I have always been considered a pretty girl. Beautiful even perhaps, though I never really seem to fit in with the so-called “beautiful people”. Not just them though, I never really seem to fit in anywhere. I have lived all over the country, never staying in one place for more than a year and often less. I’ve met endless brands of people, studied different religions and hovered in several social circles, but I’ve always wound up back in the one place I never really wanted to be—New Albany, Indiana. Not that I don’t like the place I most often call home, it just feels empty like most other places do. I suppose it has its perks though. It is small enough to be considered “small town”, yet close enough to Louisville that there is usually something to do. There is one big reason that I always come back though—my mother. My mother had traveled the world for several years before I was born. She is a very spontaneous woman who has a constant yearning for something and someplace new; driving tour buses for cruise lines in Mexico, training race horses in Florida, parasailing in California. She is much more outgoing and carefree than I have ever been. She settled down here some years before I was born and eventually met a man named Michael who would become my stepfather. He had two daughters of his own—Amber and Elizabeth. I’ve never met my real father. He left when I was a baby. Shortly after graduating from high school, I moved out of the house where my mother had raised me through all of my teen years, yet after three years of constant moving, my heart again began to yearn for home, for Mom, so I moved back. This is where my story begins. This is when I became who and what I am—or at least figured it all out. It’s how I lost those close to me, and discovered the truth about my past.
I was working a second-rate job at Wal-Mart and had been there for almost a year, making not much better than minimum wage. That didn’t bother me as much as my boss, Linda, who always seemed intent on making my already long shifts hell. Unfortunately, I usually got stuck with second shift. It was mid-January, which meant it was freezing cold outside. New Albany amazingly has absolutely freezing winters, even though there isn’t always a ton of snow. I stepped outside of work after a grueling 11-hour shift and looked at my watch, 8 p.m. already—too late to call Mom for something to do. I snarled at the cold as I walked to my car, and I finally began to realize that I hadn’t eaten since lunch (thanks Linda). I decided to stop at the bank and take out ten of the last thirty or so dollars I knew I had to my name to get some fast food before going home to my food barren kitchen. When I pulled up to the ATM to check my balance and reached for the slip of paper out of the machine, my mouth dropped almost as fast as the paper fell out of my hand. The balance—it wasn’t thirty dollars like I had expected. It was $674, 389. I took out my card and put it back in. “There must be some mistake, there must be some mistake,” I kept thinking. The bank was closed for the day, naturally, so I couldn’t go in and question the teller. Same thing, $674,389. I couldn’t breathe. I don’t know how long I sat there, seconds, minutes, maybe longer, but finally someone behind me honked, though I didn’t see any headlights approach. The horn scared me, and I took in a breath feeling dizzy from the lack of oxygen to my brain. I took out my card again, not daring to touch any of my, er, that money, and I put the car in drive. I didn’t close my mouth all the way home. I pulled into my spot and shut off my car. I just sat there. I don’t know how long. I think I forgot how to move my legs. Not until my teeth started chattering so violently that they could have woken the dead did I regain composure. Was I cold? Huh. I couldn’t feel anything. I sat there for a while longer. I closed my eyes and lay my head back to try to think. Was this even possible? Where did it come from? What was the mistake? It had to be a mistake, obviously, but who in their right mind would misplace half a million… I couldn’t even think it. I would have to straighten this out. I would go to the bank tomorrow and—crap. It’s Friday. My bank wasn’t open on the weekends. “Breathe,” I told myself. And my mind was blank again. Tap, tap, tap, tap. I jumped so hard my head hit the roof of the car with a thud. “Ow.” I looked out the window and saw Greg, one of my neighboring tenants, staring at me like I was insane. I might have been. I must have fallen asleep. I heard him mumbling through the glass, so I rolled down the window. “What?” I asked icily. “Are you drunk?” he asked again. I looked around not having yet noticed that the sky was lighting up just enough to know I’d slept here all night. Greg waited, but I forgot he was there before I even got the next thought in my mind. I must have been dreaming. There is no way I— “Hello?” he interrupted again. “Oh, sorry. N-no,” I stammered. “I fell asleep I think.” “Well maybe you should go inside. It’s freezing out here and uh, you don’t look so good.” “Right,” I murmured. I got out and walked to my door, not saying another word. I could still feel his eyes boring into my back when I reached it. I walked into my chilly apartment, though it felt so warm to me now that I shivered involuntarily when I walked in. I took off my jacket and shoes and walked to my bedroom, still too dazed to even think about the uh… mishap from yesterday and fell onto my bed with a loud thud. I stared at the wall until I finally fell into a restless and uneasy sleep.
