“So, to make a long story short; you were right about everything,” said Jay. “There is something weird going on at that construction site. We got a report that there was an explosion in the area. When we got there, I heard a girl scream for help and say that someone was trying to kill her. But by the time we got all the way into the building, there was nobody there. Part of the balcony had collapsed—inexplicably—but that was all we could find. We wrote it up in the report. But, I swear to god I heard somebody scream. It was weird, Dude.”
“Wow,” said Virgil, before taking another spoonful of Jell-O.
“You still having trouble remembering what happened in the park that night?”
“Yeah. I don’t have full-blown amnesia. I still remember who I am and everything. It’s just this past week…is kind of a big blur. The doctors don’t know why. But, to be honest, I feel great! Like a burden has been lifted or something. I’m enjoying my stay at the hospital, eating tons of Jell-O; they’re releasing me tomorrow and it’s back to school on Monday. I’m actually looking forward to it.”
“I…” began Jay, but his voice broke. It took a moment before he continued. “I owe you an apology, Bud. I know you don’t remember everything, but it’s my fault that you got hurt. If I had listened to you—I mean, I never should’ve let you get involved in the first place—then maybe you would’ve trusted me enough to ask me to go with you to the park that night instead of going alone. I’m sorry. And I want you to know that you can tell me anything. So let me know if you remember anything. Maybe we can get to the bottom of this. Okay?”
“Aww, come on Jay. You don’t owe me an apology. What happened wasn’t your fault. That I do know. And of course I trust you. I’ll let you know if I remember anything. I promise,” said Virgil. “You’re more than my uncle. You’re one of my best friends.”
The two of them hugged.
“Can I tell you something, if you promise not to think I’m crazy?” said Jay, in a serious voice.
“I already think you’re crazy, so of course,” said Virgil.
“Last night, at the construction site, I chased someone up a flight of stairs. Whoever this dude was, he moved like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I mean—I’ve never seen anything move that fast. I’ve got to find out who that guy was.”
“You’ve got some pep in your step, today,” said Erk as Virgil walked up to their meeting place behind the school. “Did one of those hot nurses hit you off?”
“Nope,” said Virgil with a laugh. “My dad gave me a ride to school today. Everyone is just being so nice to me. A guy could get used to this.”
“You gotta’ try this new batch of weed I got,” said Ali, handing Virgil the joint.
“Yeah, you definitely do,” said Erk.
“Nah, I’m okay,” said Virgil. His friends gave him a look of surprise, bordering on disgust. “What? I’m just feeling really good today. I haven’t felt like smoking in days.”
“No nightmares, I take it?” said Erk.
“Nope. Been sleeping like a baby.”
“Did you ever find Lee? You were kind of obsessed with that last week,” said Erk.
“I don’t remember. I guess I must have. This past week is kind of hazy.”
“Playing the ol’ amnesia card? I like it! You’re gonna’ get mad chicks with that act,” said Ali.
“It’s not an act,” said Virgil.
“Really? What’s the last thing you remember?” asked Ali.
“I was walking my friend, Heather, home. But even that is kind of fuzzy,” said Virgil, rubbing his head.
“So you don’t remember that you owe me fifty bucks?” said Ali.
“What?” said Virgil.
“Shut up, Ali,” said Erk.
“What? The nigga borrowed fifty bucks from me last week. You weren’t even there,” said Ali defensively.
“Don’t be trying to take advantage of your friends,” said Erk.
“Oh really, Mr. self-righteous, who never has his own weed?” said Ali.
“Or borrows things and never gives them back,” added Virgil.
“And is constantly abused by his girlfriend,” said Ali.
“Hey, at least I have a girlfriend. Booyah!” said Erk, holding his hands out as if inviting a retort.
“A girlfriend? Bro, I’ve got 72 virgins waiting for me,” said Ali.
“Yeah, all you have to do is strap a bomb to your chest and blow up a building,” said Erk with a laugh.
“A bomb? I thought I had to strap a bong to my chest and smoke up a building. Man, maybe I’m just not cut out for this whole terrorist thing,” said Ali with mock shame.
“I guess it’s just not for everyone,” said Virgil with a smile.
