Chapter 1: The Hike From Hell
"FAME, like a wayward girl, will still be coy
To those who woo her with too slavish knees,
But makes surrender to some thoughtless boy......
Ye Artists lovelorn! madmen that ye are!
Make your best bow to her and bid adieu,
Then, if she likes it, she will follow you."
-John Keats (1795-1821)
Magic is in everything. At least that's what my mother always says. Though, truth be told, my mother's the type to walk around with sticks in her hair claiming they keep her calm so I guess maybe I should take her word with a grain of salt.
Still, I wonder if she's right. I mean there has to be maybe just the tiniest bit of magic in the world for things to be as fucked up as they are. It's like the whole world can catch amnesia at the exact same time if you're not careful.
How is it possible to one day be the most interesting person in the world to millions of people, only to fade into obscurity faster than you can say "one-hit-wonder?" That has to be some sort of sorcery right? Some curse? Or maybe it's just the unlucky mediocrity that we all gotta deal with sooner or later.
I ponder the thought as I blast Gotye's world-shattering hit "Somebody That I Used to Know" and drink my homemade oat milk Frappuccino. What the hell ever happened to that guy? He was set to be one of the biggest acts of the 2000s. Now he's, well I don't know what he is.
I hand my mother her cup of tea as she steps into our cluttered kitchen and I can't help but feel foolish at the plainness of my new daily routine....Oh how the mighty has fallen.
"Is that milk of the cow?" she questions, leaning against our worn wooden doorway. Well I suppose it's not really our doorway anymore, it's more like her kitchen doorway ever since I moved out for college 6 years ago. I guess you could argue that it's at least temporarily mine until I find a new place.
I recently moved back to Cyprus, the town I grew up in, a few weeks ago after my final book tour concluded. My industrial loft in New York suddenly started to feel...cold after all was said and done. I just had the deepest feeling that I wasn't where I was supposed to be anymore, Ayda calls those feelings my "spirit ringers".
Even when I was a little girl I got feelings about things that I couldn't exactly explain. They're not premonitions per se because I don't really see visions or anything like that, it's more like a wave of clarity washing over me telling me what to do. Of course my mother attributes that to my alleged witch heritage but as a skeptic I've concluded that I just have really good instincts.
It was only three a.m. the day after my tour's end when I had the first spirit ringer I'd gotten in a long while. Panic crawled out of my chest and over my limbs as I lay in bed and the words "I'm not supposed to be here" bounced repetitively off the walls of my brain. I called Ayda immediately, not because I thought she'd have any comforting words for me but because it's what I'd always done when I got those feelings.
"Well...that means you're not supposed to be there Nicki," she'd said matter-of-factly, I'm sure that she felt my scowl through the phone, "Obviously, but then, where am I supposed to be?" Her laugh twinkled brightly in my ears, "Hell if I know darling, but maybe it's time you came home." She'd been pushing that subject for years and I was usually quick to write it off. Not this time.
This time I actually gave her room to convince me, "I'm getting old, there's only so much I can handle by myself around the bakery. I hired the preacher's boy, Marcus, boy did his father have a fit about that. Even still, you know I've always dreamt of us doing things as a family business, just the two of us," she'd mused, "You and me, like it was when you were in high school. You used to love hanging out here with all your friends especially that..what was her name?" I knew there was no way she'd forgotten her name, my mother never forgets anything,
"Heela." I said painfully, "Yess..Heela.." I knew then and there exactly what she was planning, "She's back in town you know, mhm, started up her own movie theater and all. This town's been growing like a weed ever since you up and got famous. Honestly, the amount of tourists who come in the bakery everyday asking if I'm really Nixen Alldear's mother..it's outrageous..but it makes me proud. I'd be even prouder if it didn't seem like my own daughter was hellbent on avoiding me."
"It's not you I'm avoiding, I just want...more. You know how much I love Cyprus, but we both know that me making my books take place there was really just me imagining that something...anything happened there."
"I told you, things are changing. Come home. Please Vixen" My mother might be one to bug but she'd never actually begged me to come home, I also couldn't remember the last time she'd called me by my full name and not Nicki.
She gets her own spirit ringers, I suspect we both had the same one. It was time for me to go. The next day I called a moving company and put all my stuff into storage, it didn't feel like me anymore but I also didn't feel like going through the process of selling it all just yet. I bought a plane ticket for the same day and I was in Cyprus in time for the special homecoming dinner Ayda made me which included her special herb and veggie stew.
When I swallowed that first spoon of stew warmth came over me replacing all the anxiety and panic that'd been sitting on my chest since the spirit ringer the night before. I was sure then that Cyprus was where I was meant to be, at least right now.
