(Audio narration below.)
I sat in the cafeteria reading my book. I was by myself and thankful for a little silence. Across from me sat a table of popular girls. Sadie Hudson was at the head of the group. She towered over the other girls, and her light brown hair pulled into a tight ponytail.
She laughed loudly and cupped her hands to whisper into her friend’s ear while staring at me. I took my book and began to make my way to another table.
“What are you reading?” she asked, a twisted smile on her face.
“Nothing that would interest you.”
She snatched the book out of my hands.
“The Vampire Lestat?” Said Sadie.
“I bet she dreams of having a vampire lover. Don’t you, Val?” said another girl with dark hair.
Before I could say anything, she flipped through the pages and began reading the more lurid passages to the table. They were all cackling like mindless idiots.
I raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t even think you could read,” I said softly.
“I bet you she’s some kind of devil worshiper,” whispered the dark-haired girl.
The bell rang, I looked around the cafeteria for staff, there was no one there just a sea of students heading out, Sadie and the other girls glaring at me. I grabbed my backpack and made it toward the exit.
“We’re not done with you slut!” said Sadie.
“What up Dracula’s daughter?” said Sadie’s boyfriend, Robbie. He was on some sports team at school. I forgot which one.
“Nothing, I was just going to class before I was rudely interrupted by your idiot group.”
“Call me an idiot again. I’ll make sure you’ll regret it,” he said.
“You just threatened me with assault,” I said. “I’m going to report this.”
“My dad’s a cop. It’s not going to stick. I could make you disappear, and no one would question us,” said the young man by Sadie’s side.
I sprinted to my next class, looking behind me to see if they were following, thankfully they weren’t. I was slightly out of breath as I sat down at my usual desk and unpacked my bag. The whole class was staring at me as I pulled out my history book to study.
Mr. Russo padded up to me slowly.
“Um, Ms. Valerie, are you all right,” he said under his breath.
“I’m fine, just running a little late sir, it won’t happen again, I assure you.”
“Valerie, you’re crying, if you want to see the counselor-“
“No one listens to me, Sir. I need to focus on my GPA. It’s the only thing that will get me out of here.”
He sighed and lowered his eyes. “Ms. Valerie, I’m going to write you a note to go to the nurse’s office to clean up.”
I took the note and went to the nurse’s office. I cleaned up my face and drank some water. Wanda, the school nurse, was a kindly lady in a light pink sweater and salt and pepper hair.
“Are you sure you don’t want to see the principal or guidance counselor?”
“They’d just twist it around on me until I looked like the instigator, it’s not worth it,” I said.
“How did you know?”
” You wouldn’t be the first girl that ended up here because of her. She used to be such a nice girl, bright and cheerful, but lately, she’s been awful. Just because her boyfriend is the sheriff’s son doesn’t mean she can walk over everybody.”
“I’m getting my GED and attending a community college. I’m already taking advanced placement courses. There wouldn’t be much difference,” I said.
“Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? I’ll write you a hall pass. You have near-perfect attendance. I don’t think goin’ home early once will hurt your record.”
“Thank you.” I took the pass from her and headed out to my car since I was leaving early, the halls were blessedly empty.
Winding mountain roads and deep forest surrounded me as I drove home. The woods parted to the town of Junction. It was a tiny village with a few houses, a gas station, and a post office, at the end of the community, lay ruins of an old ironworks from the 1800s. A brick structure was twisting in decay at the foot of the mountain pass. There were rumors of a bad fire nearly a century ago that left the factory in ruin.
I drove down the long driveway to my family’s house. It was a decent-sized cabin with a wooded yard. I carefully opened the front door and slipped inside. My parents were at work, and my sister wouldn’t be home for the next few hours, so I had the house to myself.
Under my bed were books I hid from my parents. My family was staunch Baptist. I didn’t want to hear the arguments from them. I already had enough drama about how I dressed, let alone the lectures I would receive for practicing witchcraft.
