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After forever, p.4
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       After Forever, p.4

           Krystal George
 
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  Well after dusk, I sneaked out of my room, tiptoeing through the house. I unlocked and opened the front door as quietly as I could, slipping out; I latched the door silently behind me. I then walked swiftly to the woods lining the houses. I glanced around, finding a tree not far from me with a few branches entwining, making a perfect spot to sit; I climbed the tree effortlessly, grabbing a hold of two branches above my hideout. I sat down, leaning back and resting my feet on the bark.

  I don’t know how long I sat there before hearing a noise. I snapped my head up, my eyes darting around the dark woods. At first, I didn’t see anything, but as the moments passed I began to hear noises-scratching, grunting. It was weird. I sat straight up, trying my best not to be caught; I peered through the darkness, my eyes narrowing. I opened my mouth to speak, but instantly closed it. I’m not that stupid, am I? Why did I even come out here? The noises seemed to be getting closer and closer to me. I froze, silently crouching down on the tree branch; I placed my hand on a branch beside me for balance, closing my eyes briefly, waiting. I rest my head against the bark, my heart racing as I listened to the noises. God, I’m so stupid. Another noise drifted to me from the darkness and I flinched, gripping onto the branch tightly. I willed myself to stay quiet.

  Not long after that a figure darted between the trees, and, for some unknown reason, I jumped down after it. I raced forward, listening intently for the crashing noises ahead of me. My breathing became ragged as I ran, my chest heaving as my heart pounded within. After what seemed like forever, I tripped and fell, a scream ripping its way from me. I tried to put my hands out, catching myself, but it didn’t work. Instead, a searing pain filled my body as my wrist bended the wrong way; I cried out, softly cursing under my breath. I cradled my wrist, tears stinging my eyes. Why did I come out here? I wondered helplessly. Now I can be found easily. I shook my head fiercely, trying to clear my thoughts. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, letting the pain wash over me as I laid there, shivering. I sighed, shifting to the fetal position; I let myself drift off to sleep, uncaring anymore.

  I awoke to a sharp snap. My eyes snapped opened and I bolted upright, my thoughts scattered as I peered into the darkness. A scream wedged itself into my throat as I opened my mouth, my heart skipping a beat. Scared eyes stared down at me; I couldn’t make anything of it out. It was covered in the darkness.

  “Hello,” I said gently, extending my hand. The creature stared at me long and hard until finally stepping forward. I gasped as I watched it step into the silver glow of the moonlight; it had burns all over, leaving scars and welts crawling along its flesh. Dirt was grinded over the poor creature; it had black hair and torn jeans. “Who are you?” I murmured, gazing into the eyes of a terrified human, I quickly realized. It wasn’t a creature, but a he. The boy opened his mouth to speak before quickly closing it, opting to stare at me instead. “It’s okay,” I informed him, my tone light. “I won’t hurt you. Who are you? What’s your name?”

  “I-I…don’t…know,” he said gruffly, almost as if he hadn’t used his voice in forever. My heart twisted for the young boy.

  “Why don’t you know?” I slowly went on my knees, never letting my eyes stray from his. “You must know something.”

  He shook his head, grunting. I sighed, tearing my gaze away from his. I kept my eyes glued to my hands as pain still ebbed from my wrist.

  “Please speak to me. I want to know what’s going on.”

  He didn’t say anything for a long moment. “I-I…don’t remember my name.” I didn’t reply, but I let my eyes stray to him again, encouraging. “I was abandoned…” He trailed off and I saw tears form in his eyes.

  “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “You want a new life?”

  His head shot up at that, staring at me, astonished. I smiled at him, standing; it took me a moment to balance, but once I did, I walked over slowly.

  “What do you think? I can take care of you. No, I will take care of you. I swear.”

  “I can’t ask for that,” he said. It sounded like it came easier for him.

  “I insist.”

  “I can’t,” he repeated, taking a step away from me.

  I caught up to him, grabbing his hand. “I want you to,” I replied as he turned back to me. “I want to make you better. People fear you.”

  “Why?” he asked hesitantly.

  “Because you’re only out in the woods, always running and hiding. No one knows what you are.” I tugged on his hand. “I insist you come with me to my house.”

  After a little more pursuing, he agreed to do so. I took him there, cleaning and addressing his wounds; I fed him as much as I could, a smile lighting my face as I watched him eat. It felt wonderful knowing it was my assistance that helped him. My heart was filled with joy at giving him new clothes, food, and a place to sleep. I gently kissed his forehead, murmuring a soft good night as I turned out the light and went to my own room, the young boy on my mind all night as I tried to close my eyes and go to sleep.

  (c) 2013 Heather Kirchhoff

  Cinder

  By: Kate Marie Robbins

  ©2013 by Kate Marie Robbins

  For as long as I can remember, cats were off limits in our house. When I was young, I didn’t understand why. I whined for days, months on end, because I wanted one. The answer was always no. Well, now I do.

  I always thought the stories my parents told me were just make-believe. That they just didn’t want to tell me the real reason I couldn’t have a cat, which was silly, to me. Why couldn’t they just tell me the truth? Was dad allergic? Was mom? Was I? They would never discuss it when I asked though.

  Once I became a teenager, I had simply given up. There was no point in fighting them on it any longer. And besides, I had other things on my mind; school, friends, boys, and finding an after school job. But I swore that once I moved out of my parents’ house, that I would get a cat of my own. There was nothing they could do to stop me once I wasn’t living under their roof any more.

  I thought about getting a job at the local animal shelter, but knew that might make things complicated at home. I could just not tell them, but eventually they would find out. That was a conversation I was reluctant to have, under any circumstances. I could just visit the animals sometimes. There wasn’t any harm in that was there?

  One day after school, I found myself headed in the direction of the animal shelter. I never actually intended to go there. It was just one of those fleeting thoughts, but my feet refused to take me anywhere else. It was like I was possessed; but yet, I didn’t feel like I was. I just had the strangest urge that I needed to go to the animal shelter.

  When I was standing in front of the building, with my hand firmly grasping the door handle, I shook myself, trying to shake off whatever had gotten into me. Briefly, it worked. I let go of the door. But then whatever had taken hold of me, grabbed me once again. It forced my hand back on the door and I pushed it open.

  There was a cheerful older lady sitting at the front desk. She glanced up at me and smiled when she saw me. “What can I do for you today?” she asked.

  I looked at her, stunned. I didn’t know what I was doing here. How would I even begin to explain that to her? But somehow, words formed. “I was wondering if I could maybe visit with some of the animals. I’m not allowed to have a pet, but I thought it would be nice, you know, to just play with them for a little while…if that is allowed. Is it?”

  She nodded, still smiling at me. “Why yes, of course. We are in desperate need of volunteers. I think the animals would quite enjoy it.”

  “I’m Crimson, by the way,” I said extending my hand to her.

  She took it gingerly in her own and shook it. “I’m Branna.”

  “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this,” I beamed.

