An Unexpected Gift Teaser

An Unexpected Gift - _0001_Front VerticalWhen Parker Joseph and her mother move to the small town of Grieselton, Georgia they discover that an evil presence is upon it. Unbeknownst to them, that evil will trigger a long dormant ‘gift’ within Parker, something that will allow her to not only detect evil in its many forms but combat it as well. Will she be able to harness this gift in time to save everyone or will she fall prey to the horror haunting her town?

Prologue

“Hello?”

“Dr. Mathewson, your four o’clock is here.”

“Thank you, Carol. I’ll be right up.”

She took a calming breath and then headed up the flight of stairs at the end of the long hallway. When she reached the door to the waiting room, she took one more cleansing breath before stepping through it. She glanced around the near empty space and saw Brody immediately. He had his head down and was mumbling and shaking his head. That was not a good sign. Samantha cleared her throat and smiled when Brody looked up at her.

“Hello, Brody. Come on down.”

He rose and followed her, not making a sound, which was definitely not his typical behavior. He was usually a chatterbox and wanted to tell her everything going on around him. She smiled once again at him as she got to her office and opened the door, allowing him to step inside as she followed behind him. He took his usual seat except this time he sat straight up, watching as she sat down.

“How are you feeling today, Brody?”

“Are you a Christian, Dr. Mathewson?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Are you a Christian?”

“I was raised Lutheran, but I don’t really practice anymore. Why?”

He was silent for a long moment as he contemplated her answer. He had never asked her about her spiritual preferences before and she generally didn’t talk about things like that in session, but she needed to know what was going on, and if answering a few personal questions allowed him to open up then she would do it. Samantha continued to stare at him, paying close attention to his body language. He seemed uncharacteristically stiff in his chair.

“I can’t talk to you anymore.”

“And why’s that, Brody?”

“Because I was told that I can only talk to Christians.”

“Well, I may not practice my faith as much as I used to but I don’t remember reading anything in the bible that says Christians can only talk to other Christians. I thought we were supposed to love one another as God loves us.” At the mention of God, she saw him visibly shake. “You know, I remember hearing in many of the bible stories that the devil would often disguise himself as an angel to trick people. Do you know any of these stories, Brody?”

His brows scrunched together tightly, and he looked confused. Samantha wasn’t sure what was bothering him, but after her experience on Monday night, she knew something was going on. In fact, she was witnessing something happening right before her eyes. The way Brody was acting and talking was unusual to say the least and he now appeared to be listening to someone.

“Brody, are you hearing something right now?”

He nodded.

“What are you hearing?”

His face paled for a moment. “He’s saying that you’re a bad person and that you’re trying to stop me from doing God’s work.”

“I’m not a bad person, Brody. You’ve known me for a long time. I care about you and your well-being. I want to help you.”

His face altered and grew red with anger. “You don’t want to help me. You want to lock me up. You want to …” he stopped, his face shifting to look at something she couldn’t see.

“Brody, do you see something?”

He nodded and pointed to the corner of the room. Samantha looked that way but there wasn’t anything there. She turned back to him and moved forward, gently touching his hand. It was cold and clammy. He jumped slightly when she touched him and turned back to her. There was sadness in his eyes as he looked down at her hand on top of his.

“Brody, please let me help you.”

He looked up at her, his expression hardening. “I need to go now.”

He stood abruptly, causing her to lean back. She pushed the chair back slightly and stood as well. She wasn’t prepared to have him leave as she was extremely concerned for his well-being. He then reached his arms out to her as if he wanted to hug her, which was something he had never done before. She didn’t generally hug her clients but if they needed one she would always oblige them. She stepped towards him and he put his arms around her.

“You can’t help him,” he muttered in a voice that wasn’t his own.

Her body stiffened, and she suddenly felt cold. Her heart swelled with sadness and despair as if all the joy within her had been sucked out and all that was left was a hollow shell. She saw flashes of her father dying and her husband leaving her. She saw the verbal berating her stepfather would give her, which often times had turned violent. She saw a lonely little girl with no friends cowering against the wall. Tears involuntarily slipped from her eyes as these images floated through her mind. A deep chuckle emanated from Brody, frightening her out of her wayward thoughts.

“I see what you try to hide, Samantha. You are mine now,” the voice said cryptically.

Samantha pulled away from him and immediately felt the coldness wash away from her. Brody stood before her with an awkward expression and then a small smile crept onto his face. He turned slowly and stepped out of the door as if nothing had happened. Momentarily stunned, she stood there in shock and confusion before she finally rushed to the doorway just in time to see Brody step outside the clinic door.