Virgil all but skipped to the guidance office. He knocked on the door to Mrs. Vale’s office.
“Virgil! Come in. Have a seat,” said Mrs. Vale with a welcoming smile. “I heard about your accident. How are you feeling?”
“Better than ever,” said Virgil, taking a seat in front of the desk.
“Really?” said Mrs. Vale with a look that Virgil couldn’t quite discern the meaning of. “So you’ve been sleeping okay?”
“Everything at home going well?”
“Couldn’t be better.”
“The eyes are no longer upon you?”
The words struck Virgil like a bullet. Images flashed through his mind in rapid succession, making his head hurt.
“I didn’t mean to trigger anything. You told me that the eyes were upon you, the last time we met. I just wanted to see if you still thought that. Have you been taking the pills I gave you?”
“Yes. They’ve really helped me out.” He wasn’t sure if that was true given his recent memory loss.
“Mmmmm. That’s interesting,” said Mrs. Vale. “So you haven’t had any more hallucinations? You haven’t been seeing things lately?”
“No ma’am. Whatever is in those pills, it’s good stuff. Do you mind if I take off? I should really be getting back to class,” said Virgil, rising to his feet.
“But, you just got here,” said Mrs. Vale.
“Yeah, I know, but I’ve missed a lot of work—being in the hospital and all,” said Virgil. “I’d hate to have to repeat the ninth grade.”
“Um, okay,” said Mrs. Vale, a hint of disappointment in her voice. “We could schedule another meeting.”
“That sounds great.”
Virgil had no intentions of going back. He closed the door lightly as he left Mrs. Vale’s office. Maybe his mom was right, he didn’t need a psychiatrist. Outside in the waiting area sat Stacy. She looked more drawn and gaunt than before. Virgil’s memory of the last time he’d seen her was hazy but it looked like she’d lost weight, even since then. The skin hung to her bones by the tiniest bit of sinew. Her hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed in a while. There were bags under her eyes deep enough to carry groceries. When she looked up and saw Virgil, there was no expression on her face but despair. The saddest part was that Virgil could tell she was attempting to smile.
“Hey Stacy. Are you doing okay?” asked Virgil.
“Why? Do I look like hell?” asked Stacy.
“No! You—look fine. I’m just making sure,” said Virgil.
“I’m okay,” said Stacy, standing up. Her hands were visibly shaking. “I just really need to see Mrs. Vale. Is she in there?”
“Yeah,” said Virgil, stepping out of the way.
“Okay. Bye,” said Stacy before disappearing into Mrs. Vale’s office.
“Take care,” said Virgil.
Virgil found Vanessa in the hallway before lunch. She was talking with a couple of her friends outside of the cafeteria, by her locker. He tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around and flashed him a smile. She looked as angelic as ever and to Virgil’s surprise, she hugged him tight. He would’ve traded almost anything to stay in that moment forever.
“Do you have a second?” asked Virgil.
“No, she doesn’t,” said Jocelyn harshly. She grabbed Vanessa by the arm. “Remember that thing we have to do?”
“What thing?” said Vanessa.
“You know. The thing…” insisted Jocelyn.
Vanessa eyed Jocelyn for a second. “Yes Virgil, I have a second.”
The two of them walked to one of the hallways off to the side. It got a bit less traffic since it was mostly used as a backstage entrance for band and play clubs. Vanessa leaned against the wall and stared up at Virgil. He swallowed hard and took a deep breath.
They both began talking at the same time, then stopped simultaneously and beckoned for the other to go first.
“I just wanted to say, I’m sorry for embarrassing you in front of the whole cafeteria last week…” began Virgil.
“Oh, Virgil, you don’t have to–”
“I know. I know. I just wanted to let you know that my intention wasn’t to draw attention to myself. I just did what I thought would be the craziest thing I could do in order to show you how crazy I am about you. I love you. I love you more than anything. I’m not asking for us to get back together, but I do want you in my life, even if that means just being friends. I can deal with that. We don’t even have to talk every day or hang out a lot. I just want to know that we’re okay.”
He took Vanessa’s hand.