  With that, she led me back to the area where they kept the animals in cages. Upon seeing th
em, I felt so awful. How could anyone do this to a poor defenseless animal? I just couldn’t comprehend it. Anger filled me, but I couldn’t let Branna see that. It would make her feel very uncomfortable and then she would more than likely ask me to leave. I just couldn’t allow that to happen. I pushed the angry thoughts away and smiled.

  “As you can see, we have several animals here. Try not to have more than two animals out at once. A lot of them don’t get along very well. Most are very shy and skittish, with well good reason. They’ve all had hard lives. I wish more people understood that,” Branna said with a sigh. “Do try to enjoy yourself, but be weary of the time, we close at seven.”

  I nodded in understanding and walked the length of the room, looking at all the caged animals. Who did I want to see first? There were so many cute animals, big dogs, little dogs, and a few cats. I told myself no. No cats. Mom and dad would freak out if they knew, and they would. I didn’t know how or why, but I knew they would be able to smell it on me. So I settled on a cute border terrier. The card on his cage said his name was Biscuit.

  I had to giggle, that was an awfully cute name. Maybe mom and dad would let me have a dog instead? The thought had never crossed my mind before. I decided I would ask them when I got home. They couldn’t say no to a dog. It wasn’t a cat. That gave me a little hope.

  Over the next few hours, I managed to give attention to a handful of dogs. They were all very happy about it. Lots of slobbering and kisses. I was giggling and breathless by the end of the afternoon.

  I glanced at my watch. Ah, crap, it’s 6:45. I quickly ushered the last puppy back into her cage, washed up in the sink on the back wall, then grabbed my coat and backpack and headed towards the front. I expected to still see Branna sitting at the front desk, but she was nowhere to be found. I called out to her, but got no answer.

  Where could she have gone? I had just come from the back. There was nowhere else for her to be. I scratched my head. I couldn’t wait around for her though. I noticed a notepad on the desk. I quickly scrawled a note, thanking her for allowing me to visit with the animals and that I might be back in the near future. Then I headed out the door and quickly sprinted home.

  I was going to be late for dinner and I knew it. When I finally walked into the kitchen, mom looked up from the stove. “There you are. Where on earth have you been? Dinner is getting cold.”

  “Sorry mom,” I muttered as I took my seat at the table.

  Days went by and I found myself itching to go back to the animal shelter. I realized that I had never brought up the idea of getting a dog either. Why hadn’t I done that? I meant to, but every night at dinner, the thought never crossed my mind. Maybe I didn’t really want a dog? That had to be it. It was a cat that I wanted.

  I did my best to not think about it, to not go back. I knew if I did, it was only a matter of time before I got the urge to give attention to the cats. If I did that, I wouldn’t be responsible for my actions. For a while, I did well at not thinking about the animal shelter. I suppressed the urges. When I thought about it, I immediately forced myself to think of something else, anything else. It seemed to be working.

  About a month later, the urge was getting too hard to suppress. I was even beginning to dream about it.

  I woke up on Saturday morning, and couldn’t fight it anymore. I practically flew out of bed and into the shower. Quickly threw on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, hoodie, and my tennis shoes, and then sprinted out the door. Mom and dad weren’t home, thank goodness. I didn’t want to have to come up with a lie.

  I was panting by the time I reached the animal shelter, hoping they were open. I pulled on the door, it opened. Thank goodness.

  Branna smiled when she saw that it was me who had come in. “I didn’t think you’d be back. Glad to see you again. The animals sure have missed you.”

  I stifled a laugh. How could she know that? Besides, I had only been here once. I shook my head. “I’ve been pretty busy with school and whatnot. I always meant to come back and visit, but I just couldn’t find the time. I’m here now though. If it’s okay, I’d love to visit with the animals again.”

  “Absolutely,” Branna beamed. “You know the way, so I will just let you get to it.” The phone rang; she picked it up and said, “Hello, metro animal shelter, how may I help you?”

  I knew that was my cue to leave. It felt so right being here again. Why had I waited so long? It didn’t matter now, I was here. And it felt right.

  Hours went by without my noticing, because when I looked up from where I had been sitting, Branna was standing over me. “It’s almost noon,” she said. “I was about to close up for lunch. I had almost forgotten you were here, but then I heard Biscuit barking. Good thing. Otherwise I would have locked you in here accidentally,” she continued, with a laugh. “Say, if you’re not doing anything, would you like to have lunch with me? There’s a diner just down the block that has amazing burgers and milkshakes.”

  “That sounds amazing.” My stomach was growling, since I had neglected to grab breakfast before I left the house. “Lead the way,” I sang, as I put Biscuit back in his cage. “I’ll be back soon boy, I promise,” I said to him, then quickly washed my hands. “All ready to go now,” I replied, as I pulled my hoodie back on.

  Lunch was great, just as Branna had promised. The conversation was lovely as well. She had such interesting stories to tell. I listened intently to everything she said. There was something about Branna. She was captivating. I had never met anyone quite like her.

  We then walked back to the shelter. “Thank you for lunch. I really appreciate it.”

  “It’s not a problem dear. I usually eat alone, so it was nice to have the company.” She gave me a warm smile.

  “I should really be going now. I do have other things I need to do today.”

  Branna nodded in understanding. “Please come back and see us soon. Both I, and the animals would like that very much.” She waved to me as I walked down the sidewalk and around the corner, back towards my house.

  After that day, I spent every weekend there, and almost every day after school. I just couldn’t stop myself. I never saw my friends any more. They were starting to worry about me. I told them they were crazy, that I was just volunteering at the animal shelter. They really thought I was crazy then.

  “The animal shelter!?” my best friend Rania exclaimed. “You know better than that Crimson! Do your parents know? Because if they don’t, they should know about this. How could you?” She shook her head at me.

  “I just can’t help it. You know how much I love animals. Since I can’t have one, this is the only way. Please, please don’t tell my parents about it. You know what they would do to me if they found out.” I looked at her, my eyes pleading her to keep my secret.

  “Oh, alright,” Rania said with a sigh. “But this has got to stop. You can’t be spending every waking moment there. Promise me that, please.” She gave me her trademark Rania look, the one that meant she means business.

  “Yes, yes, I promise.” I would have said anything at that point, just to get her off my back. “Maybe one of these days you could come with me?” I asked, hoping that maybe if she spent some time there, that she would understand.

  She looked at me, skeptically, but then nodded. “Alright, if it will make you happy, I’ll go with you this weekend.”

  I was beaming. I couldn’t wait for Saturday to come. It was going to be great. Or so I thought.

  Rania met me at my house Saturday morning. This time, I had enough sense to eat something before we left.

  As we walked down the street, I was happily chattering away about all the animals that were there. I don’t think she was actually listening to me, but I didn’t care. I was too excited to even notice.

  When we walked in the door, Branna looked up at us. “Hi Crimson, it is al
ways a pleasure to see you.” Then she saw Rania standing next to me. Her smile faded. “Who is this?” she inquired, trying to hold back her anger.

  “Oh, this is my best friend Rania. I asked her to come with me, since she was upset I was spending all my time here. I hope it’s okay,” I replied, trying not to show my nervousness.

