Watching your best friend die is probably the worst possible thing you can experience. I know that if I was allowed through this barrier, that I would also likely die, but at least I would know that I tried. Watching helplessly like this… How can I ever live with myself?
Jude’s breathing slows as the group chants incomprehensibly. I’ve given up trying to escape Amy’s barrier and watch the last moments of his life. He turns his head towards us and I think maybe he sees us, somehow. But no. An aura comes into focus. Maria. She’s holding his hand. I let out a small sob. I hear Hazel catch her breath and know that she must feel her.
Jude smiles and says something to Maria, and both of their auras turn vibrant. Happy. And then they both fade. Gone forever. Hazel falls to the ground in a stunned silence.
“How… how can he be gone?” she asks so quietly that I barely hear her. “He’s been here since… since…” She doesn’t finish her sentence. Tears roll silently down her cheeks.
Wordlessly, I wrap my arms around her, hoping to comfort her in some way. I know that she can feel my sorrow, though.
We stay that way for a few minutes, until the chanting abruptly stops. Looking up, I see an aura coming from Jude’s body again. I jump to my feet, hoping he’s still alive somehow. Hazel stands as well, but she’s shaking her head.
“It’s wrong. It’s not him,” she says.
Now that she says it, I can see that the aura is darker. Deadly. Hungry.
“Inus,” Amy says bleakly. She sounds tired.
Jude… no, Inus stands and looks around dazedly. The coven seems unnerved and a few of them take a step back.
The leader, Todd I’m assuming, takes several steps forward, smiling widely. “Great Inus!” He bows down to him, and Inus looks at him, seemingly uninterested. “I give myself to you, a servant to be used in any way you see fit.”
Inus continues to stare at him, then gets distracted by something. The knife that had been torn from Jude’s hand earlier. He looks at his own hand where his palm is cut. Walking slowly, he makes his way to the knife, picks it up, stares at it. Then he walks back to Todd, who is still kneeling on the ground, his aura getting more and more nervous by the second. Inus thrusts the knife into Todd’s throat without hesitation.
Everyone, including us behind the barrier, gasp, horrified. I’m not mad that Todd was just brutally murdered. I just wasn’t expecting it.
Todd chokes for a few moments, before going still and lifeless. A few members of the coven start crying, including Jude’s mother. The bitch cries over this asshole’s death, but not her own sons.
Inus looks at the blood that has pooled onto his hand from Todd’s throat and casually licks it clean. “This body is satisfactory. Thank you,” he says to dead Todd.
“We have to go. Now,” Amy says. She’s sweating and struggling to hold the barrier. She also looks as old as she really is. She’s used nearly all of her energy. “I can hold the barrier long enough for us to get out of here, but only if we go now.”
I hesitate, then nod. Grabbing Hazel, who is still watching the horror show unfolding before us, I drag her along behind me. She doesn’t protest.
We make it nearly out of the forest when Amy’s barrier drops. I think that we are safe, but I hear cackling behind us.
“I see you children! Your friends body will be well used!” Inus shouts, his voice somehow projecting across the whole forest. He laughs maniacally. We run faster. Hazel skids across the gravel and jumps into the van, while Amy and I jump into her car. Just as we are taking off, gravel flying behind us, I see Inus coming out of the forest, covered in blood. He twists Jude’s face into the most insidious smile I have ever seen. He points his finger at us like a gun, and for a second I honestly believe that he can kill us with just his finger. He is supposed to be this all-powerful god guy, right? But in the rearview mirror, I see him change lower his “gun” and he just turns and starts walking in the opposite direction.
I let out the breath that I didn’t realize I was holding, and slow down a little. And then I drive. I don’t know for how long or where, I just drive. Amy is asleep in the passenger seat, probably exhausted from holding up the barrier for so long. I don’t even know if Hazel is following me or not.
When my shock finally wears off, I pull into an empty Walmart parking lot. Its late. Not, like, curfew late, but dead-of-the-night no-one-alive-is-around-late.
Hazel pulls in behind me. So, I guess she was following me all this time. Amy stirs, but doesn’t wake up. I get out and stretch my tired legs, just now realizing how cramped they are from driving for so long.
Hazel also gets out and leans against the van. Her aura is a swirl of emotions. Anger, sorrow, guilt…
I walk over and lean against the van next to her. “It’s not your fault, you know,” I say.
Hazel sniffs and blinks away a few tears. “Of course it’s not, but… Maybe I could have done something, you know? It’s our job! We’re supposed to be able to handle shit like this!”
I snort. “We handle ghosts that refuse to move on. Not demons that think they’re gods.”
We sit quietly for a few minutes, unsure what to say or how to process what happened.
“What are we supposed to tell Maria’s parents? Her mom…” she chokes on her tears then swallows them back down. “Her mom was expecting to meet her for lunch.”
I run my hand through my hair and push myself off the van. “Fuck!” I yell at the ground. “Why did we have to even get involved in this?! We should have just left it all alone! We should have just all gotten normal jobs like normal people!”
“But we aren’t normal people,” Hazel whispers.
“And that’s fucking unfair!”
Hazel just nods. Which just pisses me off even more, because I want her to disagree with me. I want to argue with someone.
If Jude were here, he would tell me how much more unfair his life was compared to mine. If Maria were here, she would tell me that life if unfair for everyone. ‘There’s always going to be someone worse off than you,’ she always said. ‘So suck it up and deal with it. That’s life.’
But neither of them are here. And they never will be again.
“What do we do now?” I ask, my voice rough with emotion.
Hazel shrugs and looks at the ground. “We weren’t involved. If anyone comes asking. We have to find an alibi. If we get caught up in this…”
I can’t believe that she’s thinking about our lives right now when two of our friends just lost theirs. At the same time, I know she’s right. How would we explain anything if anyone came asking? Yes, officer. A group of witches killed Maria and then fed her blood to Jude, and the spirit of a supposed god entered his body and then killed Todd. I know it looked like Jude, but I swear it wasn’t. Because that all sounds completely fucking reasonable.
“We have to get our story straight. Maria went to visit her mom, and that was the last we heard from her. Jude took the van for an unknown reason, and that was the last we heard from him,” Hazel says, almost robotically. “Me and you were at home. We watched a movie, then went to bed.” She looks at me for confirmation, and I swallow the lump in my throat and nod.
So, we have to pretend that we have no idea that Maria is lying in the woods, dead. We just have to let them find her that way. Only, it could take days to find her. By that time, she will start decomposing, or animals might get to her… All the while, her parents will be holding out the hope that she might still be alive.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I say, panic clear in my voice. “I can’t lie to her parents when I know…”
“We have to! If anyone finds out that we were involved in any way, what do you think will happen? I still have my whole life ahead of me! I don’t want to go to prison!” Hazel is practically shrieking. She takes a deep breath to calm herself. “Look, we have to protect each other, okay?” She looks down and quietly says, “You’re all I have left.”
That statement leaves her crying, reality seeming to finally hit her. I wrap her in my arms and hold her, trying to hold it together for her. Jude and Maria may have been my friends, but to Hazel, they were her family.
I can do this for her, I tell myself.