The Sugar Quill
Author: Night Zephyr (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Points of No Return  Chapter: Encounters
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~ Chapter 2 ~
Encounters



Valeria Cruz strode into her bedroom and flicked on her radio. It was already old and scratched when she’d bought it at the pawn shop, but the static wasn’t usually too bad, and besides, it was all they could afford. Listening to the pulsing Spanish disco music for a moment , she stood with her finger on the dial, deciding if the volume was low enough to keep from disturbing her grandmother in the next room. Finally convinced it was okay, she threw herself on the bed and stretched out her tall, lanky seventeen-year-old frame, pushing the flattened pillow into a wad under her long, straight black hair.

More bored than tired, Valeria rolled on her side and looked around the shabby little room. The torn curtains, the shredding carpet, once bright and garish, were now dulled with dirt and age, but at least the one awful painting in the room looked no worse hanging at an angle to cover a rather large hole in the wall.

Everything Valeria owned in the world could be stowed easily in the two tattered cardboard boxes she could see in the tiny doorless closet . Two or three articles of clothing strewn about the room practically emptied the one box, except for the hand-me-down winter coat she’d had since she was thirteen. Guess that makes it easy to move, she thought sardonically. Can be ready to go in five minutes. Maybe three. Heaven knows, I never get out of practice.

She had lost count of the times she’d found a landlord, or even the fearful neighbors, standing with boxes in hand, their boxes, her weeping grandmother waiting on their current doorstep as she returned from school. The hurriedly packed boxes were then thrust at them as they were commanded to leave that place, leave that town, and take their evil with them.

~~~***~~~


“There they are!”

Susana, Valeria’s newfound friend, waved to a group of girls approaching them.
There was no lack of young people in the sleepy little Spanish port town, just an overall lack of money. It was for this reason that Valeria actually felt a bit more comfortable here than in some of the other places they’d lived. She and her grandmother didn’t have much less than anyone else in the little fishing village and almost everyone lived in the same type of tiny run-down bungalow as she did.

The group of girls swarmed around Susana as if they hadn’t seen her in months, but Valeria knew it had only been since yesterday at school.

“Okay, everybody, this is Valeria. She’d appreciate it if everyone would stop calling her just ‘the new girl’ now. She does have a name. Right, Val?”

Susana looked to Valeria to confirm and Valeria just smiled shyly. Valeria wasn’t good enough at ‘reading’ people after just a few weeks to know if Susana was really that nice and sensitive to her feelings, or if she just wanted to be the first one in town to find out all about ‘the new girl’. In fact, Valeria wasn’t certain why Susana had befriended her at all, just that Valeria found she wanted desperately to go along with it and feel as if she fit in with some people her own age for once.

After finishing introductions pleasantly, the group wandered back down the street toward the cinema, chatting among themselves.

Valeria’s sudden dizziness took her by surprise. It caused her knee to wobble and she stepped off the sidewalk. Embarrassed, she glanced around the group quickly to see if anyone noticed. She acted as if nothing happened and pushed a nagging thought from her mind.

As they approached the cinema, Valeria’s heart sank. She was working hard enough at making some new female friends, but it looked as if the girls had made arrangements to meet with a group of boys from school, as well. And in her life, in her mind, nothing had ever gone better because there was a boy, or boys, involved.

The dizziness returned. Valeria was trying hard to focus so she wouldn’t faint or fall. Okay, she told herself, you’re just nervous. It’s been seven weeks now since the last time. It’s nothing-- it’ll go away. This time she pushed hard against the feeling that was fighting to come through.

Susana stepped up to make introductions again, and Valeria only nodded her way through them, willing herself to act normal while she fought with the vertigo in her head. Please! she prayed, please let them think I’m okay, that I’m normal!

Introductions over, the now larger group began to filter through the single-file line at the entrance of the ancient theatre.

~~~***~~~


The dark quiet theatre and the rather dull old movie had calmed Valeria somewhat. When the entire group decided afterwards to head to a nearby café for a soda, she didn’t even feel especially panicked. Sitting and sipping her soda, it was nice to listen to people gossiping and chattering happily, and even if she wasn’t joining in much, at least she was being included--and for the moment, accepted.

Then, she sensed it. The dizziness came back with a renewed vengeance, bringing with it a wave of nausea that made her clutch suddenly at her middle.

No! her mind screamed as if her thoughts alone could resist it. No, leave me alone! It’s not fair! She could feel the emotions pouring into her by themselves: the depression, the sadness, the hopelessness, the bleak and utter darkness. Valeria tried to push back, gasping for breath and struggling to maintain what would outwardly appear normal to the others.

Her vision blurred momentarily, then all turned a dull gray. The feelings were mounting like an enormous black tidal wave, gaining momentum and hurtling towards her. She could almost see at the wave crest the beings, the black hooded figures. One held out its gray scaly hand, as if ready to reach for her, ready to take her and sweep her with them, bending her will to theirs. She reached inside to the depths of herself and for a moment she believed she could still fend them off.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME??!!!!” she screamed at the top of her lungs, bolting upright out of the little café booth that was so far away from her battle inside.

The wave paused as if to taunt her, to terrorize her a little further. The black hooded figures turned as one to look down at her and she knew they would send her mind to search for the boy again, the black-haired boy with the scar.

She looked up into the hoods where faces should have been to see pain, and hopelessness, and the cold empty blackness. And it was then, only then, that Valeria realized she had fought her best fight, and she had lost. The black wave crashed over, and consumed her in darkness.

//
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