“Are you okay, Dr. Mathewson?” Veronica asked from the doorway across the hall.

Samantha blinked a few times and nodded. “Yes, just, umm, nothing.”

She closed her door and immediately went to her desk. She started tapping furiously on her computer until Brody’s chart appeared. She searched for his phone number and dialed. Mrs. Fisher answered on the first ring.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Fisher, this is Dr. Mathewson.”

“Is Brody alright?” she asked with concern.

“That’s why I’m calling. He just left my office and informed me he wouldn’t be seeing me again. Did you know anything about that?”

“Oh, my goodness, no, I didn’t. Why would he do that?”

“Mrs. Fisher, has he been taking his medication?”

“As far as I know.”

Samantha ran her fingers through her hair. “I don’t believe the medications are working. We need to look into changing them or possibly readmitting him to the hospital.”

“Are you sure that’s necessary? He’s doing so well.”

“I’m afraid he’s not doing as well as you think, Mrs. Fisher. Is it possible for you to bring him into the clinic tomorrow morning to see me?”

“Yes, I can do that. I’ll have him over there first thing.”

“Thank you,” Samantha said before hanging up.

She laid her hand over her heart, feeling it beat rapidly. She took a couple of deep breaths, trying to settle down. Her soul felt heavy, which bothered her. She had dealt with and managed all her old ghosts. In truth, she hadn’t thought about her past in a very long time. She tapped her fingers on her desk and sighed as she stared at her computer, which was already logged into Brody Fisher’s medical file.

“How the heck do I even chart this?” she wondered with another sigh.

She shook her head and thought for a moment about how she would explain the encounter she had just had with Brody. After a moment, she logged into the therapy note template and began writing. Once she had completed Brody’s note, she took care of the rest of her paperwork. She had all four clients show up after lunch and had a lot of charting to do before she left for the evening. By the time she was finished and was locking up her office, the hallways were already dark and completely void of people. She shook her head and groaned.

“I hate when they do that. They know I’m still in here, why do they need to shut all the dang lights off?”

She started to walk down the darkened corridor. Normally, the black hallway didn’t bother her because she knew everything was locked up, but after the day she’d had she was feeling a little creeped out by it all. She found herself pausing by every open door and then darting passed it until she got to the exit. She breathed out deeply and chuckled at herself for getting so worked up.

“Dr. Mathewson,” she heard as she stepped out in the cool night air.

“Brody, Jesus, you scared me. Is everything alright?”

“It will be.”

Before she could contemplate this further, he grabbed her. She didn’t see the knife in his hand until he was wielding it at her chest. The sharp pain caused her to scream out, but Brody pushed her to the ground, raising his arm once again. Samantha could hear shouting and screaming in the distance, but she knew that it was likely too late for her. As Brody raised his knife once more, she saw it, the demon Ophelia had spoken of. His face was transposed over Brody’s. It was a face of raw terror smiling down on her as Brody made the fatal blow. Samantha’s body began to shut down. Her breathing slowed and all she could think was that it was time for her to sleep. There was no more pain as her eyes closed for good.

“Dr. Mathewson, hold on.”

People moved around Dr. Mathewson, frantically trying to save her, to no avail. The man who had done this was being held by two officers. He was screaming nonsense about a demon that made him do it. Officer Hudson, who had just arrived on the scene, kneeled down and inspected Dr. Mathewson’s wounds. She never stood a chance.

“Take him away,” he said sadly. He couldn’t believe this could happen here, in Grieselton, a place where nothing bad ever happened.

 “Problems surface when looking at the memories of the past for the answers to the present. Hoping for something that can last an eternity but fails. There is something that’s forever that both holds scars and beauty such is a parent’s love and the connection they both hold for the better or worse.”

1 Welcome to Grieselton

Parker stared out her window as her previous life got further and further behind her. She hated this, hated that she would be starting a new school and that it was already October. The new school year had begun almost seven weeks ago. She would be the odd one out. Everyone would stare at her. She sighed as she thought about the friends she left behind in Lincoln, Nebraska. She had lived there almost her entire sixteen years of life and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

“Whatcha thinking about?”

“Nothing, Mom,” Parker said with a roll of her eyes. “Everything’s just … great!”

“Oh, come on, honey. This will be a new adventure for the both of us.”

Parker turned around and stared at her incredulously. “I didn’t want an adventure, Mom. I wanted my old school and my old friends and … Dad, there I said it. Dad lives in Lincoln.”

Sage took a sharp intake of breath and shook her head slowly. “Well, ‘Dad’ doesn’t want us, so there I said it.”