"You know Ayda sometimes you talk like you're not even from this century." I've always called my mother by her first name, I can't remember why I started but I can never bring myself to stop. We look like we're the same age, on one of my bad days she looks like she could even be younger. Truth be told, I don't know how old my mother is.
Four years ago was the first time we celebrated her birthday because most of my life she'd claimed that it got tedious after so many years. I think that she spontaneously decided to celebrate since my visits were already few and far between and my first two books were just gaining some traction, we both knew that I wouldn't see her for a while. The candles she put on the cake that year read 300 years old, that was obviously a joke so I congratulated her on reaching her tercentennial years and cut the cake.
"A slip up dear, would you prefer I start speaking in your generation's slang?" she asks sarcastically, "Hell no, I'd just rather you didn't randomly start to sound like an old English grandmother." She chuckles, "I'll try. But you haven't answered my question. I hope you're not sneaking cow milk. You know how gassy it makes you-" "Ayda!"
Her hands go up in defeat, "I'm only looking out for you. Speaking of me looking out for you, we need to get going. I set up two open houses for you to go to on your lunch break since you're in such a rush to find a new roommate," she jokes, sitting down the homemade incense she was burning when she walked in.
"I don't want a roommate at all," I correct her. She smiles down at me and ruffles my already unruly crown of curls like I'm still just her clueless little girl, "Yes but I sense that you'll have one anyway. At least.. part of one," she taps her chin in contemplation. I let out a deep sigh that I knew was inevitable the moment she said I sense, "What does that mean?" I ask in exasperation.
She shrugs, "So are you gonna drive or should I?" I almost trip over several knickknacks as I sprint to the door and grab the car keys off the hook, "I'll drive!" However old and wise Ayda really is, she still has yet to grasp the concept of speed limits and traffic lights. The last time I let her drive me somewhere I swear I felt my spirit literally jump from my body.
"Your loss," she sings as she closes the passenger door, "I'd be losing a lot more if I let you get behind the wheel," I jest, "Touché Nicki. Touché"
"Good morning Nix," the new hire, Marcus, says before I even step all the way through the door, "I opened up for you guys," he adds and if he was a puppy I'm positive he'd be jumping up and down tail wagging excitedly. "Thank you Marcus. Did you start on the cinnamon rolls yet? You know they take the longest," Ayda reminds him.
"Of course, everything's in the oven and nearly ready for sale." She nods approvingly, "Hiring you might be the best thing I've done since deciding not to let my mother make Walberga Nicki's middle name."
"What is your middle name Nixie?" Marcus asks, leaning on his open hands like a swooning character from Looney Tunes. I must've told him a thousand times that I don't like being called Nixie but here he is, still calling me that. "It's Abha," I smile, he's young, just about to graduate high school, we all have crushes around that age. I've made it clear that he's more like a little brother to me but I don't think he'll get the memo until at least another year passes. "Nixen Abha Alldear. What a powerful name."
"That was the ideaaa," my mother whistles as we follow her into the kitchen to start our daily process of decorating cupcakes and cookies made from her special recipes. Each treat contains special ingredients for any ailments customers might have, chocolate walnut and passionflower cookies for anxiety and insomnia, Red velvet cupcakes with primrose buttercream for fertility, peppermint oil infused fudge brownies for migraines.
The people in town swear by Ayda's desserts, I once asked her how they're so effective and she told me it's not just the herbs but the magic too. I suppose there is a sort of magic in baking for her, the same magic that's in me when I write. She even got me to write blessing cards for every purchase and while I was gone she added a book store wing onto the bakery that's gaining its own popularity, my books are front and center of course. We might be at odds most of the time but I know that she loves me.
My lunch break rolls around faster than usual and when Ayda checks the long golden pocket watch that's been in my family for generations she's quick to rush me off, "Why are you so eager to get rid of me?" I ask after she practically shoves me out the kitchen door, "I told you, you have to go meet someone special." I roll my eyes, "Who? Who?" Her hands instinctively go to her hips, "Wouldn't be a surprise if I told you now would it?" I don't like surprises. She knows that.
"Do you have your salt?" I don't even have to put my hands inside my shirt to know that the pouch is there, it always is. I don't believe in everything Ayda's taught me, when I graduated high school I swore I'd treat witchcraft and everything associated with it like a bad nightmare that was now over.
Against my wishes though, the tiny bit of leather containing herbs, salt and a loc of both mine and Ayda's hair made me feel closer to her so I held on to it.
Don't let anyone ever take it from you. And don't you ever ever ever throw it away. Do you understand?
Her words from my childhood still have yet to leave my mind just as the pouch has yet to leave my chest. "Yes I have my salt," I answer. She smiles, "Good girl. Now don't worry about coming back after the open houses, Marcus'll drive me home. Go exploring like you used to do when you were a kid, maybe it'll clear up that writer's block of yours." I cringe at the mention of it.