“Look, I want you to move on. Find someone that makes you happy and makes you smile. You deserve that. I wasn’t that guy for you and I will regret that for the rest of my life. But I would rather you be happy with someone else than to be miserable with me. Just make sure he’s not a douchebag. Or one of my friends, please. But they’re douchebags so that kind of goes without saying. If some guy hurts you, I’m gonna’ kick his ass! I know Ninjitsu, now. And my Parkour is getting better. So I just…um…I just–”
Vanessa interrupted Virgil’s speech with a kiss on the lips. A short kiss but a kiss none the less. Virgil was speechless. The two of them laughed awkwardly.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t visit you at the hospital. You know how my dad feels about you,” said Vanessa.
“All too well,” said Virgil. “How’s he doing?”
“Better,” said Vanessa, nodding her head as if trying to convince herself as well. “The doctors say he’s taking the treatment well.”
“That’s good,” said Virgil, squeezing Vanessa’s hand a little tighter.
“Look, I don’t want things to be weird between us. I’m just a little confused and I’m going through a lot right now. Please understand. I also want you to know that there is no one else and there hasn’t been. I’m not even looking. We are okay. We’re better than okay. And I love you too,” said Vanessa punctuating that last comment with a kiss, this time on the side of the mouth.
“Let’s get some lunch.”
Virgil was on cloud nine as the two of them walked to the cafeteria. There was no one else? There was no one else! Virgil couldn’t have scripted words that would have made him feel better. And she still loved him! There was nothing that could ruin the mood that he was in.
“Virgil, I need to talk to you,” said Rona, grabbing Virgil forcibly by the arm.
“Hey, what the hell is wrong with you?” cried Virgil.
“What’s your problem, Rona?” said Vanessa.
“Excuse us for a moment,” said Rona, tugging Virgil down the hallway. Virgil waved off Vanessa’s concern and motioned that he would call her later. Virgil jerked his arm away from Rona when they found a secluded spot.
“What do you want?” said Virgil.
“Well—how are you?” said Rona.
“You dragged me down the hallway so you could ask how I’m doing? I was fine until you yanked me away from my girlfriend!” said Virgil.
“I’m sorry. I just need to talk to you, and it’s best if we don’t discuss these kinds of things in front of other people,” said Rona.
“Discuss what? What could the two of us possibly have to talk about?” asked Virgil.
“You know—demons, ghouls, goblins—just to name a few of the things that might possibly want you dead,” said Rona.
Virgil stared at Rona. “You’re insane.”
“Oh please. Are you going to tell me that those things in the park that tried to kill you were just humans with a skin condition? They were demons, Virgil, and they want you! It’s one thing if you don’t believe me, but you’ve got to believe your own eyes.”
“I don’t remember what happened in the park, that night. I don’t remember much of anything that happened last week,” said Virgil, a drumming sensation beginning in his head.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me, Teenface! So you don’t remember anything I told you? About me being your guardian angel? About your life being in danger? Nothing? You gotta’ snap out of it, kiddo. This is not a game. This is your life we’re talking about. I need you to remember. Remember!” said Rona, grabbing Virgil around the shoulders and shaking him none-too-gently.
Virgil held his head as the thumping continued. It reached an unbearable point and he cried out. “Get off of me! I don’t know. Just go away!” He stumbled through the hallway as he attempted to run away from Rona.
“I’m sorry, kid, but you don’t get to walk away from this,” said Rona, following closely behind Virgil.
“I’m not walking away. I’m running. I’m running away—from you,” said Virgil, quickening his pace.
“That isn’t going to cut it,” said Rona, catching up to Virgil and seizing him by the arm. “Those things that tried to get you, in the park; you can’t run from them, you can’t hide from them. Can’t you see I’m trying to help you?”
“I didn’t ask for this.”
“That doesn’t mean it isn’t your problem.”
“Well, if you’re supposed to be my guardian, then you handle it. Leave me out of it. I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to know about it. Things are just starting to go good for me and I’m not about to give that up. I’m beginning to realize that my life is better without you in it—you and your weirdness! Go away, and take the demons and all of that other crap with you!”