“No, he doesn’t want you,” Parker mumbled.

“Yeah, that’s probably more accurate,” Sage replied, her eyes watering.

“Mom, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”

Her mom smiled half-heartedly and kept her eyes on the road. “You did, but, it’s okay. You’re entitled to your feelings.”

Parker turned back to the window, frowning. She was so frustrated she wanted to spit nails. Her father, Samuel Joseph, had left the family a few years ago but they had all remained amicable. That is until her father started to bring his new woman around. She seemed nice enough and she made Dad happy, which was good, even her mom had said that. That all changed however when he decided to marry her. That’s when her mom had difficulties. Parker had caught her crying many times until finally her mother had said enough. She wanted to move out of state, away from any reminders, she wanted to start fresh.

“Hey look, Georgia!”

Parker smiled and nodded, not wanting to fight with her mom on this decision. “Are we almost there?”

“Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” her mother repeated in a sing-song voice while bouncing in her seat and bobbing her head.

Parker laughed. “Mom, you’re seriously nuts. You know that right?”

“Why yes, I do know that,” she replied with a smile. She then reached for her daughter’s hand. Parker smiled and took it in hers. “I know this is hard for you. Thank you for being such an understanding daughter. The creator really smiled down on Samuel and I when we had you. You were always such a perfect baby and now you have grown into such a beautiful young woman. You,” she waved their joined hands. “Are gonna knock ‘em dead when you start on Monday.”

“I hope so, Mom.”

 “You will.”

They continued to drive until they passed a sign that said, ‘Welcome to Grieselton’. Parker noticed that the whole area seemed to be surrounded by woods. Parker turned to look over the back seat to find her Australian Shepard/Border Collie mix laying comfortably on the backseat. Sensing her owner’s eyes on her, the dog lifted its head up, wagging her tail as she sat up and started licking Parker’s hands and then her face. Parker laughed and hugged her.

“We’re almost to our new home, Sunni.”

Sunni wagged her tail even more. She didn’t know what she was talking about but liked the idea that the word home was used. Parker turned back around, and Sunni sat up on the backseat, barking until the rear window was lowered. Parker glanced at her mom and laughed. They discovered early on the Sunni had somehow figured out that if she put her paws on the levers that the window would roll down. Once she learned that, she did it every time she was in the car, so now they had to keep the windows locked, much to Sunni’s dismay. The crisp autumn air blew into the SUV with gusto as they slowed down.

“This must be downtown,” Sage stated curiously.

“Not much to it,” Parker said, rolling down her window as well.

“Don’t be a snob, Parker. I think it’s quaint. Don’t you?”

“Uh huh.”

Sage slowed the vehicle to a stop as she waited for a car to back out of its parking space. Parker felt eyes on her and turned to see an old woman standing outside a store, holding a black Chihuahua in her arms. The woman cocked her head to the side and placed her free hand over her heart as a smile crossed her lips. Parker shook her head as she and her mom started moving again.

“Creepy,” she mumbled.

“What’s that, honey?”

“Nothing, Mom, just some old woman that was staring at me.”

“Well, small towns and all, there’s bound to be a few looneys in the bin.”

“Wonderful,” Parker sighed uncomfortably.

 “Hey look! That’s where our coffee shop will be.”

Parker turned and glanced at the empty storefront that would soon become ‘Native Barista’. Her mother had always wanted to own a coffee shop. She would talk grandly about how nice it would be to sit and sip coffee in a pleasant atmosphere. So once her mom had decided to move, she researched like crazy to decide where they could move that would allow her to have her coffee shop. In all honesty, Parker sort of thought her mom had simply thrown a dart on the map and made her choice that way. She could be flighty sometimes. But, that had not been the case. She had found a listing for a vacant store in Grieselton that already had the proper permits for a restaurant. It needed some fixing but that was it.

“We’ll go over there tomorrow to start getting it ready,” her mother said with way too much excitement.

“Sure, Mom. I just hope it isn’t too dirty.”

“Oh, if that guy from television can redesign a place in three days I’m sure we can do it in a week, ‘cause that’s how us Natives roll,” she finished with what she presumed was some sort of swagger.

“Mom, please … don’t try to be cool.”

“WHAT! I am cool,” she said with a laugh as they exited the downtown area.

Parker smiled and tried to control the knot in her stomach. She had a weird feeling that she couldn’t describe adequately. If she were to venture a guess, she would call it a mixture of fear and apprehension. Something seemed off the minute they had entered the town limits. She grinned when she felt wetness on her neck. Sunni! She always seemed to know when Parker was lost in her thoughts. She turned slightly to see that her dog had pushed its nose through the small space between the front seat and the front window.