  Branna then put a smile on, that was obviously as fake as they come, but I made no comment. “Of course it’s alright. The animals will get twice as much attention now. I’ll leave you to it; I’ve got some paperwork to do. Enjoy yourselves girls.” She didn’t look up at us again.

  “What was that about?” Rania asked me once we were out of Branna’s earshot.

  “I have no idea,” I remarked. “I’ve never seen her act like that before.” It had me beyond perplexed.

  “Well, I don’t like her. She makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t want to be here any longer than I absolutely have to, so let’s get this over with.”

  I tried not to let Branna’s peculiar behavior ruin our morning. After a while, I had forgotten all about it. When I looked at my watch, it was almost noon. I was surprised that Branna hadn’t come to let us know, but then I remembered her rudeness from earlier. What did she have against Rania? I mean, I know she could be arrogant and cranky sometimes, but still. There was no way she could have known that. I shrugged it off though, and started getting ready to go.

  Rania was captivated by Biscuit, so she hadn’t noticed. I cleared my throat, trying to get her attention. She looked up at me, beaming. “Goodness, he is the cutest thing I have ever seen. I just want to take him home with me!” she exclaimed.

  “Someone seems to be enjoying herself. A lot more than she said she would.” I giggled. “But it’s almost noon. I think we should go get some lunch. Branna showed me this amazing diner. How about we go have lunch there?”

  Rania got up off the floor, and coaxed Biscuit back into his cage. “That sounds great,” she marveled.

  Once we had everything cleaned up, we headed up towards the front desk. Branna was still sitting in the same spot we had left her mere hours ago. It didn’t look like she had moved from that spot. She didn’t even glance up at us when we approached.

  “We’re going off for some lunch now. If you’re not too busy, you’re more than welcome to join us.” I said to her.

  She still didn’t look up at us. “That’s quite alright,” she said in a monotone. “I’ve got a lot of work to do. You go on without me.”

  “Yeah, I really, really don’t like her,” Rania commented, once we were outside. “Please don’t make me go back there again. There’s just something about her. It’s not just the fact that she was absolutely horrid to me. It’s something else. I can’t quite put my finger on it. She just gives me the willies,” she said with a shiver.

  I hadn’t felt that way about her, but I had spent a lot more time with her. Then again, she was always super nice to me. Not the way she was about Rania. I wondered what that was about. I told myself I would ask Branna about it the next time I was there. I had to find out what was really going on.

  “I am not going back there again,” Rania declared after we had finished our lunch.

  “I figured as much,” I said with a sigh. “How would you like to spend the rest of the afternoon then?”

  “Duh, the mall, obviously,” she sang. “Cute boys, cute clothes, it’s obviously what we should be doing. Not playing with cats and dogs.”

  “I’ll have you know, I haven’t touched any of the cats yet!” I retorted.

  “It’s only a matter of time Crimson. You best be careful. Your parents will freak if they find out. Relax, I won’t tell them. Just quit neglecting everyone else around you.” She threw one of her famous Rania looks at me yet again.

  “Alright, alright, let’s go to the mall.” I was in no mood to argue with her.

  The next day I headed back to the animal shelter. I was determined to get some answers. When I walked in, Branna looked up at me. “Oh, you didn’t bring her with you again?” she asked, almost grateful.

  “No, she wasn’t impressed with your not so warm welcome yesterday. If I may ask, what was that about?” I looked down at the floor, hoping that I could handle what she was going to say.

  “It was nothing, I assure you. I was just having a bad day, so much paperwork, and I haven’t been sleeping very well. I didn’t mean to take it out on your friend. I hope she will forgive me for acting so rudely towards her.”

  I nodded, but wasn’t sure that I believed it. I bit my tongue and said nothing about it though. “I’ll tell her.”

  “Thank you,” she said, giving me a genuine smile.

  I spent the morning and afternoon visiting with the animals, with a short lunch break with Branna.

  As I was walking home that afternoon, a thought flitted through my mind. One of these days, I told myself, I’d bring a nice picnic lunch for the two of us. I knew that she would enjoy it. Maybe next weekend? Yes, next weekend would be good.

  I was almost home when I heard a noise behind me. It sounded like I was being followed. I knew I should just keep walking. But something inside me told me to turn around. So I did, and there he was sitting on the sidewalk behind me, not more than twenty-five feet away.

  We eyed each other nervously, neither of us moving. I knew I shouldn’t approach, but I couldn’t leave him there either. It would be wrong and I knew it. So I slowly edged forward, one step at a time, making sure that he wasn’t moving. I didn’t know what I would do then.

  “I’m not going to hurt you,” I coaxed, as I walked towards the tiny, jet black kitten; with glowing green eyes. “It’s okay little guy. You’re safe now.” I was standing right in front of him now. I knew I shouldn’t pick him up. I shouldn’t even be standing here. I need to go. I need to turn around and leave. Just keep walking, keep walking until I’m home. But I couldn’t just leave him here either.

  Then it hit me, I could take him to the shelter. Yes, that is what I would do. I gently picked him up, trying not to scare him. He didn’t seem to mind though. He snuggled up in my arms right away, and started purring. It felt so right. Everything inside of me wanted to keep him. But I knew I couldn’t.

  I walked slowly back the way I had come from, hoping that Branna was still there. It was getting late, and I knew she would probably be closing up soon. I walked as fast as I could. When I got there, the building was dark and the door was locked.

  “Dang it,” I muttered. “Now what am I going to do with you?” I didn’t have very many options. I sat down on the curb to think. I had to come up with a plan. I couldn’t leave this little guy alone. I couldn’t bring him home either. I sure as heck couldn’t ask Rania either. She’d flip out on me for even picking him up. Those were my only options. I didn’t like any of them very much.

  He looked up at me. He almost looked sad. I knew a cat couldn’t look sad, but he did. “Don’t you worry little guy, I’m going to take care of you.” Before I knew it, I was up off the ground and walking home. I’d just have to hide him until tomorrow. I could bring him to the shelter before school. I didn’t know how I was going to hide him from my parents, but what choice did I have?

  When I got home, I checked the garage. The car wasn’t there. At least that would buy me some time to figure out a place to hide the cat until morning. It would have been ridiculously hard to smuggle him inside with my parents at home. I quickly went inside and up to my room. I set the kitten on my bed and went in search of something for him to sleep on and food for him. I would make him as comfortable as I could.

  I took a blanket out of the hall closet, filled a bowl with milk and grabbed some of the leftover chicken out of the fridge. It was just going to have to do. I couldn’t get kitten chow. I set everything down in my closet, picked the kitten up from my bed and set him down in front
of the blanket and food. He devoured the chicken and milk, then curled up on the blanket and went to sleep. I left the closet door open, so he wouldn’t freak out, and then started on my homework.

  A few hours later, mom called up to me to say that dinner was ready. I hoped that I could play it cool. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I had to do it. I tried to stay calm as I slid into my chair at the table.

  “What’s that smell?” dad asked as I sat down.

  “I don’t smell anything,” I commented. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  Mom walked into the room with a bowl of mashed potatoes. “Oh my god, I smell it too. I know what that is. It’s hard to mistake. Crimson, you have a lot of explaining to do.”