It was dark, too dark. I had no idea where I was. I didn’t recognize any of the buildings around me. There didn’t seem to be anyone else in this small clutter of dirt roads and concrete buildings. No lights, no sounds, just nothingness. Outside of the almost perfect oval shape of the city was even darker. Trees maybe? I couldn’t tell. I called out in a weak voice, “Hello, is anyone there?” Silence. I turned around and was startled by a little girl standing about ten yards in front of me. She looked no more than about seven years old, but it was dark, so I could barely see her face. She had on a black robe that was shadowing her face and drowning her body. “Oh, hello,” I said again, a bit less intimidated this time. She did not respond, so I inched my right foot forward and began to hold my hand out to the child. I stopped abruptly when she raised both of her hands to her hood and pulled it back. I gasped and stepped back when the face she revealed was mine. Me, seven years old. “I… I,” I couldn’t find words. I didn’t know why, but a creepy feeling came over me, and I tensed to run. Seeing my subtle movement, the little girl opened her mouth slightly. The voice that came through was not one I recognized. It was not one of the sweet innocent face I stared at. It was the voice of a man, and he said three words, “It is time.” Before I could even close my mouth, the little girl’s eyes turned blood red and she lunged right for me.
I don’t know if I awoke from being rested or from the piercing scream that hurled itself up my throat. Something cool and wet was on my face. Tears. Tears? I don’t cry. The last time I cried I was eleven years old and my grandfather had just passed away. Papaw and I were very close. His death had been a very hard time for me. “That dream was so real…,” I sobbed, though to whom I was talking to I was not absolutely sure. I sat with my arms around myself until the tears seemed drained from their source, and a few moments later I sighed, disgusted with myself. I am a reasonable person, never one to believe in all the horror stories and fantasies so many people get lost in. I was above that nonsense. Yet, here I was, crying like a baby over some dream. I had to snap out of it. I wouldn’t think of the dream again. I was sure. I got up and went to the bathroom to wash my face of the traitor tears that still lingered there. Looking at my face in the mirror brought the dream back, brought her back, brought me back. I shuddered. What time was it? Ten a.m. already? I was supposed to have lunch with Mom at 11:30. I glanced in the mirror one more time, afraid of what I might see. I told the girl in the mirror, “Get a hold of yourself,” and with that one simple statement, I put the dream, and the girl (I refused to think of that red-eyed monster as myself again) behind me and started my day. “Shower first, and then I’ll call Mom,” I stated. Out of the shower, I looked at the girl in the mirror and sighed. I still didn’t understand why at 22 years of age I had still yet to find my place in the world. I had done my fair share of “soul searching”, as they call it, and had a strong sense of who I was, but I never knew many people that understood me. Of course, that was until I met Alex. Alex and I had been friends since I was about thirteen. We were friends instantly, which pleased me immensely. Some bully at school felt it was a good idea to make fun of my ears, and Alex decided to make fun of his nose…. after he punched him in it. We were pretty much inseparable after that. Even as a child, he was the most beautiful person I’d ever met, inside and out. He still is. It wasn’t until I came back about a year ago though that he had revealed his feelings for me. Just the thought of it brought a smile to my face.
The day he told me his feelings started out just like any other day. He came over on my day off of work as he always did. I opened the door to the same short, light brown, spiky, but wild hair. The same big green eyes with a yellow, golden sparkle that danced around the inner circle, and a smile on the face that was always there for me. Perfect full lips hugged immaculate straight white teeth all surrounded by light, smooth and beautiful skin. Small dimples pierced his symmetrical oval face supported by a perfectly chiseled jaw line. He was wearing a button-up shirt under a tan sweater (that accented his skin so magnificently) and a faded pair of blue jeans. Leaning against my doorframe, he looked more like a model posing for a high-profile photo shoot than just one friend smiling at another. As it always did, my heart thudded in my chest at the mere sight of his angelic face. “Hey, Chris.” “Hey, Alexander,” I smiled. I was the only one allowed to use his full name. Everyone else called him Alex. He rolled past me, whirling his scent throughout my mind. He always smelled of the same cologne I bought for him a few years earlier, and the scent made my head spin. He flopped down in his usual spot on my couch and flipped on the TV. “So, whatcha wanna do today, Alex?” “I don’t know. I thought we would just hang out here today.” His eyes darted once to my face, but stayed on the TV the rest of the time. I sighed, another afternoon in my house with the perfect man. I ran over and hopped on the couch next to him and snuggled up to his chest. It wasn’t exactly a romantic gesture though. We had always been that way. Anyone who saw us together always thought we were a couple. We laid on the couch watching a lot of nothing on the