“You are such a dork, Sunni.”

Sunni licked her several times, causing Parker to laugh before she faced the front again. They were way passed town it seemed. No houses, just trees and nature. The trees were already either bare or turning brown, and while they were lovely to look at, there was a creepiness embedded in them as well. She thought of the horror movies her friends enjoyed and decided that those were the types of trees that came to life and attacked you. She shuddered involuntarily just as the Explorer swerved slightly. Parker glanced at her mom.

“Sorry,” her mother apologized, frowning at her phone.

“What’s wrong?”

“The GPS on my phone just went off.” She looked towards her daughter. “Can you pull up the address on your phone?”

“Yeah, sure.” Parker dug her phone out of her jacket and scrunched her brows together. “That’s so weird. I just had signal.”

“Guess, we’ll need to get one of those extenders. Can you grab the directions from that folder with the house stuff?”

Parker grabbed the manila folder stuck between the cup holders and her mother’s seat. She pulled out a printout of step by step directions. Her mother must have suspected they wouldn’t get great signal. She scowled at that thought, thinking she could have at least warned her they were moving to nowhere land.

“It says make a left at 433rd Street.”

“Okie dokie.”

Parker rolled her eyes as she turned to the window again. There really was not a lot out here. The place seemed to be surrounded by woods. They turned at 433rd Street, which happened to be a gravel road. Parker held on to the door as they bounced along towards a house down the road. Parker found herself shaking her head as they approached.

“No way, Mom, are you kidding me?”

Her mother shot her one of her famous dirty looks that were generally reserved for her father. Parker looked away and stepped out of the car once they had stopped. She quickly let Sunni out, who immediately dashed towards the grassy area in front of their house while Parker stood and stared at the place that was to be her new home.

“It’s not so bad,” her mother said as she came and stood by her daughter.

The house looked like it should be condemned. Its white siding was falling apart in some areas and she could see that one of the windows was broken on the second floor. The house was surrounded by a single set of trees that, in their naked form, just looked hideous. The yard itself was a mess, dead tree branches littered one side of the house and the grass hadn’t been mowed for she didn’t know how long. She noticed an outbuilding just to the left of the house whose roof looked about ready to cave in, and just beyond that lie the same creepy woods that they had passed earlier. Parker looked to the left and right and realized they had no neighbors. They were completely isolated in this run-down house with buildings that were about to fall, surrounded by wooded terrain that made her feel uncharacteristically nervous.

“Are we even able to live here?” she tentatively asked.

“Honestly, Parker. Don’t be so dramatic.”

“Mom, I’m not being dramatic, seriously, LOOK!” Parker pointed to the broken window. “There’s probably all kinds of, I don’t know, bugs or worse in there.”

“The owner said he has the window on order. The size they sent him didn’t fit so he had to get a new one. He said he patched it up until the new one came.”

“There’s duct tape on the window. That’s … well, that can’t be safe.”

Ignoring her daughter’s comment, Sage put her hands on her hips and smiled. “It’s got potential.”

“Potential!” Parker replied flabbergasted, just as Sunni stood beside her. Parker kneeled. “Sunni, go check it out, girl.”

“Parker Ann Joseph! Don’t you dare send Sunni in there first! I want us to be the first ones in our new home.”

“Mom, I ain’t going in there unless Sunni goes in and lets us know it’s safe. There could be a wolf den in there or … something.”

Her mom guffawed. “A wolf den?”

Parker shrugged as she patted her dog on the behind and motioned her head towards the door. Sunni darted forward while Parker rose to a standing position. She winked at her mom who had her arms crossed. Parker was determined though. She knew Sunni wouldn’t allow her to go anywhere that wasn’t safe. After a few minutes, Sunni came barreling through the door, skidding almost into Parker.

“Is everything okay in there, baby?”

Sunni licked her face profusely and then walked back towards the house.

“So, Sunni has given us the go ahead. We can go inside now?” Sage stated with some annoyance.

“Apparently, it’s ‘okie dokie’,” Parker grinned as she trotted to catch up to Sunni.

The inside of the house was better than the outside but not by much as far as Parker could tell. The living room was a wide-open space. A lot smaller than their old place. They would need to utilize some expert Feng Shui to make it fit harmoniously. There was one window that let in some natural light but it still looked a bit gloomy.

“Oh, I love it. We can put the couch there,” Sage pointed against the wall, “and then the entertainment center can go over there. Satellite should be in by tomorrow.”

