Hazel says. “I think her brush is still in the back.” She unbuckles and digs around until she finds it. “Got it!”
“Lenwood is like two hours away!” I say frantically. “She can’t do anything faster than that? Can’t she just tell us how to do it?”
“Do you have any witch stuff on you? Cause I don’t,” Hazel says haughtily. “Look, chances are, Maria is fine anyways. She will probably call me back soon, and we can just forget all about this and go home.”
“Because I’m insane and Avva doesn’t actually exist, right?” I growl.
“That’s not…” she starts.
“Just say it, Hazel. You think I’m crazy! Admit it!”
Toby butts in. “Jude, she didn’t say that. Calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down! Maria might die, and Hazel just thinks I’m crazy!” I throw up my hands in frustration.
There’s a moment of silence, then, “Are you done now?” Hazel asks. I turn around and glare at her. “I don’t think you’re crazy, okay? I’m just trying to think positively.” I know she has a point, but I won’t admit defeat. Instead, I give her one last glare and turn back to the front. The silent treatment ought to teach her a lesson.
The next two hours goes by in an uncomfortable silence. The quiet is finally broken when we pull into the nearly empty parking lot of a grocery store.
“There she is,” Toby says, killing the ignition. One of the streetlights flicker eerily, but I hardly notice. I jump out of the van almost before it’s stopped moving and stalk toward Amy.
“You look like you’re about to murder me, kid. Maybe aim your anger toward the real bad guys,” she says casually. She has a map spread out on the hood of her car. “Give me your hand.”
Normally I would have questioned her, considering she’s an evil witch and all, but I need to find Maria as quickly as possible, so I obey. I regret it instantly when she jabs a large needle into my pointer finger. I yelp and jump back, ready to fight her if I have to, but she just laughs.
Waving me back over, she says, “Hold your finger over the map, close your eyes, and imagine Maria. Not just her face, but everything about her. Personality, her likes, dislikes, face, body, hair, anything you can. You’re going to feel odd, but just keep thinking about her.”
Hazel and Toby finally catch up to us, and I look over at them uncertainly. I mean, what could possibly happen? It’s just a map. I walk over and do as she says. As soon as I close my eyes, she starts chanting something, and I suddenly feel dizzy. My body feels light and I feel myself swaying. Then my arm is moving on its own, circling as though I’m blindly trying to reach for something and can’t find it. I try to focus instead on thinking of Maria, like Amy told me to, and suddenly my arm seems more certain on its direction. It stops after a moment, then Amy stops chanting.
With the silence comes stillness. The dizziness is gone so abruptly that I have to catch myself on the hood of the car. I open my eyes and look at Amy, who is looking at the map with a concerned expression.
“Whittona Forest…” she says in a hushed voice.
“Where’s that?” I vaguely hear Toby asks.
I think Amy answers, but I don’t hear her over the pounding of my own heart. I know exactly where Whittona Forest is. It’s the place where my innocent life ended, and this hellish nightmare of a life began.
It’s where my own mother tried to kill me.