“It doesn’t work that way. You have to try to remember–”
“I don’t want to remember! I don’t want to look over my shoulder! I want to be a normal kid, with a girlfriend. I want to get blazed with my friends. I want to get grounded. I want to have teenage problems. I don’t want things coming after me. I can’t handle that. I don’t want to remember what that was like. Please don’t make me remember,” said Virgil, burying his head in his hands and sniffling.
Rona folded her arms across her chest and sighed. “I know it isn’t fair and that you didn’t ask for this, but you’re going to have to accept what is happening. It isn’t going to go away if you close your eyes and bury your head in the sand. Now I can help, but you’re going to have to trust me—you don’t even have to like me. Just work with me, okay? So…ya’ know…quit crying—stiffen up—things are going to be okay.”
Virgil rubbed his eyes vigorously before looking at Rona.
“You see? That’s better, Teenface. Meet me out front after school, okay?” said Rona.
“You want to hang out after school today?” asked Heather, expectantly.
“Absolutely,” said Virgil.
“Awesome! You look awfully chipper, today. What happened? Did you get back with your ex or something?”
“Um, I don’t think so. But we’re friends again and that works for now.”
“Cool,” said Heather, a touch of relief in her voice. “So let’s meet here at the school tonight around 7:00.”
“Sounds like a plan. What do you want to do?”
“We can do anything you want to do.”
“Anything I want to do?” asked Virgil with a wink.
Heather stopped. She turned to Virgil and gave him a look so hot it could melt steel. “Anything you want.”
“I’ll be there.”
Virgil was very careful not to run into Rona for the rest of the day. He peered down hallways before walking down them. He avoided every person he had ever seen her hanging out with her. He even hid out in the boy’s bathroom on occasion, just to throw her off of the trail. His plan seemed to be working. He didn’t see her anywhere for the rest of the day. When the school bell rang, he slipped out one of the side entrances. His father picked him up from school and brought him home. Virgil did his chores and finished his homework just in time for his mother and sister to get home. His father had cooked his special steak and mashed potatoes for dinner. In keeping with most of the day, Virgil had a great time at dinner. The family laughed and joked as they sat together and enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal. Virgil kept expecting the doorbell to ring and for it to be Rona, but it never happened. Maybe she’d gotten the message and decided to leave him alone. Somehow he doubted it. After dinner, he took a shower, got dressed (being sure to put on tons of cologne) then headed out the door. He walked down to the bus stop, being sure to look over his shoulder and make sure Rona wasn’t following him. The bus came shortly after and he boarded and headed for school. The bus dropped him off a couple of blocks from the school at 6:56. He didn’t want to look too eager so he killed some time and started walking towards the school at 6:07. Just in time to be fashionably late. It wasn’t like Heather was going to be there on time, he thought. Much to his surprise as he approached the school building, there was Heather, sitting on the steps to the main entrance. Her chin in her palms and her elbows on her knees, she looked kind of miserable.
“Hey,” said Virgil as he walked up. Heather’s face lit up when she saw him.
“Hey!” she said. “I was starting to think you weren’t coming. I get nervous when people are late.”
“Oh, well you know how the bus is; always late, making a million stops, people taking forever to get on and off,” said Virgil.
“Yeah, it’s nothing. It’s just one of my quirks that makes me interesting,” said Heather. She interlocked her arm with Virgil’s. “Care for a stroll?”
“Around the school? Don’t we spend enough time here? I thought we were just using it as a meeting place. I think the campus is closed. If they catch us roaming around, we could get in trouble,” said Virgil.
“Then we best not get caught. Come on, Virgil, I know you’re not afraid of a little bit of trouble. Did you forget how we met? I bet you know a place around here that we can hangout without getting caught,” said Heather.
They sat down on the steps where Virgil, Ali and Erk usually congregated to smoke weed in the mornings. Virgil leaned his back against the wall. Heather moved into his personal space. She stroked her hair with short, gentle motions. Her eyes moved up Virgil’s body and rested on his lips. She leaned in close enough that Virgil could feel the heat of her breath on his face. Their eyes met.
“I think you’re so hot,” whispered Heather.
“You’re pretty hot, yourself,” said Virgil. “Quirks and all.”