  I stared at her, incredulous. I didn’t know what to say. “What are you talking about mom?” I tried to play it off as I didn’t know what she was talking about.

  “I smell cat! Now start talking,” she demanded.

  “I...umm…I…” I began.

  “You what? Out with it already Crimson. Quit stalling,” mom fumed.

  I knew there was no way out now. She would find out eventually. So everything came pouring out. The animal shelter visits and the kitten asleep upstairs in my room.

  Neither of my parents said anything after I was finished. “Will one of you please say something? I don’t understand what’s going on. How could you smell the cat on me? What is the big deal? I’m going to take him to the animal shelter in the morning. Just tell me what I’ve done wrong.”

  “Oh honey,” mom said, shaking her head. She turned to dad. “We better tell her the truth now, don’t you think?”

  Dad nodded. “Yes, we better. It may already be too late though.”

  “Too late for what? Tell me what’s going on!” I exclaimed. This was getting frustrating.

  She sat down and looked at dad. “Do you want to tell her or should I?”

  Dad thought for a moment. “You had better. You know the stories better than I ever will.”

  “What stories?” What had I gotten myself into? What had I done?

  “Our family is special, Crimson. Though I wouldn’t call it special; it is more of a curse than anything. We are drawn to them. I was once like you honey. I wanted a cat more than anything. But your grandma wouldn’t let me have one. I didn’t understand. She wouldn’t tell me why. So one day, I brought one home from a friend’s house. I kept it a secret from both her and your grandpa.”

  I stared at her, awestruck. “So, you did kind of the same thing I did then? So you can’t be too mad at me, can you?”

  “Yes and no. I do understand, but it doesn’t make it right. I’m getting to that. What happened after tore my world apart.” She was on the verge of tears, but choked them back.

  “What happened mom?” I was starting to get very worried.

  “People started dying.” She said it so blatantly, that I thought it was a joke. But the look on her face said otherwise.

  “What do you mean people started dying?” I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. “What does death have to do with cats?”

  “Brace yourself sweetie; this isn’t an easy pill to swallow. Cats, they aren’t just cats. They are something more than that, something evil. Not everyone knows the truth, not everyone can see it.”

  “See what? You’re not making any sense.” I was so frustrated.

  “See them for what they really are. They are witches.”

  “Witches? But they don’t exist, they’re just in fairytales. This can’t be real.” I was shaking. Could it be real? No, this couldn’t be real. But mom and dad’s faces, they were somber, serious. They had no reason to lie about this.

  “Our ancestors were one of the original families that were able to see the truth. To see cats for what they really were. I thought I could shelter you from it all, much like your grandmother thought she could do for me. It apparently isn’t as easy as I would have hoped it would have been. But I didn’t have the guidance that I needed.” She was fighting back tears now. “Crimson, the witches, they killed your grandma and grandpa.”

  I shook my head. No, this couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t. “I don’t believe you. This is insane. Witches aren’t real! They aren’t! Why would you tell me this? I want to know the truth.” I got up from the table and stormed out of the room, ran up to my bedroom and slammed the door shut behind me.

  The kitten woke up when he heard the door slam. He got up from the blanket he was curled up on, did a stretch and yawn, then sauntered over where I had collapsed on the bed. He started meowing at me. I peered over the side of the bed. He was looking up at me. I couldn’t help but smile.

  How could this poor, little, innocent creature be a witch? It couldn’t be true, it just couldn’t. I picked him up and set him on the bed next to me. He curled up next to me, and started purring. I lay there, petting him. It was comforting. I needed that. As I lay there, I decided that my kitten needed a name. I pondered over it for a while, then it struck me, I would call him Cinder. I didn’t know how or where I came up with it, but I just knew that it was right.

  When I woke up, it was still dark outside. I looked at my alarm clock. It was 3 a.m. My stomach was growling. I hadn’t eaten dinner, so I decided to head to the kitchen to make myself a snack. What I saw when I got downstairs was unnerving, terrifying. All the dishes were still sitting on the dining room table. Nothing had been put away. That wasn’t like my mom at all.

  Something just felt wrong, very wrong. I ran back upstairs and knocked on my parent’s bedroom door and called out their names. I got no response, but if they were sleeping, they more than likely wouldn’t hear me. I hesitated briefly, and then pushed the door open. The bed was still made. It didn’t look like anyone had even been in the room recently.

  I was so confused. Where could they be? I hurried from the room and ran out to the garage. Their cars were still there. My mind was racing. I didn’t know what to do. Call the police…and tell them what? What would I say? What could I say? I would never be able to explain what had happened. I shook my head.

  I decided to search the house from top to bottom. Maybe they had left a note or some sort of clue as to where they had gone. After hours of searching, I had come up empty handed. I resigned, forced myself to clean up dinner, made myself something to eat, and tried to go back to sleep. I hoped that things would look better in the morning.

  I was quite restless though, and only managed to get a few hours of sleep. I was just too worried. When I finally climbed out of bed, it was almost ten. I went back downstairs, but everything was just as I had left it.

  I grabbed my cell phone from my purse. I had several unread text messages, all from Rania. Wondering why I wasn’t at school. I sat down on the couch, trying to decide what to tell her. Maybe I should tell her to ditch school and come over. I didn’t really want to be alone. But it wasn’t like I could tell her anything either.

  I stared at the phone in my hand, trying to figure out what to do. I didn’t want to get her involved, but I couldn’t stand to be alone either.

  ‘Can you come over? Something happened last night.’ I finally sent her.

  ‘Sure. I’ll ditch at the next bell. See you soon.’ She replied.

  Thank goodness.

  I was falling apart by the time Rania showed up, apparently. Because she took one look at me and threw her arms around me. And let me tell you, that isn’t typical Rania.

  “What is going on?” she asked, concern filling her eyes.

  “You had better sit down,” I replied. “It’s a long, complicated story. You probably won’t even believe me, but I swear it’s all true.”

  She shot me one of her signature looks, but said nothing. I sat down on the couch next to her, trying to gather my thoughts. I didn’t
even know where to start. I took a deep breath and began, hoping that I would actually make sense.

  When I was done, Rania just sat there, staring at me, with her mouth gaping. I knew she wouldn’t believe me. Who in their right mind would? What I was saying was insane.

  “What am I going to do now?” I wailed.

  Rania shook her head. “I don’t know Crimson, I don’t know. But you need to get rid of that cat. Right away!”

  I nodded, knowing she was right. After what had already happened, I was starting to believe. “We can take him to the animal shelter, since I was already going to do that. Let’s go right now.” I didn’t want to waste any more time.

  I sent Rania to the garage to find a box, while I went up to my bedroom to get Cinder. I found him curled up in the closet again. I picked him up carefully, trying not to wake him. No such luck though. He woke up the second I got him off the ground. He snuggled into my arms and started purring. Of course, he was going to make it difficult for me to get rid of him. I pushed his cuteness away and reminded myself of what had already happened. Taking him to the shelter was the right thing to do.

  Rania was waiting for me in the living room, holding a box. She set it on the coffee table when she saw me. “Goodness, he is adorable. You’re sure he’s an evil witch?” It was obvious she was trying to make light of the situation.