I had books on spells, demonology, and the occult as well as Wicca, Paganism, Buddhism, and Voudoun. I rummaged around and found the book I needed; ‘Protection and Reversal Magik.’
Flipping through the pages, I found a spell on building a ward of protection. I didn’t want to hurt Sadie, but I wasn’t going to be a victim either. Do no harm, but take no shit.
After studying, I went to bed and woke up late at night. I gathered the spell-book, and a small bag packed with chalk, a few tiny candles, incense, a lighter, and salt. I put on a long black robe and a small wand that carved out of olive wood.
I crept out of the cabin into the night. The road was empty as I walked to the old ironworks. I wanted someplace private I could cast my spell and move on with my life. Perhaps I would even free a spirit or two that was trapped there.
In the middle of the factory was crumbling brick with a chimney reaching towards the stars.
In the middle of the ruin stood Sadie, her eyes had turned black, Robbie stood behind her. His eyes were black too. His shadow was inky and angular. Too angular to be human. I could only catch a glimpse of it before it disappeared. Only to return on the opposite wall, a black shadow with jagged angles and tendrils.
This was some demon, some monstrous entity that had corrupted Sadie and Robbie, what in the hell did I get myself into?
“I want her to pay in blood,” said Sadie.
The book was heavy in my hands. I had the knowledge to do something about this, and I was here fully armed against it. I could lose horribly and be creatures’ mercy. The olive wand trembled in my hands. I fumbled to find a page with an exorcism spell and found nothing. I would have to improvise. Do no harm, but take no shit. It was now or never.
I grabbed a handful of salt and flung it into the shadow. Sadie and her boyfriend recoiled and made a hissing sound, smoke coiled black as the shadow itself. I brandished my wand:
“I cast thee out by the name of the elements, Air, Fire, Earth, and Water!”
The creature hissed again and backed away slowly.
“I cast thee out of thine host and among roots of the earth!”
I flung more salt. Sadie screamed and recoiled. Robbie grabbed me, his hand squeezing my throat, my vision darkened.
“Down and out, amongst the stones and roots!” I screamed and chanted over and over.
A loud inhuman shriek cracked through the darkness. A force yanked Robbie away from my neck and clear across the floor. He lay limply.
I got up and coughed hard, catching my breath. My throat burned, and my neck felt bruised. I went over to Sadie and grabbed her arm.
“Come on. We have to run!”
She nodded and got up; she ran so fast that she pulled me behind her. Gravel slid beneath me as I hitched up my long black robe to run faster. The inky shadow was further and further behind us. We made it back to my cabin.
“It’s safe in here, but I need you to be quiet,” I said.
“What the fuck just happened?” asked Sadie, tears were streaming down her eyes, and her nose was running.
“I.. I don’t know. An exorcism, I think, shh, just go in.”
I carefully unlocked the door to my house. We walked upstairs quickly and silently. Once in my bedroom, I threw down a line of salt lining the entrance.
“This is my abode; Hecate, protect it from darkness and spirits unknown.” I chanted as I held my wand against the door. I felt pressure, and then the room felt brighter and lighter.
Sadie stared at me, her jaw agape.
“We’re safe here,” I said, deflating to the floor.
“What was that thing?” Sadie asked.
“I don’t know whatever it was. It isn’t good.”
“It has Robbie. You have to go and help him, please!”
“We’re lucky we made it out alive, I don’t think I can fight that thing-“
“You have to try!” her face was bright red, and her nose was running.
“Look, give me some time, I can build up a way to banish it for good.”
She started to tremble, and I sat by her, she put an arm around me and began to sob.
“Val, I’m sorry for how I treated you.”
“It wasn’t you; it wasn’t even a person,” I sighed. “Don’t you worry, I’ll find some way out of this.”