She places a tender hand on my shoulder, "Hey, we all go through rough patches, it'll end soon and when it does you'll be spectacular, you always are. Promise me you won't let this little blank space consume you" I can feel the sense of failure inside me dwindling at her words, "I promise."
She kisses me on the cheek, "Go now, hurry up. Clock's a ticking." She pushes me gently towards the car, "Alright Alright I love you too," I say as I press the start button. Whoever this "roommate" is they better be worth it.
I make it to the first open house only a teensy bit late due to getting consistently stuck in traffic caused by the ever increasing construction sites all over town. I curse the signs labeled "Deity Construction Co." with black iron wings flapping confidently behind the logo each time I pass them...I pass them a lot.
When I finally do arrive I find myself over apologizing as always, "Honestly sweet you were only 2 minutes late and it's raining with traffic so I don't blame ya, don't feel bad," the woman I recognize as my old kindergarten teacher says when I finish blathering on pointlessly, "You always were a sheepish one little Nicki," she grins at me in the same way Ayda does.
I cringe and facepalm myself, "Ughhh please don't bring up my kindergarten days," I feel my face warm from the embarrassment, I'd say I was lucky to have my darker complexion because she can't see the redness spreading across my cheeks but I've always worn my emotions on my sleeve so I'm sure I look like a nervous wreck.
"I swear you threw up more than any other kid I've ever taught, everything upset your stomach, the playground, the smell of crayons, getting teased," she laughs mirthfully as I recede into myself.
"Mrs.Waterssssss" I whine girlishly, "Fine, Fine, not another word," she makes a ziplock and key gesture like she used to when she wanted us to hush for story time. To some outsiders it might be odd that a kindergarten teacher is also the most successful realtor around here but up until recently this was a small town, freakishly small, everyone had multiple jobs because if they didn't then we'd have to drive 30 minutes over to the nearest city for everything.
"So I thought you'd like this place because it's sequestered. The house sits on 10 acres of raw land, your mom told me that you like to take walks in nature to get inspiration for your writing so this seems like the perfect spot, there's even a lake in the back only about 350 feet from the house with its own fish and everything," she explains as we walk up the short driveway.
I told my mom I wanted a secluded house but not one too far from the road to where I'd probably die if it was a horror movie. This place seems to walk that line as there's plenty of privacy hedges surrounding the ornate white iron driveway gate so you can't see the house from the road but most of the land sits behind the house instead of out front so I'm perfectly capable of making a quick escape in an emergency.
Mrs. Waters said we should park by the gates so I'd get a full view of the house as we approached and man was that a good decision, "It's an American Craftsman style home built only 3 years ago so fairly new, the previous owners had it painted that dark navy color that you see but they said they'd paint it white to match the trims if you want."
"No no, it's..beautiful," I say breathlessly as I stare up at the perfectly quaint yet sizable home. It has large white trimmed windows and two big French doors as an entryway. Some of the other newer properties I've seen are just too modern for my taste, there's no warmth, I can't imagine myself writing in a place like that.
Mrs. Waters gives me a knowing smile when we pass under the wrap around balcony on the second floor that shades the huge front porch, "So this is the foyer, the flooring throughout the house is hickory stained burnt umber, the wood actually came from the trees on the property. Previous owners sold the wood each year for a profit too if that's something you’re interested in, apparently it's a lucrative business."
It's probably one I'd rather not get into though, I don't know the first thing about selling wood and it sounds complicated from what I've heard, I'll just stick to using them to print my books. Speaking of, I'm supposed to call my publisher soon to discuss my next release, if there even is a next release. They're really pushing the autobiography deal but my life's never been that interesting.
Mrs. Waters shows me the kitchen, den and living room before heading down to the basement which has been split in half to create a movie theater and a full size library hidden behind a false door, apparently the woman of the house was so scared of her kids messing up her book collection that she hid them down here. I have a book collection of my own I'd like to hide.
After we finish touring the second floor and the attic that's been used as an art studio, but which Mrs. Waters reminds me, is a perfect writing nook, we take a short tour of the land and the pools and the lake and the greenhouse. The entire place is awe inspiring and I fall more in love with it with every step. But there's something else weighing on me still.
Mrs. Waters comes up beside me and places a solemn hand on my shoulder as I sit down on the bench and stare melancholically into the lake, watching the bluegills and archers fight with a rainbow trout over a dead insect floating on top of the water.
"I know it feels lonely now, but who knows, pretty soon you could meet the right person and it'll be teeming with little ones. My wife and I felt the same way when we first bought our farm but look at us now, six kids, every one of them louder than New York traffic. I can't remember the last time to house was empty let alone lonely," she tells me as she slides in on my right.
