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Entomophobia, p.1
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       Entomophobia, p.1

           I. Seymour Youngblood
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  For my sister, Shannon.

  Thank you for always being there.

  The Raven Archives 3



  Dr. I. Seymour Youngblood

  Copyright © 2014 by Dr. I. Seymour Youngblood

  All Rights Reserved.

  Chapter One

  Hero for a Day

  “If you can accept losing, you can’t win.”

  -Vince Lombardi

  She had dreamed of this moment for so long. Time and time again, standing in her driveway, she would count down, “three…two…one…,” and then hoist the ball into the air for the final shot. As it left her fingers and floated in flight, she would make a sound mimicking the final horn, signifying the end of the game.

  Lexi was nervous, terrified, fearful of failure, and yet excited. She wanted this moment. She was eager for the opportunity.

  The Pfearville Lady Ravens were in a position to win the game. All they needed was one more basket and they would not only win, but advance to the championship game. In her mind, Lexi could image joining all the greats: Jordan, Leslie, Bryant, Swoopes, Taurasi, LeBron, Durant.

  The scoreboard read: Lady Ravens 43, Lady Rangers 44. With only four and a half seconds remaining, the crowd was on its feet. Half the crowd was ready to erupt in jubilation if she missed the shot, while the other half would be overcome with euphoria if she made it.

  “Jordyn, you’re going to in-bounds the ball. Fake it to Pelham.” He turned to the freckle-faced girl with the braces and added, “If everyone else hadn’t fouled out, I wouldn’t even be playing you, so don’t mess this up.”

  Pelham blinked. She was always on the bench and didn’t have very many friends, but it was unusual for coach to be so…honest. Lexi gave her a supportive hug, which brought a slight smile to Pelham’s face.

  Drawing on his dry erase board, their coach continued, “As she flashes across the middle, fake it to Pelham and then make a quick bounce pass to Lexi coming off the backside screen. Mattie, set a good screen for Lexi and then get ready for the weak-side rebound and possible putback, okay?”

  The redheaded Mattie tightened her ponytail and nodded at her coach’s instructions. She reached over and fist-bumped Lexi.

  “Lexi, wait for Mattie’s screen before you make your move. You don’t have to shoot it immediately when you catch it, so if your defender gets around Mattie’s screen, give her a head fake and step to the side, but if you are open immediately, take the shot. Understand?”

  Lexi wiped her brow and nodded.

  “Good.” The coach nodded. “Pelham, Jordyn, and Sasha, the minute Lexi shoots, I want all three of you crashing the boards for the rebound.”

  The whistle blew and the referees told the coaches to send their players back onto the court.

  “This game is yours for the taking. You’ve worked so hard; don’t let it slip away now. You’ve come so far. One more basket and we’re in the championship game. Let’s finish it.”

  Coach Mahan put out his hand, yelling, “Finish it!”

  The girls stacked their hands on top of his.

  Coach Mahan yelled, “One…two…three…!”

  “LADY RAVENS!” they screamed.

  The five girls—Pelham, Lexi, Mattie, Jordyn, and Sasha—marched back onto the court as their teammates and crowd cheered them on. Lexi glanced into the stands and saw her grandmother clapping. When her grandmother saw her, she waved proudly. Lexi made a swift sweep of her hand to return the gesture. Her focus immediately returned to the game.

  She took three deep breaths and relaxed. You are feeling relaxed. A wave of calmness comes over you, she repeated her grandmother’s words in her head. Lexi pictured herself alone in her driveway. Using the relaxation techniques her grandmother taught her, Lexi let out a deep breath. It always helped. Her grandmother was a hypnotist, and other than basketball, hypnotism was Lexi’s favorite thing to do. She loved to be hypnotized. The image of her grandmother calmly, rhythmically swinging the gold gentleman’s pocket watch back and forth flashed through Lexi’s mind. “You feel relaxed and calm,” she could hear her grandmother say. “You have no worries. You do not feel stressed, only relaxed and calm. You can hear a babbling brook in the distance and birds softly chirping. You are surrounded by serenity and peace.”