  I didn’t say anything as I set him in the box. “I think we should take my parent’s car. I don’t really feel like walking all that way.”

  Rania agreed.

  I grabbed the keys off the kitchen counter and we headed out to the garage. Rania carried the box.

  “You had better hold the box while I drive. I don’t want him to get out.”

  She glared at me, but agreed, knowing I was right. She handed the box to me, opened the car door, and climbed in. I handed the box back to her and shut the door. I then got in the car myself, and started it up. It was only a five minute drive to the shelter. I found a parking spot and we headed in.

  Branna was sitting at the front desk, as always. She looked up at Rania and me. She was quite startled when she saw us. “What on earth are you doing here?” she asked. “Shouldn’t you be in school still?”

  I tried very hard to swallow the lump in my throat and nodded. “Yes, I know we should be…but something has happened.” I stopped there. I couldn’t tell Branna the truth, at least not all of it. She would never understand. Besides, I didn’t really know her all that well.

  She looked very concerned. “What’s happened Crimson? You can tell me,” she coaxed.

  Tears now streaming down my face, I said, “My parents are gone.”

  “What do you mean gone?” She obviously didn’t understand what I was saying.

  “I don’t know. I woke up early this morning and they were gone. No sign of them at all. The car was still in the garage. They just…disappeared.” I stopped myself there, before anything else came pouring out. “That’s not why we’re here though. I elbowed Rania. She thrust the box forward.

  Branna peered in, “Oh my, what a cute little guy. Where did you find him?”

  “He followed me home last night.”

  Branna nodded. The look on her face said that she understood far better than she should have, but the look was fleeting. She got real serious then. “I cannot take him in,” she said calmly.

  “What do you mean you can’t take him?” Rania spat at her. “You’re an animal shelter, that’s what you do.” She was furious enough for the both of us.

  Branna looked completely un-phased by Rania’s outburst. “I just don’t have the room for another animal right now. I’m sorry. You’re going to have to keep Cinder.”

  How could she have known that? I hadn’t told her that I named him Cinder. I tried not to let it show that it freaked me out. “Come on Rania, let’s go…now!”

  “But, but, what are we going to do with him?”

  “We’ll figure something else out. Please, let’s just go.”

  “Oh, fine. I don’t want to hang around here anyway,” she said, giving Branna one of her looks.

  I practically drug her out the door.

  “Alright, what’s going on?” she asked once we were outside and standing by the car.

  “She…she knew what I named the kitten! I never said what I was calling him.”

  Rania looked at me for a moment, puzzled. “I don’t even think you told me that,” she concluded. “So how could she have known that?”

  “I don’t know, but I don’t like it. I don’t like what’s going on. What are we going to do now? I can’t keep this cat. I just can’t.” I knew I was going to start crying again.

  Rania set the box on the hood of the car and wrapped her arms around me. “We’ll figure something out, I promise. For now, I think you should stay with me. I don’t want you to be alone, and my parents won’t mind.”

  I smiled. “Thanks Rania, you’re a good friend.”

  We headed back to my house, so I could gather up some things. I was so glad I had Rania for help. Without her, I’d be so lost. I wandered around my room in a fog, trying to figure out what I needed to bring with me. I tried to hurry, because I knew she’d be impatient. She always was. At least I could count on that.

  She glared at me from the doorway. “Are you ready yet? “

  I shot her a glare back. “I’m working on it!” I threw some clothes and beauty products into my duffle bag. “Umm, Rania, what are we going to do with Cinder?”

  “You’re not bringing him with us, if that’s what you’re getting at. I will not have that fluffy ball of evilness in my house. Besides, my parents would flip out. I don’t care what you do with him, but you can’t bring him with.”

  I knew she wouldn’t budge on the subject. Not that I wanted to bring him with. All I wanted was to be rid of him once and for all. But what was I going to do with him, since Branna wouldn’t accept him at the animal shelter. I let out a sigh. “I know this is going to sound horrible, but can we just leave him somewhere? Like at the park or something? Maybe someone will find him and take him in?” I felt so guilty once I had said the words, but what choice did I have? After everything that had happened, I couldn’t, I wouldn’t keep him.

  “Yeah, sure, we can do that,” Rania commented, not really paying attention.

  I sighed again as I zipped my bag shut. “Alright, I think I’ve got everything. Let’s go get this over with.” I wasn’t looking forward to what we were about to do.

  As we drove to the park, Cinder started to get extremely restless. It was almost as if he knew what we were going to do with him. I tried to force the thoughts out of my mind. I knew if it was true and he really was a witch, then he did know what we were going to do with him. That worried me…a lot.

  It was starting to get dark by the time we reached the park. And it was getting cold. That I actually felt bad about. No! He’s a witch, it doesn’t matter.

  “Just dump him out of the box and let’s leave already. It’s dark, I’m freezing, and I’m getting hungry.” Clearly Rania was getting impatient yet again.

  I set the box down and tipped it on its side, ushering the kitten out of it and onto the ground. He didn’t want to go. His claws dug into the side of the box. I gave him a push and he started hissing at me. I should have known this wasn’t going to be easy, but it had to be done.

  Rania looked at me, and laughed. “What, you can’t take on a 4 pound kitten? That’s so sad Crimson. Just leave the box and let’s go. I don’t have time for this.”

  I let go of the box. “Fine, let’s go then.” I stood up and brushed the dirt off my pants, then followed her to the car. I looked back as I climbed in. Cinder was still sitting inside the tipped over box, staring at us. I shook my head, and muttered “I’m sorry,” under my breath, got in and started the car.


  “You did the right thing,” Rania told me. “You don’t need to think about it anymore. It’s over now. We’ll get you settled in at my house, and then we’ll figure out what to do about your parents. They couldn’t have just disappeared. Someone must know something; someone must have seen or heard something.”

  I hoped she was right. “Do we have to tell your parents?” I asked as we were nearing her house. I bit my lip nervously, awaiting her response.

  She frowned. “To be honest, I think we should. They’ve got connections. They would be able to help, but if you really don’t want them to know, I won’t say anything. It’s up to you Crimson.”

  I wasn’t sure what the right thing to do was anymore. I wanted things to go back to normal, if that was even possible. “I think I want to sleep on it.”

  Rania nodded. “Of course, take your time. We’ll do things your way.” It was nice that Rania was actually listening to me for once. Who knew that all it would take was my world completely falling apart.

  Rania’s mom was standing in the doorway when we reached the house. “Hi girls! Oh, is Crimson spending the night?” she asked, gesturing to the bag I was clutching.

  “Yeah, if that’s alright with you and dad,” Rania said, smiling. No one could turn her down when she did that, not even her own parents.

  “Of course, honey. That’s perfectly fine. Dinner is about ready, why don’t you get Crimson settled in first.”

  The conversation at dinner was pleasant. Though, I really wasn’t paying that much attention. After we ate, Rania and I rushed up to her bedroom. I was thankful that I didn’t have to stay down there and make small talk with her parents any longer. It was just too much to handle. Especially since I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell them what was going on.