I suddenly realize that she thinks my mood is because I think I'll be lonely, that's not it at all, well I mean I do want a kid or two someday but it's not killing me that I don't have one at this very moment.
"No, it's not that," I tell her, feeling sort of silly now that she's mentioned raising a family and all sorts of serious adult things. The real reason I'm sad is something totally self-centered. "What is it then?" I can almost feel the maternal energy radiating out of her like light from a bulb, it's abundantly clear why she's such a good kindergarten teacher and how she's managed to raise six kids at once.
A cynical part of me wonders if this is all apart of her tactic to reel in buyers. I mean there's obviously more than one reason she's the best realtor here. Understanding your clients' hesitations by playing shrink has its benefits. Still, I still feel compelled to tell her how I'm feeling, old habits die hard.
"It's just....this place is so beautiful. So perfect. I feel so open to writing here," I explain, she raises her eyebrow in confusion, "So what's the matter then?"
I let out a deep breath before continuing, "It's so..perfect, it's the type of place authors write timeless masterpieces in. The type of place that inspires artists to create the next Mona Lisa's and Starry Night's. The type of place where musicians compose scores that'll be played for centuries.
So I guess what I'm saying is, I'm scared.
If I move here. And my writers block doesn't end. And I still can't make it through a paragraph without cringing myself into an early grave. Then....then that means that I'm such a shit writer, that even the most perfect place couldn't fix me.
If I can't write here, that means I'll never write anywhere. And then that means that I am a one-hit-wonder, an accident. I could ride the wave of my first series for the next few decades but then, what else am I? I don't wanna just be the girl who wrote the Falling Wonders series, I wanna be an author. I wanna be an author so great that it makes my fingers burn and my head ache. I wanna be remembered. I wanna be.....I wanna be best who ever lived."
She grins at me as my rant comes to a close, "That's intense." I can't help but laugh at my own concentration, "Look sweet, it's entirely possible that you'll buy this place and never write another word," my palms immediately start to sweat at the thought of it but she leans into me and bumps my shoulder lightly, "But it's also entirely possible that you'll write the best novel series to ever exist. Or maybe you'll write something mediocre that doesn't even top your first big hit. Maybe you'll decide you don't even like writing novels at all and you'll become a dramatist or a screen writer. None of it matters. What matters is that you want to be an author. You want it badly.
To want something so badly means that you're passionate. And I'm here to tell you that passions change. It's true, sometimes we try and we try and we fail and we fail and we never actually succeed. But that doesn't mean our failures are the only things that make us who we are. If you can be this passionate about being an author and you fail then you'll find something new to be passionate about. You've done it once, why not again?
Lots of people fail and they're too scared to try again but I say failing means I've done it or at least tried to. And if I can try one thing I can try another, and another and another. Maybe you'll never find your thing, maybe you'll never fully live your dream. But you'll never be bored either. Not unless you let yourself get down.
Don't be so stuck on the dream of succeeding that you become blind to the happiness that comes from the act of attempting. If you don't wanna buy this house that's fine. But don't not buy this house because you're scared of what will or won't happen here. If you do then you'll always have regrets, you'll always be wondering "what if?" And truthfully? Wondering is nowhere near as fun as trying."
"Man you're good!" I exclaim after a moment of silence, she giggles and puts out a hand to help me off the bench, "So? You ready to go see the next house?" I think for a moment before shaking my head, "I'll take this one. How much is it?" A look of shock crosses her face, "Really? It's 4.3 million dollars. Owners say you can move in immediately after you pay if you like. The wife's a big fan."
I sort of gathered that from the book collection downstairs, I swear I'll never get used to seeing my name on actual books. "Good deal, I'll pay cash. Let them know I want it and I'll have the money sent wherever they'd like as soon as possible. Tomorrow even."
Mrs. Waters eyebrows almost jump off her face, "Well, Nicki," she says breathlessly, "I'll let them know that immediately. Immediately."
By the time we get back to our cars and say our goodbyes the sun is already setting outside. I consider going on a nature walk but there are bears and mountain lions in these woods so I decide against it, especially since my call with the publishers already went horridly, dying today would just add to my woes. My agent let me know that the finale sales are through the roof since I left New York. Apparently people are under the impression that I'm retiring so they're scrambling to get my "final work" which is great just great.
Especially considering that they're already breathing down my neck about what's next. Everyone was under the impression that I was leaving New York to find inspiration which I suppose is at least partly true, I've yet to find it though, as mentioned. They weren't happy about that.
I just really need to take a load off and what's a better way to do that than to get a crappy drink at a little tatty bar. So of course I head on over to Miko's Pub. Miko's has stood here since forever and when my friends and I were younger we used to be so excited to turn 21 just so we could be "real adults" and finally come in here and learn what all the grownups were on about.