Heather laughed. A moment passed where the two searched each other’s eyes. Heather leaned in and kissed Virgil on the lips. It was a long kiss. She had soft lips. Virgil found himself melting into the physical sensation of the kiss, becoming one with Heather’s lips, pushing aside all reason and inhibitions. But he broke the kiss before his hunger overtook him.
“I can’t,” said Virgil.
Heather hung her head in disappointment. “Is it your ex?”
“Yeah, I still have feelings for her.”
“But she doesn’t want you; I want you. She’s not here right now; I’m here. I’m not asking you to stop loving her. But let’s just enjoy this right now and sort out our feelings later,” said Heather, wrapping her arms around Virgil’s neck.
“Okay,” said Virgil. He leaned in and kissed Heather hungrily.
“Do you want me?” asked Heather.
“Yes,” said Virgil as he kissed her neck.
“Will you give yourself to me,” said Heather.
“Will you do anything for me?”
“This is better than daytime television,” said Rona.
Virgil and Heather stopped making out and looked over to see Rona standing a few feet from them. She looked dressed for a fight. She had her hands on her hips and a sly smirk on her face. “Weiner-boy, I’m impressed!”
“What are you doing here?” said Virgil, letting go of Heather and turning to face Rona. Heather folded her arms across her chest and glared at Rona.
“I was just enjoying the show,” said Rona. “Don’t mind me.”
“Three is a crowd,” said Heather scornfully.
“Then why don’t you take a hike so I can talk to Romeo here, alone,” said Rona.
“You don’t have to go anywhere, Heather,” said Virgil, holding Heather by the wrist.
“No, it would be better if she did,” said Rona. “I’m not going to threaten you, Heather, that would be illegal. But not as illegal as what I’m going to do to you if you don’t leave. Catch my drift?”
“Who are you?” asked Heather.
“I’m Rona. Have we not been introduced?” said Rona, putting her hand out for Heather to shake.
Heather ignored it.
“You have some shady friends, Virgil,” said Heather, pulling her arm free of Virgil’s grip and walking away. She was careful to avoid touching Rona as she walked by.
“She’s not my friend!” said Virgil, attempting to go after Heather, but Rona stepped in his way.
“Whatever,” said Heather as she walked off into the night, disappearing from sight.
“I don’t like her,” said Rona.
“What’s your problem?” asked Virgil.
Rona grabbed a fistful of Virgil’s front collar and pressed him against the wall.
“Do you think this is a game?” she said in a low and dangerous tone. “I told you to meet me after school, but instead I find you ran off. Your life is at stake! I don’t know if you’re too thick to understand that or if you have some suicidal tendencies, but I can’t protect you unless you get this through your head. Demons are real. And these particular demons want you dead. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Virgil’s eyes grew wide with horror.
“Am I starting to jog your memory? Good. It’s about time,” said Rona.
Virgil’s mouth fell open with fright. He raised a shaky hand to point behind Rona.
Rona whirled around to see a row of Hoods standing behind her. The leader was in the center, staff in hand. Rona couldn’t see their faces but she had a feeling they were all smiling.
“Fantastic,” said Rona. “I want you to run for it Virgil. Get home! I’ll handle this and meet up with you afterwards, okay?”
She turned to find Virgil already several meters away and sprinting fast.
“After him!” barked the leader. Two Infernal hurried to oblige.
“Stop!” said Rona, holding out her hand like a crossing guard. The two Infernal stopped dead in their tracks. “You know what’s gonna’ happen if you try to run past me.”
The Infernal exchanged looks.
“Cowards,” muttered the leader. “So we meet again, little blue-haired girl.”
“Yup. You’re persistent. I like that in a man,” said Rona.
“Are you ready for a rematch?” said the leader.
“Rematch? I don’t recall much of a fight last time. I do hope you brought a little something more to the table this time around.”
The leader held out his staff, ready for battle. Rona raised her fists to her chin, bended her knees slightly and prepared to attack.