  That night, my dreams were less than enjoyable. They were nightmares. One by one, everyone I knew disappeared, even Rania. When I woke up, tears were streaming down my face.

  Rania was sitting up on the bed, looking at me. “What on earth?” she grumbled, clearly not amused that I had woke her up.

  “I’m sorry,” I mumbled through my tears. “It was just a nightmare. I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just go back to sleep.”

  “You don’t have to tell me twice. Goodnight Crimson.”

  “Goodnight Rania.” This time when I fell asleep, I wasn’t plagued my nightmares. I was thankful for that. I woke up to the alarm clock blaring in my ear. It took me a while to realize where I was. Then everything that had happened came rushing back to me. I was silent as I got myself ready for school.

  “If you hurry up, I’ll drive you to school,” called Rania’s dad from the bottom of the stairs.

  We couldn’t say no to that. School seemed to drag on and on. I was there, but my mind wasn’t. I still didn’t know what I was going to do. If I should tell Rania’s parents the truth, if we should go to the police. I knew I had to do something though. Things weren’t going to get better on their own.

  It was lunch time, and Rania and I sat at our usual table, both silent though. I don’t think she knew what to say to me. I didn’t blame her for that. We were almost done eating when the principal approached us. It made me feel extremely uneasy. What on earth could he possibly want? I was hoping he would walk right past us, but no such luck. He stopped directly in front of us.

  “Rania, gather your things together. Your mother called. You need to go home right away,” he said calmly.

  We both stared at each other, but said nothing. I knew something had happened. I could feel it the moment the principal stepped into the lunch room. I kicked Rania under the table, urging her to say something, anything.

  “Umm, Mr. Russell, Crimson has been staying with us while her parents are away. Is it alright if she comes with me?” she finally asked.

  “Oh, well, umm, considering the circumstances, it’s best if she does.” With that, he turned and walked away.

  We were both still completely stunned. It was me who finally stood up, in an effort to get Rania to do the same. She looked at me standing there, shook her head, and followed suit. We dumped our trays and headed to our lockers to get our things.

  It ended up being a long, awkward walk back to Rania’s house. Her mom was standing on the porch when we got there. I’m sure she was waiting for us to get there. She held open the door for us and then followed us inside. Once the door was closed, Rania looked at her mom, “What’s going on? Why did you pull us out of school?”

  She looked at us, trying to fight back tears. “I don’t know how to say this, so I’m just going to say it. Rania, your father was in a car accident this morning, on his way to work.”

  No, this isn’t happening. It can’t be happening. We got rid of the witch. My mind was racing.

  “Is…is he alright?” Rania asked. I’m not sure if she wanted to truly know the answer. I know I sure didn’t.

  “He’s in critical condition. They don’t know if he’s going to make it. I’d be at the hospital already, but I wanted to wait for you. We need to get there right away,” she said, still trying to fight back tears. She then turned to me, “Crimson, dear, I don’t expect you to come with us. But if you want to, you’re more than welcome to. Wyatt always thought of you as one of his own daughters,” she continued, with a slight smile.

  “Of course I’ll go,” I stated. There was nowhere else for me to go. I didn’t want to be alone.

  As we walked out of the house and to the car, I could have sworn I saw Cinder sitting in the hedges, staring at us. I blinked and he was gone. I must just be seeing things. There was no way he could have found his way here. I climbed in the car and didn’t think about it again.

  When we got to the hospital, they wouldn’t allow me back in the ICU, but Stella and Rania insisted that I was family, even if I wasn’t related. Eventually, they got sick of arguing with them and said I could go back to see Wyatt. He looked terrible. Most of his bones were broken; he was on life-support. More than likely he would have brain damage, that is, if he ever woke up. It was extremely hard to handle.

  Hell, it would have been hard to handle on its own, but on top of the fact that my parents were gone too, I just, I didn’t know how to cope. I started crying. Someone put their arms around me. When I finally looked up, it was Stella who was hugging me. That surprised me. It was comforting though. I tried to mutter an apology, but it was no use.

  It was late when Rania and I finally left. Stella stayed at the hospital. She said she wasn’t leaving until Wyatt was awake. She left it up to us whether or not we wanted to go to school in the morning. If we didn’t go, we could come back to the hospital. I knew what I would have done, but left the decision to Rania.

  We stopped at McDonalds on the way home and got something to eat. Luckily the drive-thru was always open. The food was a welcome thing. We couldn’t even wait until we got back to Rania’s house to eat it. I devoured mine within seconds and then helped Rania with her food. We were about a block away from the house. Rania was eating and not really paying attention to the road. I couldn’t say that I was either, but when I glanced up, I saw a small lump in the middle of our lane.

  “Rania, slow down, there’s something in the road!” I screamed at her.

  “What the hell!?” she shouted as she slammed on the brakes, stopping just in the nick of time. I was so afraid she was going to hit whatever it was. It wasn’t very big, but it was just sitting there in the road. “Go out and see what it is,” she demanded. “I’m not going out there.”

  “Just back up and go around it,” I countered, not wanting to find out what it was either. But curiosity got the best of me, or so I thought. I groaned and got out of the car, stepping in front of it. The headlights were glowing around me and it.

  I couldn’t believe my eyes. This isn’t happening. I rubbed my eyes and blinked rapidly, but he wa
s still there. I slowly started backing up. Once I hit the car, I used my hands to guide me around the side to my door. I thrust it open with all my strength, trying not to fumble. I jumped in and pulled the door shut behind me.

  “What was all of that?” Rania demanded. “What’s out there?”

  I started shaking. “It’s…it’s…its Cinder.” That was all I could manage to get out.

  Rania stared at me, mouth open. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she scoffed. “Are you insane!? There’s no way that cat is out there.” I’m sure she rolled her eyes.

  “Go look for yourself if you don’t believe me,” I trembled, not really wanting her to go outside. I hoped she wouldn’t listen. She did.

  “Fine, I’m going to look for myself, just to prove to you that he isn’t out there.” She opened the car door and hopped out. When she stepped into the headlights, Cinder lunged at her. Rania screamed in agony, as he dug his claws into her skin. “Get him off me, get him off me now!” she yelled.

  I wanted to help, I really did. But my body was immobile. Cinder had taken control of me. I panicked. What was I going to do? I couldn’t sit there and let Cinder tear Rania apart, but I couldn’t move. I had to do something. Focus, Crimson, focus. You can do this. You can beat him. You are stronger than him. I closed my eyes and channeled all of my energy. I hoped if I put enough energy into it, that I could shatter the hold Cinder had over me. I didn’t know where the idea came from, but I just felt it was the right thing to do.

  I could feel energy radiating over me. Then something snapped. I opened my eyes and reached out my hand. I could move again! I leapt from the car and out into the darkness. Rania was still struggling to get Cinder off her. There was blood everywhere. It made me queasy, but I did my best not to let it get to me as I pulled the cat off her. Rania collapsed to the ground instantly.

  I stood there, holding Cinder by the scruff of his neck, not knowing what to do with him. Before I could even think, my arms hurled him across the street and into one of the lawns and immediately turned my attention to Rania. “Are you alright?” I asked bending down to help her up. “Can you walk? Do you need a doctor?”