I let Sadie sleep on my bed as I studied my books for a solution. In my demonology book, I found a small section on exorcisms. The chapter warned against trying such a feat without years of training or alone. Demons and evil creatures hated strong will and faith. It didn’t specify a religion. Hell, an atheist only needed enough confidence in themselves to do one. (Then again, an atheist wouldn’t believe any of this was happening to begin with and try to find a rational explanation).
Even with faith, it was perilous. I didn’t know any other occultist, at least not outside of small internet circles. I couldn’t go to our family pastor without outing myself as a witch. Once again, I was on my own with this.
We walked into school the next day. The halls were silent. People stared at Sadie, and I, cupped hands whispered into ears. She parted from me, and I went to my morning classes. At lunch, I noticed Sadie sitting alone, tears running down her face. I sat next to her.
“It’s still controlling him,” she sobbed barely above a whisper.
I looked over to the next table, and Robbie was there with the pack of popular girls. The dark-haired girl twined around his arm. Inky, angular shadows surrounded the group.
“Looks like our little Satanist has found a lesbian lover,” she smirked. They all broke out into tittering laughter.
“Leave us alone!” said Sadie.
“Or what, you’ll leave me behind to make out with a Witch?” said Robbie.
“Shh,” I said under my breath, “remember, it’s not them.”
“You have to fight them,” Sadie whispered.
“Not in public. I’ll go back to the ruins tonight to see if it comes back.”
Sadie nodded, her shoulders shook. Her eyes were red and swollen by tears. I had had years to build up a thick skin to being bullied and being laughed at and alone. I focused on my school work all these years and built a wall of sarcasm to protect me.
“Robbie, you’re just upset because your girlfriend thinks I’m better in bed,” I smirked. “Maybe try being less vanilla. I’m sorry you’re all bigoted homophobes. You’ll have to greet all types in your future Walmart careers.”
The bell rang. I wish I could have brought Sadie to my AP classes with me. At least the students there were mature enough to keep opinions to themselves. I walked to the guidance counselor’s office and asked for programs on independent study or an early transfer to community college.
After school, I went to the parking lot to find the tires of my car slashed. I went back to the principal’s office and made a report, the police were called, including Sheriff Collins, Robbie’s dad. My stomach dropped, and I knew that this would go nowhere. I would have to report it to my insurance and wait for the claim to settle.
“I can give you a ride home.”
I turned around and saw Sadie. Her curly caramel hair was disheveled, and her eyes looked red and tired.
“Thank you, I’m sorry about today,” I said.
“How do you live with it?” she asked. “How can you stand how people treat you?”
“With a lot of sarcasm and condescension,” I said. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but you get used to it after a while. You learn not to trust people either. Even I have bad days where I break down. I was planning to leave school, not drop out, but graduate early. I don’t have to deal with this bullshit anymore. I never want to see this town again.”
She burst into another round of tears. “I’m so sorry for the way I treated you!”
“It wasn’t you,” I said.
“It was, that…… that thing may have been on me, but it didn’t have complete control. It would whisper to me. It would tell me such mean things. But it didn’t make me say anything. I could’ve ignored it.”
“Ok, ok, I forgive you,” I said. “Right now, I just want to go home.”
Sadie drove a white Chevy Malibu. We drove in silence to my house in the woods.
“Look, I’m going to go to the ruins tonight and try to fight this thing,” I said
“I’m not strong enough to fight this creature on my own. I need you there as back up.”
“I’m scared. I have no idea what I’m doing. Look, you’re the witch. I mean, you have magical powers or something.”
“It’s afraid of faith,” I said. “Bring a Cross or a Star of David, or a Pentagram or crystal or a lucky sock, whatever you believe. I’ll do most of the work, but I need someone else there.”
She took a deep breath and nodded again. “I’ll see what I can do.”
I tried to keep my mind off of the night ahead by studying. I worked on a term paper for a few hours, going to the kitchen to grab some leftovers. My parents engrossed in reality shows. I told them about my car and that I reported it to insurance. My father said he would call a tow truck in the morning and continued to watch T.V.