As it turns out, not much. I chuckle as I walk through the door and see the familiar owner. Remember I said that my friends and I couldn't wait until we were 21 to come check this place out? Well we sort of..didn't? We all bought obviously fake IDs and snuck in with the crowd quite often. I'm positive that the owner's son, Miko Oblonsky the Sixth, knew we were just a couple of kids which is probably why he basically only sold us 2 percent liquor that was no stronger than my grandma's kool-aid.
Six was only a few years older than us so he didn't care and all the adults were too shit faced to pay us any mind. Even if they were sober they probably wouldn't blink twice, most small towns aren't big on that sort of thing. It's not like they could snitch to Ayda either, my mother the well-known hedonist? If she'd known she'd have just clowned me for drinking what's practically candy water and handed me a glass of something stronger.
"Long time no see superstar," Six smiles his easy smile from across the bar as I plop down awkwardly in one of the well-worn stools. There's nothing particularly special about this place but it was the only bar in town for a long time so it's been the best bar in town for a long time. Though, there is an air of nostalgia here that makes every drink burn just a little bit more going down.
"Definitely long time no see, is that a real beard?" I laugh as I reach out to stroke the now full grown hairs on his face, roughly turning his head side to side like a rude dentist in amusement. He smirks cockily, "Yep mhm, home grown. No implants or nothin'" I raise an eyebrow, "Well now I'm suspicious," I tease when he slides a shot my way.
When I grimace afterwards he keels over in laughter, "That's what you get!" Holy damn that was strong! "Hey It's not like you can blame me! The last time I saw you it still looked like you'd just put glue on your chin then rolled around on the old carpet in the office back there!" He shakes his head, "Yeah? And the last time I saw you, you were wearing denim boots!"
I tilt my head to the side, "So thaaats what we're doing? How dare you bring up my fashion choices from Hell. I'll have you know I immediately regretted that purchase!"
"Yuh. Didn't stop you from wearing em tho."
"I WAS GETTING MY MONEY'S WORTH!"
The bell on the door interrupts our bashing session, "Ooooh heads up, you're gonna need another drink," Six says with a twinkle in his eyes.
Oh god what is it, last time he got that look there was a Sumo Convention being hosted out back and he'd signed me up. I won only because all the other participants were totally blacked out and I was on the wrestling team, that 2 percent alcohol content actually came in handy that day.
"Nix is that you?" the sound of that melodic voice automatically makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I covertly signal for Six to get me that other drink now, "Heela," I reply calmly turning around on my stool.
She looks absolutely stunning and I get angry at myself for noticing how beautifully the disappearing sunlight reflects off her sea green eyes and shiny light brown hair that's filtered with natural blonde highlights. I always loved her hair.
She's wearing lawyer get up but it's all black so that's one thing that hasn't changed. Though she's swapped out her chunky black biker boots and waist chains for professional looking heels and a Ferragamo belt with a pearl studded buckle, she still stands like she's holding an electric guitar. I can even still see the faint purple streaks that've faded in her hair over the years.
"Don't sound so happy to see me," she says sarcastically and I force a grin when she settles down in the stool next to me with the agility of a jaguar. "I'd heard you were back in town but I didn't think you would want to grace the likes of us with your holy presence." Oh here she goes.
I down my shot and then start on the pitcher of beer Six left here before he coincidentally decided to go clean the booths. I peep him slyly watching us from the table he's been wiping the same spot of since we started talking.
"I heard you started your firm," I reply to try and steer the conversation away from the bitter territory it's speeding into.
Heela was lead bassist and vocalist in a popular band when we were teenagers called, "The Last Leg." When I finished my first book in our senior year and it blew up we were excited because that meant both of us were having our share of fame. Truthfully, I believe our relationship played a big role in the success of that book, I've always felt like I was in debt to her even though she got clout from me too, they started their first world tour right at the height of our fame as a couple.
She left before graduation so I went to the senior trip alone, then prom alone, then graduation.
She was gone almost the whole summer and when she came back and it was about time for me to leave for college in New York, she actually asked me to stay behind and miss the first semester so we could reconnect! I'd missed enjoying everything about senior year that I was looking forward to, that we were looking forward to because she wasn't there and now she was asking me to miss my very first semester of college.
That was the beginning of the end for us. What I didn't know at that time is that Heela's new label had basically stolen all the band's profits but they didn't just not pay the band, they didn't pay anyone. It was a huge scandal since it'd become one of the biggest labels in the country after they got lucky with Last Leg.
Unluckily for me though the first exposé wasn't released until I was halfway through freshman year at Columbia. She was begging me to stay because she had nowhere else to go after her parents kicked her out and her label left her penniless. But she never told me any of that.
She just came back to town acting like a rockstar and treating me like I should be kissing the ground she walks on and pledging my undying love for her every second of everyday lest she decide to leave me again.