  Before tests or games, before shooting free throws or speaking in front of her class, Lexi recited the lines her grandmother taught her. “Just like in the driveway,” she said as she closed her eyes and let out a deep breath.

  The referee blew the whistle and handed the ball to Jordyn. A tall, skinny girl with pigtails and pink highlights jumped up and down, yelling and screaming hysterically as she guarded Jordyn. Lexi called her “The Clown” because of her crazy hair, stubby pig nose, and outrageous antics, like screaming and waving her hands when she was on defense. Lexi wanted to sink the basket and laugh in The Clown’s face.

  Jordyn looked left and made a strong fake toward the flashing Pelham. The pigtailed defender leaped in that direction, eager to intercept the pass that never came.

  Lexi waited for what felt like an eternity. Come on! she screamed in her head. Finally, Mattie set her screen and the tiger sprung. Lexi made her break. Her shoulder rubbed Mattie’s, but her defender was equally quick and stuck close. Jordyn made a textbook bounce pass. When Lexi caught the ball, she could feel her defender on her hip. Lexi spun and raised her hands in a sudden movement, head-faking a shot. It worked. The defender leaped into the air. Seizing the opportunity, Lexi dribbled and sidestepped.

  With no one in front of her, Lexi thought she would have a wide open shot, but the Lady Rangers were not going to make it that easy on her. The Clown abandoned Jordyn and sprinted toward Lexi. With a two-inch height advantage, The Clown could make Lexi’s shot quite challenging.

  With a lunatic’s shriek, The Clown leaped toward her. The ball narrowly made it over her defender’s outstretched fingers.

  The Clown crashed into her, and Lexi let out a grunt as she tumbled to the floor. A split-second later she heard the final buzzer. The crowd erupted.

  Lexi did not know if the cheering was from her fans because she made it or from her opponent’s fans because she missed. The Clown’s towering frame had completely blocked her view of the goal. Lexi lifted her head and saw her teammates jumping with joy while their opponents looked like oversized human balloons, deflating before her eyes. The girl with the pink and white pigtails walked past Lexi crying, and suddenly Lexi felt sorry for her. She no longer wanted to rub it in.

  Her teammates sprinted over to her and picked her up off the floor.

  “You did it!” Jordyn proclaimed. “You did it!”

  “Way to go, Lexi,” several of the girls added.

  Her best friend, Elle, sprinted off the bench and high-fived Lexi. The Lady Ravens formed a circle around Lexi as the team celebrated together. Pfearville had won!

  It was the best day of Lexi’s life. The excitement, the admiration, the success, it invigorated her. She wanted to do it again.

  Chapter Two

  Strange Dreams

  “I seem to recognize your face,

  haunting, familiar, yet I can’t seem to place it.”

  -Pearl Jam

  “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In A Small Town”

  On the way home, her grandmother laid all kinds of praise on her, and deservedly so. “You are one heck of a ball player, sweetheart. You scored over half your team’s points, and Mr. McDougal said you had at least a dozen rebounds.”

  Lexi was absolutely glowing. She never wanted it to end. “Can you believe it? We won. We’re in the championship game next week. Isn’t that amazing?”

  “To the victor go the spoils,” Lexi’s grandmother replied.

/>   When they walked into the old, two-story house, her grandmother asked, “Will you be a doll and take the trash to the dumpster, please?”

  “Grandma, I bet Kevin Durant doesn’t have to take the trash out after he makes a game-winning shot.”

  “I bet he does at his grandma’s house.”

  Lexi did as she was asked. As she walked to the dumpster, a giant cockroach darted across her path. Lexi screamed and jumped back. The bag of garbage went airborne, spilling trash all over the yard.

  “No, no, no.” She hurried and placed the trash back in the bag, but her eyes were on constant look-out for the gargantuan cockroach. Lexi hated bugs. She hated seeing them, hated the crunch they made when she stepped on them, and hated the way they scurried around like disgusting little...bugs.