I gathered my materials, a bag of salt, my olive wand, and some spring water that I left in the moonlight. It wasn’t Holy Water in the traditional sense, but it was the best that I had. The evil creature was afraid of force, afraid of will, fearful of faith. Do no harm, but take no shit.
After my parents went to bed, I left the house quietly. The full moon shone overhead, casting blue light on the gravel road towards the ruins. Wood creaked under my feet as I entered the crumbling structure.
“Sadie?” I called out softly.
I saw a body hanging limply from one of the brick pillars in the silver light. It was Sadie, her curls dangled over her face, and her eyes were still open.
“Poor girl, it seems she wasn’t strong enough to handle ridicule,” a raspy voice whispered in the darkness. “She’s not strong, not like you.”
“Down amongst the trees and out upon the roots!” I shouted. I saw Robbie as he flinched and moved back.
Fumbling with the bottle, I splashed all the holy water into his face. Steam poured off of his shadow, and he wailed in pain.
“Down amongst the trees and out into the roots! Leave, go back to whence you came! BEGONE!”
Robbie hissed and shuddered a bit. The dark angular shadow began to lift from him. I pushed every bit of energy and will through my olive wand.
Another shudder. Dizziness struck me, and my legs felt limp. I took a deep breath.
“By Gaia, Hecate, Bridgette! By Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. By Moon, Sun, Earth, and Stars, I order you GET OUT!”
The shadow made a ripping sound, and Robbie screamed. Then there was disturbing laughter.
“That was a valiant attempt, little Witch,” said Robbie. “I haven’t fought anyone that came close to beating me. Because you amuse me, I’ll let you live.”
My mouth fell open.
“There have been others before you. All the chants with “The Power of Christ Compels You!” he laughed. “None of it even came close to you. I think our dear Reverend only cares about the collection plate.”
He smiled wistfully. “But you, you get called a Satanist, face ridicule and cruelty every day and have more faith in yourself than he does. This is very amusing, and I respect you for that.”
“BEGONE!” I yelled again.
Robbie chuckled and put his finger over my lips. “You won’t speak about this to anybody. I’ll report Sadie as a suicide, nothing to do with you. The mean girls will get blamed for bullying her. You’ll go on to get excellent grades and graduate early. You’ll leave this town altogether and not look back.”
I went to cast again, but my lips sealed shut, my tongue felt like a stone in my mouth.
“The thing is, y’all have it wrong. You’re trying to cast some demon or evil spirit out of me, thinking it’ll save me.” He shook his head and smiled. “I don’t hold host to a demon, sweetie. I am the demon. It’s just like you being a witch. You are what you are. Someone can’t perform an exorcism and make you stop being a witch. Just as you can’t cast my soul out from my own body.”
I wanted to scream at him, to take down this monster hidden in the flesh, but I couldn’t break whatever silence he threw on me. Scowling, I picked up my bag and stomped home defeated.
The next day at school, the mean girls were all in tears. Sadie’s suicide was all over the local news, and there were grief counselors. There was an assembly about bullying and planned a memorial service. People that I never even knew said their apologies for the way they treated me. Some also asked me to tutor them.
I wanted to scream out, to tell the police the truth about what happened. Every time I went to say something, my mouth sealed shut, and my tongue felt leaden. Robbie walked by, putting his finger over his lips and smiled. I wanted to punch his teeth out, but I had no other choice than to swallow my rage.
The rest of the year went smoothly. I graduated early and enrolled at State University. I made friends that had similar interest and accepted me for who I was. There was some tension with my family but could finally be myself. I moved forward with my life and didn’t much think of the town or high school.
Years later, I was getting ready for work and watching the news. Robert Collins was running for governor, and his numbers showed he was winning. I saw dark, angular shadows looming around him. Blank soulless eyes stared right at me through the camera. Monsters never go away; they get elected.