Heela doesn't like to show emotion, she always says that she put the pain in her music. I guess she left the love there too because I couldn't feel it anymore towards the end. All I felt was her excessive cockiness draining the life out of me.
We've seen each other since the blowup we had on the last day before I left for college that left me utterly destroyed but of course it was awkward, then it was angry...and thennn...
"I haven't seen you since the last time we...you know.." she says, blatantly disregarding my attempt to change the subject. I put my head down and start counting the grooves in the countertop of the bar, "Had sex," I respond, she's not gonna stop so I may as well humor her.
"Not just sex. At least not for me, it was great for you too if memory serves." It was, it always is.
My phone buzzes and I check it and notice there's a message from Mrs. Waters. I can come in tomorrow and sign the papers to buy the house if I want. I tell her that's perfect and look back up at Heela.
"I have to go," I tell her. I'll need to be at the house early tomorrow so I'd better get to bed. "Seriously? What is it 7:30? Not even?" I have to try hard not to roll my eyes as I turn around, "Bye Heela."
As soon as I get in my car I feel all the nervous energy I was suppressing bubbling up in my throat. I end up sitting behind the steering wheel laughing like a lunatic for who knows how long.
"What's the joke?" Heela asks as she slides in the passenger seat. I hadn't even noticed she'd opened the car door. "HEELA! MOTHER OF GOD!" She smirks at me, "Vixen Alldear! Are you taking the lords name in vain?" she asks in faux admonishment.
"What are you doing in my car!?"
"Well I was on my way out when I saw you in here doing that nervous laugh thing that you do so I decided to come over and see what made you so giddy as to cause one of those," she explains straightly.
I hit my head against the wheel, she saw that!? Jeez, can this day get any more embarrassing? First I'm spilling my guts to my realtor, now I inadvertently let my first love know how nervous she still makes me.
Okay just take a deep breath and play it cool, "I was just thinking about this funny video I saw earlier." She nods unconvincingly, "Hmm what app was it on?" My mind goes blank, "Uhh..PINTEREST!" I immediately regret it the moment it comes out but I can't take it back now, "Pinterest?" she asks smugly. "Mhm. Yep!"
"Pinterest?" I look at her in exasperation, "Yes! Pinterest!" She laughs as she puts her hand out, "Let me see it then."
"The video obviously."
"The video you were laughing at," she says with an implied duhhh
"Mother FUCK Heela! What's with the third degree!?"
She loses it then, "Ohh Oh my god, Oh you're still such a bad liar," she says breathlessly through her laughter.
She wipes a tear from her eye as she says, "Alright you can take me home now."
I look at her like she's insane, "Take you home? Where's your car?" She just shrugs her shoulders, "I got dropped off by a friend who was supposed to be coming back but now his girlfriend's having their kid at the hospital across town. So now I need a ride home."
"Can't you walk? Ayda said you live around here."
"Walk? Do you see how dark it is out here?"
"Call an Uber."
She sucks her teeth indignantly, "An Uber? I'm not calling an Uber. That's dangerous. They might snatch a little thing like me and chop me up somewhere."
"You're being dramatic."
"You're being bullheaded. Like you always are."
"Yeah well you're being extra like you always are."
"Come on! It's only a few minutes away. Then I'll be out of your bougie ass hair."
"My hair isn't bougie!"
"Yeah. Insulting me is definitely gonna make me want you in my car."
"I have other ways of making you want me in your car," she says seductively.
I roll my eyes, "None of that," I tell her. I'm serious. I don't want things to turn out like last time.
"Fine, just take me home?"
I let out a deep sigh, "Where is it?"
5 minutes and one awkward car trip later I arrive outside Heela's house. "Come inside."
If I go in there I already know what'll happen. I can't.
"Come inside Nix."
But I do anyway.
The next morning I wake up sprawled across Heela's bare chest, "Morning sunshine," she smiles down at me. "Want some breakfast?"
I check the clock and see that there's still a few hours before my meeting with the house owners and Mrs. Waters, "I'll take some. Thanks."
She kisses my head before slinking out from under me to head to the kitchen. "Alright, don't disappear again." I didn't disappear last time, I told her I was leaving for a meeting in New York and she called me a selfish bitch because I couldn't stay and play house a little longer.
I can see that this is still the calm before the storm.
"I'm going for a walk," I tell her, I'm gonna need to clear my head before this. She smiles, "Alright, there's a path in the woods out back, don't go too far or I'll have to come and get you."
"You won't, you hate hiking."
"Oh with a passion."
I laugh as I close the sliding door leading to the woods behind her bedroom behind me.
Most houses around here are built like this, literally in the middle of the forest. We Cyprusers like our privacy. It's not like there were a lot of us to fill in the extra space anyway. Most people own farms and whatnot that sit on hundreds of acres and those who don't still don't wanna live right on each other. It's a far cry from New York.