television and chit-chatting. Besides Mom, Alex was the one person I could talk to and truly never shut up. I was always interested in what he had to say. He was the one person who knew as much about me as I did, maybe even more. He jumped up mid sentence and said he had to go to the bathroom. He picked up a small black bag I didn’t see him carry in and darted around the corner. “Okay,” I stated about 10 seconds too late. “Weird.” He came back a moment later with a small wooden box in his hands. “Happy Valentine’s Day!” he exclaimed. I smiled hugely, but it quickly turned into a frown. “But, I didn’t get you anything,” I pouted. He sat down next to me and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Will you be my valentine?” His eyes sparkled that devilishly handsome bright green and his face lit up. This was a tradition all of our child years, he always asked me. Every year we traded valentines and he was mine and I was his—except of course the last three years that I was gone. I hesitated and he looked nervous. “Come on, Chris. Don’t leave me hanging here….” I giggled and took the box. “Of course I will,” I smiled. I noticed the box for the first time. It was a family heirloom he had once told me about. His father had given it to him the year before he died. Alex was 15. We were already best friends, but after I held his hands for the first hard three weeks after his father’s death, we were inseparable. I took off the lid and my jaw dropped. Inside were a number of valentines, the kiddie kind, but they weren’t just any ones. They were the very ones I had given him from the first Valentine’s Day we started our tradition to the very last. “Christina Marie,” he looked deeply into my eyes, “I lost my valentine three years ago, and I decided this year I wasn’t going to let her go.” And then we had our first kiss.
He wasn’t the reason I came back to Indiana, well not all of it, but he was the reason I stayed. Still to this day, I know in my heart that there will never be another that I will love with the intensity that I feel for him. Of course I hadn’t seen him in over a week now since he was in Texas visiting his mother. She remarried some years after his father passed away and followed her new husband there. He wouldn’t be back for two more weeks. I wanted so badly to tell him about my dream and about the money. Maybe he could help me make sense of it all. I couldn’t tell anyone else, nooooo way. Although Alex phoned me regularly, I wouldn’t tell him until he came home. There was no reason to worry him. He would have just come home early, and I didn’t want him to miss out on his time with his mother. He had always been a bit protective of me, and he would be worried about me. I was blow-drying my long, light brown hair (Mother had always loved my hair and never let me cut it) when my phone rang. I knew who it would be before I reached for it. “Hey, Mom.” “Hi, honey.” “I was just getting ready. Are we still meeting at 11:30 at La Madeline for lunch?” La Madeline is our favorite restaurant. It’s a charming little Italian Bistro in town, and it’s somewhat of a tradition to eat there often just the two of us. “You haven’t been outside yet, have you?” “No. Why Mom? What’s up?” “There is about a foot of snow outside, and I was calling to see if you wanted to try to go tomorrow instead.” My mother hated driving in the snow. She would never leave the house when there was snow on the ground if she didn’t have to. “Oh. Umm, sure,” I said as cheery as possible, but I knew my voice sounded off. “You okay, honey?” “Yeah, I’m fine Mom, just had a long night. And I miss Alex,” I lied. “You wanna talk about it?” Mom had always been, aside from Alex, the one person I could talk to about any of my problems, no matter what it was. She was my best friend. I couldn’t tell her about the dreams though, and definitely not about the money. She would flip out as badly as Alex would. Who was I kidding, who wouldn’t? “No Mom, it’s fine. I’ll just clean up the house a bit and finish reading my book.” “Okay, Christina. I love you.” “Love you too, Mom.” “Same time tomorrow?” “Yeah sure.” “Okay, bye.” “See ya.” I poorly fumbled my way through the next few hours trying to keep myself busy—laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming twice, and I finally gave up. I decided to finish reading A Farewell to Arms. I had a goal set for myself to read all of the books on the top 100 list of best books of our time, and with Alex gone, I was actually making pretty good progress. I read only a few pages when suddenly the images in my mind shifted.
I was back in that city, the oval city of dirt roads and concrete buildings. Again, it seemed totally abandoned. Fear shrilled over my body as I forced myself to slowly turn to see what I knew would be in front of me. And there she was, there I was, in the same robe as the last time, but with the hood pulled back. We stood there staring at each other, but this time she didn’t speak. “Who are you?” I whispered. “It is time,” is all the booming male voice said. “Time for what?” I yelled frantically. Then, in a barely audible voice that sounded more like ringing bells than that of a child, she shrieked, “You must save us! You must come back!” and then bright red blood flowed from her eyes and she collapsed to the ground.
A loud ringing in my ears awoke me, and at first I didn’t realize that it was me screaming. Again tears were flowing from my face. I was terrified.
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