  “Yuck! Yuck! And more yuck!” Lexi moaned with each piece of trash she picked up. When she saw the cockroach scamper across the concrete, she screamed again and jumped behind the bag of trash. Holding the cardboard from a used paper towel roll like a sword, she said, “Back, back, you beast.” The cockroach seemed to stare at her before dashing into the grass.

  Lexi let out a deep breath. “That was close.” She leaned over and picked up the trash bag, unaware of the tear in the bottom. All of the garbage fell out. Her shoulders slumped. “Why me?”

  Lexi hurriedly ran arms full of trash to the dumpster. Whatever rubbish she deemed too disgusting to touch, she kicked with her foot and then used leaves to pick it up. “So disgusting.” She paused when she heard the sound of crickets chirping. It reminded her of the time she went camping with Elle and Sasha. The buzzing bugs kept her up all night.

  She picked up the last of the trash; her eyes never stopped scanning the area for potential pest attacks.

  “I said fine! Do you not understand what fine means on this planet?”

  Lexi turned her head. A few houses down, a boy, roughly her height and age, yelled at someone standing behind the large oak tree that leaned into the alley. She watched as the argument intensified.

  “I don’t know. You don’t know. So, what does it matter? I said I would be ready. Quit worrying about me and worry about yourself.”

  Lexi saw a much larger person with very broad shoulders and easily a foot height advantage step out from behind the oak tree. The other boy pointed and puffed out his chest. “You’re the one she’s worried about.”

  The smaller boy squared his shoulders. “She doesn’t need to worry about me. Neither do you.”

  Lexi wondered what the boys were arguing about, but it was difficult to eavesdrop with the annoying cricket sounds. She placed her fingers in her ears and wiggled them as if she had just climbed out of the pool.

  “Just make sure everything is working and ready to go. And since you like making threats so much, Jack, let me make one to you. If you ever again tell her anything I say, I’ll make sure you never make it home. Do you understand?”

  The two boys looked as if they were about to come to blows, each standing nose-to-nose. Just as Lexi thought they would start swinging, they both stopped and turned their heads her direction. It took Lexi a second to realize they were staring at her.

  The larger boy’s eyes looked beady and red. His cold stare sent a chill up her spine. He let go of the smaller boy’s shirt and walked away.

  The boy straightened his shirt and gave her a smile as he walked toward her. He said something, but she could not make out what he mumbled over the cricket chirping. She looked around and lifted each foot, as if the bugs had thought hiding beneath her was the best way to insure her insanity.

  “Did you step in something?”

  Lexi did not reply at first. She continued to search the ground. “I’m hearing bugs, like all around me.” She lifted her head. The boy had sandy blond hair that covered the tops of his ears and hung over his glasses. His eyes were as green as the rainforest canopy. She thought for sure he must wear contacts. She could hardly look away.

  “I’m Lexi.” She cracked a smile at him, but he did not immediately respond. After a long pause, Lexi’s own smile faded. She felt awkward when the boy did not respond with his own name or even a smile.

  “Do you have a name?”

  The boy turned his head around to see if anyone was watching him. “Petr,” he said in a low tone.

  “Are you new here?”

  His face was unemotional. His eyes unblinking. She felt as if he were studying her. “Yes.”

  “Was that your brother?”

  His amazing green eyes narrowed a bit as if he were considering whether or not to answer. He nodded slightly. “Yes.”

  “You don’t talk much, do you?”

  “Not really.” He looked over his shoulder again. “Sorry you had to see that. Just sibling rivalry stuff.”

  Lexi nodded. “I really didn’t hear anything. I think there must be a family of locust under the dumpster or something, because all I can hear is the buzzing of bugs. Can you hear them? I hate bugs.”

  “You hear bug sounds? Right now?” He looked at her as if she were crazy. “I don’t hear anything.”

  “I know it sounds strange, but like right now, I can hear this buzzing as if we were in the forest.”

  Petr looked back again. He must be very worried his brother is going to see him talking to me, she thought.

  Instead of saying, “Interesting” or “Odd” like Lexi thought he might, Petr shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sorry, but I don’t hear a thing. Maybe it is just you? Maybe you’re special?”