  She took my hand and pulled herself off the ground. “I’m fine. That cat tore me up pretty good though. My poor skin, think of all the scars I’m going to have now.” Of course that’s what she would care about. “Let’s just go home. Can you drive?”

  I nodded, then helped Rania into the passenger seat. I was shocked she didn’t whine about getting blood all over the car, but was thankful that she wasn’t being her usual overly obnoxious self. Walking around the car, I slid into the driver’s seat. I was glad it wasn’t too far of a drive back to Rania’s house.

  Once we were there, I helped Rania clean up her cuts and scratches as best as I could, then we went to bed. As I fell asleep that night, I wondered what had become of Cinder. I knew in my heart that this wasn’t the last we’d see of him.

  “I had a terrible time sleeping last night,” Rania complained, waking me up.

  I sighed, but I understood. Everything had fallen apart. “I’m sorry. Does it hurt?”

  “Of course it hurts, like you wouldn’t believe! Tell me the truth, how bad do I look?”

  I looked her over, it wasn’t good. I looked away. I couldn’t meet her gaze.

  “That bad, huh? You know we have to tell my mom now, right?”

  I knew she wasn’t going to back down. I nodded, still not looking at her. “I know. I just hope she’ll be able to handle it, considering what happened with your dad.”

  “We have no choice now. She’s going to flip out when she sees me. It’s not like I can hide this from her. My body is covered in scabs.” She was right. We had no other choice.

  “Everything?” I asked. “Do we have to tell her everything?” I bit my lip. I already knew the answer.

  “Yes, everything. It’s time we get it all out in the open. We need help Crimson. We obviously can’t handle this on our own anymore.” She was staring at me. “Okay?”

  “Yes, okay. We’ll tell her everything. Maybe she’ll know what to do. I want to take a quick shower before we head back to the hospital. I’ll be ready in a few.”

  I took my time in the shower to gather my thoughts. How were we going to explain everything to Stella? Would she even believe us? She’d think we were mad. But then there were Rania’s injuries. They would be hard to dismiss. This had to be done. It had to. There was no other way.

  “Oh my god…what happened to you honey?” Stella stammered when we met her at the hospital. She looked so worried, even more so than before.

  Rania and I looked at each other, but neither of us could bring ourselves to say a word. I knew that it wasn’t going to be left at that though. There was no way we were going to be able to stay silent about last night, about the last few days.

  “Rania, honey, I only ask because I’m concerned, especially after what happened with your father. Please, don’t shut me out. Tell me what’s happened.”

  It was me who started talking first. “It’s kind of a long story, Stella. And most of it is my fault. Don’t get mad at Rania for any of this. If it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t have gotten hurt.” I could feel tears welling up in my eyes again.

  “No Crimson, I could never blame you, no matter what. You’re family, never forget that.”

  I tried to smile. “Thank you, but you may change your mind after you hear everything.” I let the words come pouring out, every last detail, even the completely insane ones. Stella didn’t say a word through the entire thing. I’m sure she didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t blame her for that. Who in their right mind would believe half of what I was saying.

  After a few minutes of silence, she responded, and not in the way that I would have thought. “Why didn’t you tell me about this right away? I could have helped. It all makes sense now.”

  Rania and I stared at her wide-eyed. Neither of us knew quite how to respond to that. She understood…how could she understand?

  “What do you mean you could have helped?” Rania and I exclaimed, almost at the exact same time.

  She nodded. “Wyatt was like your mother, Crimson. I don’t know everything there is to know about it, but Wyatt has a lot of research and information on it in his study.”

  I was perplexed. I wondered if my mom had any information we could use at home. I knew what we needed to do though. “Would it be alright if I looked through Wyatt’s notes?” I needed to arm myself, so I could fight back against Cinder.

  “Absolutely, I know that he would want you to. He would have helped, if you had told us from the beginning. Though, I understand why you didn’t want to tell anyone. How were you to know that Wyatt was like you? I think that’s why he considered you one of his children. You had an unspoken connection.” She then changed her tone slightly. “You had better go and find a way to fix things. Wyatt won’t wake up until you’ve defeated Cinder.”

  Oh, great. The fate of my world, and my best friend’s world depended on me. Could I handle this? Could I actually defeat Cinder and put the world right again? I didn’t have any other choice, now did I?

  Rania accompanied me to my house, so we could look for any information my mom might have on the witches. I was hoping that she would have something we could use. I didn’t even know where to begin looking. I didn’t know where she would keep things like that. It wouldn’t be in plain sight, that’s for sure.

  We decided to split up. It would be easier to search the entire house if we did it that way. There was a lot of ground to cover. Rania took the downstairs, and I the upstairs. I started with my parents’ bedroom. It seemed like the logical place to look; under the bed, through every single dresser drawer, and lastly, the closet. It was there that I found what I thought was what we needed, a small, antique trunk. It was
locked. Crap! Where could the key be?

  I didn’t even have time to process that thought fully. There was a knock on the door. Now who could that be? “Hey Rania, could you get the door please,” I called down the stairs. I quickly shoved the box back where I had found it and then headed downstairs to see who was at the door.

  “Are you Miss Ellis, Crimson Ellis?” the police officer asked when I appeared.

  I nodded. “Yes, I am.” This can’t be a good thing.

  “I have something I need to speak with you about, privately. Is there somewhere we can speak?”

  Yeah, this really can’t be good. I tried to stay calm. “Yes, of course, right this way.” I lead him into the kitchen. “Do you want something to drink?” I asked, trying to cut the tension.

  “No, but thank you,” he said as he took a seat at the kitchen table. He took no time getting straight to the point. “When was the last time you saw or spoke to your parents?”

  “Sunday evening, it was dinner time,” I whispered, it was almost inaudible.

  He nodded, and wrote it down. “Can you tell me what happened that night?”

  I was about to tell him the truth, but stopped myself. I couldn’t tell him the truth. It would sound crazy; it would sound like I did something stupid. The last thing that had happened was me screaming at them and storming out of the room. Instead, I said, “Why, what’s happened?” I had to know before I said anything else.

  “Please, just answer the question Miss Ellis,” it may be important. “What happened that night?”

  I was on the verge of tears yet again. “I got into a fight with them, over something silly. I brought a cat home, a stray cat that I had found. They were furious about it. I stormed out of the kitchen and locked myself in my room. I fell asleep, and when I woke up, they were gone. That’s all I know, honestly.” That was as much of the truth as he was going to believe. None of it was a lie.

  “You don’t know what happened after you locked yourself in your room?”

  “No, I have no idea. Like I said, I fell asleep. When I woke up, no one was here.”

  “You heard nothing?”

  I nodded. What was he getting at? What wasn’t he telling me? “What is this about?” I demanded. “Please tell me what’s going on?”

  After he had finished scribbling in his notebook again, he looked up at me, concern in his eyes. “I’m going to need you to come down to the station and make a formal identification.”

  “No…no! You’re lying. They can’t be…they can’t be dead.” I was sobbing.