I wonder if I should play some music while I walk but the service is bad so it might buffer anyway. It's worth a shot, I think as I pull my phone from my pocket just in time for a call from Ayda to flash across my screen.
I answer and she sounds frantic but I can't understand a word she's saying through the phone breaking up.
"Ayda!?!! I can't hear you! What'd you say?"
"COME HOME!" she makes out through a staticky interference I'd sooner associate with an old radio than my iPhone XX.
"Why?! Are you okay?!"
"NIXEN NIXEN I CAN'T HEAR YOU! COME HOME HONEY. ARE YOU OKAY? ARE YOU SAFE?"
"I'm alright! I just spent the night at Heela's?! Ayda can you hear me?!" I yell through the phone desperately hoping she'll hear me better.
"NIXEN!! NIXEN!!" she calls before my phone suddenly shuts off. Well...so much for listening to music. I'll just text her later when I'm done with my now silent walk.
I don't actually mind the sound of my feet crunching against the new fallen leaves, I go out of my way to step on the crunchiest looking ones and get a juvenile sense of joy from it.
I'm just about to step on the one I'm sure will be the crunchiest yet when I hear a loud crack echo through the forest like the sound of a dozen trees being snapped all at once.
The sound of an southern accented man yelling insults at the top of his lungs follows, my eardrums vibrate from the sheer volume of it. One wouldn't even think a person could yell that loud.
"This ends here!" Another man with a much different accent responds, he sounds posh and foreign. Is it Russian? Romanian? Spanish? Italiannn, that's it.
"Does it?" the other man booms back
Jeez it really sounds like they're having a go.
The sound of thunder whips through the forest and when I look to the sky it's incredibly cloudy but that's normal around these parts. I'd better head back before it starts raining.
"And just where do you think you're going?" the Italian man's voice bellows and I almost think he's talking to me but then the other man answers, "You're not the only one with a master who summons you! Well of course, you'd rather not refer to our father as master because you and your brood are just a couple of deluded pigeons but that's what he is."
"How dare you mention our father!?"
More painfully loud booms ensue and I start walking faster, on the verge of running. I don't know what those two are into but I'd rather not get tangled up in their mix and it sounds like they're getting closer.
"YOU'RE A FOOL BROTHER!" one screams through what sounds like boulders clashing together. "AND YOU'RE A TRAITOR!"
Metal clashes on metal and I start running, I don't know what's happening back there, I don't wanna witness anything. I'll just call the cops when I get back inside. Yeah, I'll just call the cops, they'll know what to do.
I can feel my heart beat vibrating through my entire body as I sprint back the way I came.
Its only about 2 miles to Heela's house now. I can see the glass door through the slight clearing of the trees, if I can just run a little faster...
My eyes go to the sky as I run and I watch the blackened clouds gather dangerously in front of me. Everything after this happens so fast that my puny brain still struggles to put the pieces together even days after.
Something like a whirling ball of energy starts to fall slowly from the sky and I assume it's a rogue transformer but when it hits the ground I'm catapulted at least 20 feet into the air.
I come down on a pile of broken trees, a sharp branch from one pierces straight through my upper arm. I let out an agonizing screech that falls on my own deaf ears. All I can hear is a loud ringing noise and the faint sound of metal clanging against itself.
When the ringing subsides I realize just how close I am to that metal noise. With fuzzy vision, I break off the tree limb that's impaled in my arm but I don't pull it out and I use all of my strength to stand back up.
My mouth drops at the site in front of me, the trees are all destroyed, some are burning and others are cracked in half but that's not what makes every hair on my body raise in alarm.
In the center of all the destruction are two absolutely gorgeous men. The one pinned to the ground has dirty blonde hair that looks long but I can't tell from this angle, the little part of his face that's visible to me makes him look like a Hollister model, he has smile lines creased into the sides of his mouth.
The other, well he reminds me more of a bear in male form than a Hollister model, his beard is thick and black and he looks several years older. He has brown eyes that are darkened with fury.
"What are you planning Judas, TELL ME!" he growls in the ebb and flow of an Italian speaker.
"Well it'd be no fun if I did," the man on the ground lilts before doing something which I once thought was impossible and blowing a burst of pure flame into the other man's face.
Surprisingly the bigger man doesn't even flinch. He just gets angrier and a white blur that Ayda might call an aura starts to extend out of him in heat waves.
They haven't even realized that I'm here watching yet. It's like I'm nothing. Just as invisible as the other animals cowering in their burrows waiting for the fighting to end.
My eyes burn in their sockets when the one on top starts to glow so brightly that I can hardly make out his face anymore.
This is a dream right? I'm still laid up in bed with Heela right now. This is just a really weird dream.