Rona had been over her last encounter with the leader a dozen times in her head, and had noticed a few things upon review. First of all, he needed to talk. Rona had at first though that it was because he liked to gloat when he had his prey where he wanted them. But now, she realized he had just been stalling. An attack like the one he used must have cost a lot of energy. It would take time to build that kind of energy up, and once released, it would leave him drained and in need of more time to recharge. He used talking as a means to distract his opponents as he gathered energy for another attack. The leader had likely been aware of Rona’s presence in the building from the moment she set foot in it. He had had ample time to gather energy for his initial attack. The blast that destroyed the balcony had been the most powerful. Each successive attack had less and less behind it, because Rona hadn’t given him the time he’d needed to gather the energy. He would be most vulnerable after he attacked.
The other thing: the staff seemed to be where that power lied. Rona would have to separate that staff from his hand—or that hand from his body. Rona reached behind her, placing her hand on the handle of a makeshift version of her Elnign Dagger. It was one of Claire’s kitchen knives with a rope wrapped tightly around the handle. Rona drew the weapon with lightning speed and hurled it in the leader’s direction. The rope wrapped around his staff, tightly. She yanked hard on the staff, causing the leader to grip it with both hands and pull backwards in order to avoid losing it. Rona continued pulling, causing the leader’s feet to slide across the ground, toward her. He gritted his teeth as he struggled to free his staff from Rona’s rope.
“Don’t just stand there—attack! Kill her!” barked the leader.
Infernal moved in on Rona from all directions. Rona kicked the Infernal who reached her first. He dropped to the ground as Rona spun out of the way of another Infernal, ducking under the rope without letting it go, and kicking another oncoming Infernal. Rona yanked hard on the rope again, pulling the leader off balance. He fell to ground, face-first, never loosening his grip on the staff. Rona let go of the rope, and punched and kicked Infernal as they moved in range. She grabbed one Infernal, using his own momentum, bashed his head through a glass window. She smashed out more of the glass with her fist, before tearing the hood from the Infernal, and using it to gather a load of glass. She wrapped the glass in the hood, making a bag of glass out of it. She swung the bag, whacking it across the face of the nearest Infernal. He yelled out in pain, holding his face as he went down. This gave the other Infernal some pause. That pause was all Rona needed. She leaped into the crowd, swinging the glass-filled hood like a mace. She hit, lacerated and wounded every demon in her path with her makeshift weapon. The leader was making his way to his feet as Rona fought off the other Infernal. Rona saw through the corner of her eye that he was preparing to blast her. She twirled the bag rapidly and released one end of the hood, launching shards of glass at the leader. The glass struck him in the face just as he was launching his attack. He fell backwards, crying out in pain, his blast flying harmlessly up into the air. He gathered himself to his knees, while ripping shards of glass from his hooded face and neck. Rona leaped through the air, summersaulting and landing next to him. She hit him with an uppercut that sent him rolling backwards. The leader reached for his staff as Rona approached, but she kicked him hard, causing him to again roll across the ground. Rona picked up the staff and held it horizontally, gripping it with both hands.
“Don’t!” cried the Leader.
“Don’t what?” said Rona. “This?” She snapped the staff in half over her knee. The cracking sound of the wood was accompanied by the crackling and popping of magical energies leaving the broken staff.
“Ahhhhhhh!” cried the leader.
“I’m sorry,” said Rona. “I guess I don’t know my own strength.”
“You’ll pay for this!” growled the leader.
“Here’s an IOU,” said Rona.
She leaped through the air, preparing to come down on top of the leader with both feet. Before she landed, he pulled something from beneath his cloak and shattered it on the ground. He disappeared in a puff of smoke just as Rona landed, burying her fist an inch deep into the ground where the leader’s face had just been.
“Next time,” she said as she brushed the dirt from her knuckles.
She didn’t bother to chase the other Infernal as they scattered. Instead, she concentrated on finding Virgil. She found him ducked behind one of the dumpsters near the school. The look on his face changed from terror to relief when he saw her. Rona didn’t say anything as she walked over to him. He buried his face in his hands.
“Please don’t pass out again,” said Rona in a panic as she ran over to him.
“I’m not,” said Virgil quietly. He looked up at Rona and sighed heavily. “So it wasn’t a dream.”
Rona didn’t say anything.
“This is really happening. Things really are trying to kill me.”
Rona nodded gravely.
“And you’re my guardian angel.”
“I be she, and she be me.”
“What’s going on?”