  Was he making fun of her? “Whatever. I need to go,” she said sharply.

  As she walked away, Petr hollered, “It was nice to meet you, Lexi. I’ll see you around.”

  She did not answer as she entered the house. She waited a second before pulling the curtain back and glancing out of the window. Petr stood in the alleyway for a long moment before walking back the way he had come.

  That night, Lexi stayed up a little later than normal. She sat in front of her vanity mirror combing her shoulder-length black hair. Katy Perry’s “Firework” came on the radio and Lexi turned it up, but not too loud. She didn’t want to wake her grandmother. Nothing could bring her down, even when she thought about her creepy meeting with Petr. In the reflection of the mirror, Lexi saw all her trophies, ribbons, and awards: Free Throw Champion, Basketball Camp MVP, High Jump Champion, Softball Player of the Year, First Place in the 100 meter hurdles and long jump.

  In fact, her only failures were not really failures at all. She won a bronze metal in her math tracks, second place in the spelling bee, and a third place ribbon for the three-legged race when she was in third grade. And that was only because Elle fell down and Lexi had to pick her up. She nearly carried Elle across the finish line to victory.

  At that moment, Lexi felt like the luckiest girl in the world. She wished that during the championship game next week she would get another opportunity at a game-winning shot.

  As she pulled back her covers, the booming clap of an approaching thunderstorm echoed from outside. Her windows shuddered as the wind picked up. She made certain her window was bolted shut. Peering out, she saw the dumpster and the alleyway where she had met Petr.

  “He probably thinks I’m crazy, but that’s okay because I think he’s a jerk.” She went to the door and turned off the light.

  She glanced out the window as she walked back to her bed. The dark sky was illuminated by a sizzling spark of lightening. Lexi looked closely. She could swear she saw someone standing in the alleyway looking at her house. A tall figure with beady red eyes stood in the alleyway. A second, more intense blast of lightening revealed merely tree branches floating in the wind.

  Laughing at herself, giddy and excited, Lexi went to bed that night with a joker’s grin on her face.

  “Three……” Lexi said as she jumped into her bed, making a shooting motion as she was airborne.

  The roar of thunder shook the windows. Lexi opened her eyes, momentarily stuck in that state halfway bet
ween asleep and alert. Her bed shook. She was awake now.

  Lexi sat up and yelled to her grandmother. No response. Again, the house wobbled wildly. Lexi had never experienced an earthquake, but thought that must be what was going on. She tried to turn on her nightstand lamp, but the power was out. There was, however, an odd orange-red glow illuminating her room.

  Lexi crept to the window, staying low to the floor so she wouldn’t have far to fall in case the earthquake wasn’t quite done. What she saw terrified her. Her neighborhood, heck! her town as far as she could see, was a sea of fire. Flames snaked out of every window in the neighborhood, and dark smoke billowed from the forest in the distance. She heard sirens. The walls shook again. Madness.

  Screams could be heard coming from all directions.

  A clap of thunder buckled her knees. Her room shook under the force of the tremendous tremor as if the house was collapsing. Unsteady, Lexi fell. Her bookcase tilted and teetered, wobbling on its side before dumping all of her awards, trophies, and ribbons on top of her.

  She dug herself out from under the pile of her own successes and crawled back to her window. She yelped when a long sliver of glass pierced her palm. Another explosion, then another, and another. Lexi’s attention returned to the window, where, from her vantage point on the floor, she saw flashes of light chased by ash and smoke.

  There was a thunderous blast. Ear-piercing and deafening. She covered her ears and was reminded of the pain in her palm. A giant blue and white sphere flew across the fiery horizon. It landed in the center of town. The impact shook her room despite its distance. Fire erupted from the epicenter. It wasn’t an earthquake. It was war.

  She heard explosions and screams of pain. Cries for help, but something else. She heard—she heard the sound of insects. Millions of them.

  Chapter Three

  Mighty Caesar Returns

  “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

  -Julius Caesar

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