At least that's what I try to convince myself of until he unfurls a pair of brown feathered wings that span my car's length. They glint beautifully in the bit of sunlight peeking through the clouds but that doesn't stop me from being scared.
The earth begins to rumble when he says, "So be it then," and flaps them heartily, a gust of wind blows me backwards onto the pile of falling trees again and I squeal in pain after falling on my already injured arm.
For the first time the two men, or.. whatever they are, look directly at me.
The one on the ground smiles a Cheshire smile that sends chills down my spine, "Well hey there little lady. Aren't you a pretty thing."
I start to back away, somehow his words feel even more sinister than the heated stare the Italian man is giving me. The blonde takes advantage of the other ones distraction and frees himself before stalking menacingly towards me
I can feel myself start to shake. I'm not completes sure if it's from the copious amounts of blood leaking down my arm or the panic I feel burning in my veins making that blood pump out even faster.
My hand instinctively goes to the pouch of salt around my neck.
"What're you doing out here this early all alone?" he asks melodically, like he's trying to put me in a trance with just his words, it doesn't work. I can hear an animalistic timber beneath his purposely high pitched tone that clues me in to his real intentions.
"I..I didn't see anything. I'm just going for a walk. I'm on my way back now. I'll go. You two have a great day," I try to say before maneuvering around him.
He speeds in front of me in a blur and puts one cold heavy hand on my shoulder. "Don't go so soon," he sings, the smell of fruit wafts off him but it smells almost too sweet. Sickly sweet. Spoiled.
The other man stands behind him looking terribly conflicted now. "My name is Judas, what's your name darling?" I look him at his clear blue eyes a little closer and decide not to answer. Ayda always said that names have power and whatever these beings are I don't want them to have any more power over me than they already do.
"Erica," I lie seamlessly and he gives me a shit-eating smile, "Erica what?"
There's no such person as Erica Dooley but judging by the satisfaction on his face, he doesn't have a clue.
"Do you want to let me take you somewhere Erica Dooley?" he asks before slyly stepping close enough to me to where are lips are almost touching, "It'll be fun. Come with me Erica. Come with me. I can show you things you've only dreamt of."
That seems to be the deciding factor for the other male to step in, "ENOUGH Judas! No harm will come to this girl!"
"Shut it Domenico! We're just having a friendly chat. Aren't we Erica?"
Suddenly Judas is knocked down by a beam of white hot light flaring out of Domenico's hand. He flies back 20 feet and Domenico grabs me, "Get out of here! Now!" he orders before pulling a long thin blade from the scabbard tied to the waist of the white gold armor I was too scared to notice before and flying over to Judas to resume their battle.
He doesn't have to tell me twice, I haul ass as best as I can on my cramping legs, leaving a trail of blood behind me.
"Where do you think you're going," Judas snarls after he appears in a bloom of shadow blocking my path. He wraps his freezing palm around my neck and squeezes so hard that I can feel myself start to lose consciousness.
"You chose a bad day for a run beautiful," he laughs as I gasp helplessly for air. A battle cry sounds from behind me and I'm thrown from Judas' arm and forced into the side of a rocky hill a few yards from the path.
My vision starts to twist and I feel a sticky wet substance dripping down from my forehead, more blood.
"Nicki!!" my mother calls from some far off place in my imagination. For as long as I can remember she's been the only family I have, of course it's her voice I'm tortured to hear now as I lay here dying.
"NICKI!!!" she calls again sounding terrified
"Nix! NIXXXX!!!" I can hear Heela's voice now too. Fate must really wanna remind me how much I'm gonna miss them.
"Over here Ayda I found her!!!"
By the time they reach me I don't even hear anything at all.
I just see their morphing faces hovering over me as Ayda cries and takes me into her arms.
"GO CALL THE AMBULANCE!"
Heela runs off towards the house.
"Nicki, Nicki baby you're okay," she sobs and I feel my eyelids getting heavier and heavier.
"Look at mommy okay. Look at me. You're okay. You're okay. Don't close your eyes baby, open your eyes," she begs. It takes everything I have to pry my eyes back open.
"You're alright. Mommy's here. I'm right here okay. Okay?"
"Okay," I say weakly.
"Shh shh shh shh shhh don't talk baby. Don't talk. We're gonna get you some help okay. Just don't pass out."
"Mom he was an angel," I rasp and she brushes my hair back from my head softly, "Shhhhh"
"He..he glowed white and he had brown wings mama. The bad one he was blonde, he's gonna come get me. We have to go. We have to go."
"You're safe with me. No ones coming for you."
She's not listening!
"No mama no! He-"
"Sileo," she whispers and I find my lips unable to move.
"You'll be just fine," she promises and from what I can see of the look in her eye, I actually believe her.