  Rania, who had been hiding just outside the doorway the entire time, entered quickly coming to my side. “I’ll come with you. We’ll call my mom; she can meet us down at the station.”

  I couldn’t speak. I just nodded through my tears. Rania helped me up and out to the police car. Once I was in the car, she pulled her cell phone out of her purse and dialed her mom’s number. Stella picked up right away. Rania quickly explained what had happened. After she hung up, she climbed into the car next to me.

  “She said she’s on her way, and that we aren’t to do anything until she gets there.” I nodded again. Words failed me.

  Stella arrived at the station shortly after we did. She immediately hugged me. “I’m so sorry Crimson. You’ll stay with us indefinitely. We’ll get through this together.” It was nice for the reassurance. It was nice knowing that I’d have somewhere to stay, somewhere to go.”

  The officer interrupted us, “Are you ready? You can bring them with you, if you want” motioning to Stella and Rania. I was thankful for that. I wasn’t sure I could handle it on my own.

  The officer led us back, so I could make a formal identification. The coroner pulled back the sheets on the first table. It was my mom. Once she was covered again, the same was done for the second table. It was my dad. Once he was covered again, I nodded, fighting back my tears. “That’s them. Umm, is there a bathroom? I think I’m going to be sick.”

  The officer led me to the bathroom. “Do you need anything? Some water maybe?”

  I nodded again, choking back tears. “Yes, that would be nice. I’ll just be a minute.” I pushed the bathroom door open, stepped inside and completely lost it. I cried and cried, until I threw up. That made me feel slightly better, but only physically. Emotionally, I was a wreck. My parents were dead, Wyatt was in the hospital, and Rania was hurt, all because of me. I was even more determined to end this all. I had to. I had to avenge my parents’ deaths. I owed them that much.

  I composed myself as best I could, splashed some water on my face, took a couple deep breaths, and headed back out into the hallway. The officer was there with a glass of water. He handed it to me and I took a small sip. Stella and Rania were close behind him.

  “Are you ready to go home?” Stella asked. “She isn’t needed for anything else, is she?” her eyes now focused on the officer.

  “Oh, no, she’s free to go. We’ll call if we need anything else.” Then turning his attention back to me, “My apologies for your loss.” He turned and walked away.

  “Let’s get out of here,” Rania insisted. “This place gives me the creeps.”

  Once we were out in the parking lot, I insisted that I needed to go back to my house. “I think I found mom’s books on fighting the witch. It was in an antique trunk in the back of her closet. It’s locked though. I need to find the key. It’s important. Please, Stella, can you drop me off at the house. I’ll leave as soon as I find the key.”

  She dropped Rania and me off at the house. Rania insisted that I shouldn’t be left alone. I would have been fine, but there was no arguing with her, and Stella agreed, so Rania stayed with me.

  Once we were inside the house, Rania demanded I show her the trunk. “It will be easier to find the key if we know what it looks like. You know, from the lock on the trunk.” She had a point.

  Once we were upstairs, I pulled the trunk out of the closet again and set it on the bed. Rania glanced at it casually and said, “From the looks of it, it’s a small skeleton key.” How she knew that, I would never comprehend. “Actually, now that I think of it, I’m pretty sure I saw one when I was rooting through the drawers in the kitchen, in the junk drawer.”

  “Well, go get it then!” I was hoping it was what we needed. I didn’t think I could stay in this house, especially this room for much longer.

  Rania hurried from the room, not at all happy about having to be the one to go get the key. But I insisted it had to be her, since she knew what she was looking for. A few minutes later she waltzed back into the room, holding up a key, happy with herself. She tossed the key at me, “Well, let’s try it and see.”

  The key bounced on the bed next to me. I picked it up and placed it in the lock. It fit perfectly. I turned it and the lock clicked open. Inside the box were several extremely old journals. They had to be what I needed. I flipped one open. The pages were yellowing, and there was flowing, cursive on all the pages. It was hard to read, but with some effort, I could make out what it was saying. It was an account of what happened with the witches back in the 1600’s. “This is it,” I exclaimed. “This is what we need to fight back. With my mom’s journals and your dad’s, I think we can do this!”

  “Great, let’s get out of here then,” Rania demanded. “It’s awkward being in here, after seeing your parents at the police station.” I couldn’t agree more with that statement.

  I told Rania if she wanted to go back to the hospital to spend time with her dad that she could. I would manage the research by myself. I knew full well that Rania would be no help at all. She hated reading, she hated studying. I was better off doing this myself. She agreed, but promised she’d be back later on to help me. I knew she wouldn’t, but didn’t argue with her.

  Over the next several hours I poured through my mom’s and Wyatt’s journals, h
oping for something, anything that would tell me how to stop Cinder. There had to be a way to stop all of this. I ended up falling asleep at Wyatt’s desk. When I woke up, it was well past midnight. That’s odd, why hadn’t Stella or Rania woken me.

  I got up and stretched, then wandered out to the living room. No one was there. They probably already went to bed. I climbed the stairs to Rania’s bedroom. She wasn’t in there. That’s extremely odd. She should have been home by now. I tried to write it off as nothing. Maybe she decided to spend the night there. Yes, that has to be it. But in the pit of my stomach I knew something was wrong, very wrong.

  There was nothing I could do at this late hour. I’d call Rania in the morning. It wasn’t enough to keep the nightmares away though. I woke up around 6 a.m. and couldn’t fall back asleep. I got out of bed and dressed, made myself some breakfast, and waited. It was still too early to call Rania. But I couldn’t just sit here idle.

  I grabbed my car keys and headed out the door. I was going to find out what was going on. I drove to the hospital. At least I tried to. I couldn’t get anywhere near it. All the roads were blocked. I could see smoke wafting from the direction of the hospital. No! No, no, no!

  I parked the car and walked towards the barricade. A police officer tried to stop me. “My friend, she was in there,” I screamed at him. “What’s happened, tell me what’s happened!”

  “You can’t go in there, there was an explosion. I can’t tell you anything else. I’m sorry. You’ll have to leave now.”

  “But my friend…”

  “I’m sorry young lady, but you have to leave,” the officer insisted.

  I wasn’t going to get any information this way. What was I going to do now? Cinder had taken everything away from me. I had nothing left. I went back to my car, sat there and cried. Once I couldn’t cry any more, I headed back to Rania’s house. There was only one thing left to do.

  Cinder was sitting on the steps to the house when I got there. It made things so much easier for me. He looked up at me as I approached, almost as if he was happy to see me. I picked him up, holding him close. “It’s okay Cinder. I won’t hurt you,” I murmured to him, petting him gently.

  Still holding him, I walked into the house. I put him in Rania’s room and got him a bowl of milk. Once he was distracted by the milk, I went back downstairs and found a bottle of lighter fluid in the garage and a box of matches. I knew what I had to do.

  I dowsed the entire ground floor in lighter fluid, and then standing at the bottom of the stairs, I struck a match and dropped it. Walking up the stairs, I watched the flames consume everything around me.

  Slowly, I walked back to Rania’s room, closed the door and waited. Waited for it to all end.

 
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