Sage smiled as she started walking up the stairs. Parker reluctantly followed her with Sunni by her side. Sunni darted up the stairs and passed her mom, then waited not so patiently at the top. Parker glanced into the bathroom, which was extremely small, but she didn’t say anything. It wouldn’t do any good to annoy her mother.

“Both bedrooms are about the same size and then there is a smaller room that we can make into a little study or something. Which bedroom do you want?”

Parker shrugged as she looked to one side and then the next. Sunni rose and turned to the left. “I guess we’ll take that one,” she said, thumbing to her left.

Sage smiled as she headed in the opposite direction of her daughter. Parker entered the room and sighed. From the outside, the house looked big, but inside, not so much. She watched as Sunni sniffed around the window, pushing the dead bug carcasses around with her nose.

“Ya know, you could have picked the room without the duct tape on the window,” she said, patting the dog’s head.

She stepped up to the broken window and carefully placed her hands on the frame. You could see the woods just past her backyard and from her vantage point they didn’t seem as treacherous as she initially thought. She watched as a breeze filtered through the dense tree line and made the branches sway slightly and the leaves swirl in a circular manner.

“Now that’s something you don’t see in the city.”

As she started to turn, she thought she saw someone standing in the woods but when she glanced back the person was gone. Her brows furrowed and then she turned abruptly. She had only been there for twenty minutes and she was already seeing things in the woods. She shook her head and then met her mom downstairs.

“It’s really dusty in that room. I want to sweep before I put my stuff in there.”

“I’m way ahead of you,” Sage said, handing her a broom. “We’ll sweep and then start unloading. I’ll take care of downstairs if you can do the upstairs rooms.”

Parker nodded and then got to work. She made sure to not only sweep but get the spider webs that had made homes for themselves in the corners of the bathroom, then ran her broom as best as she could across the walls and ceilings. By the time she was done, she had dirt in her hair and on her clothes but at least it looked presentable.

“Mom, I’m done.” She stopped at the foot of the stairs. “Wow, it looks good down here.”

“She cleans up nice, doesn’t she?’ she said, leaning against her broom.

Parker laughed and tapped her mom’s back lightly. “We better start unloading that truck. I don’t want to be doing this all night.”

“Me either,” she laughed.

The two women, who had packed the truck in Lincoln, set forth to unloading their U-Haul. They had decided to rent two moving dollies so that they could unload quickly and efficiently. In Lincoln, they had family and friends who offered to help but Sage had insisted that just she and Parker should do it. After all, they would be the ones doing it in Georgia. Both she and Parker were thankful for that though because they knew what to do and within four hours, they had everything in the house.

“I think we should go into town and eat at that restaurant, and then get some groceries.”

Parker plopped down on the coach and nodded. “Yeah, that sounds good. If it’s alright I’m gonna take Sunni for a walk first. She’s been cooped up for too long.”

Sage nodded as her eyes closed. “Just wake me when you’re ready to leave.”

“Sure thing, Mom.”

She glanced at her dog who was resting on ‘her’ chair. Several years ago Parker’s mom had bought a round chair for the living room thinking it would be comfortable, it wasn’t. So, it ended up being Sunni’s chair. It was beat up now, the pleather material peeling off in a couple of places. The cushion was stained and tattered in spots, but Sunni loved it. They almost didn’t bring it because it was so worn down but Sunni’s pitiful eyes when it hadn’t been moved forced them to throw it in the U-Haul at the very last minute.

“Sunni, want to go for a walk?” Sunni perked up and was off her chair in seconds. “Come on, girl. Let’s explore a little outside.”

Sunni dashed before her owner in a hurry to get outside. Once out the door, Parker looked around. The place wouldn’t look half bad if it was cleaned up a bit. She walked towards the broken tree branches, picking a stick up and tossing it, grinning as Sunni made a mad dash to retrieve it. Sunni dropped the stick in front of Parker and then took off. One thing Parker was thankful for was the humongous yard. Sunni was bobbing and weaving around miscellaneous debris, completely in her element.

“Sunni girl, come.”

Sunni quickly made her way back to Parker as they strolled over to the large outbuilding. Parker stepped into the doorway trying to decide if she should go in or not. Bits of the remaining sunlight shown through the gaps in the ceiling, giving just enough illumination to see what was inside. There were old pipes piled up on one side and rickety boards scattered around. Sunni slowly walked inside.

“Be careful, girl, this building doesn’t look too sturdy.”

Sunni continued to sniff the ground as she explored the large building that once housed farming supplies. Catching a scent she didn’t like, she approached a corner of the building, barking crazily as she launched forward. She yelped and backed up, and despite the fear of the building collapsing, Parker ran forward.

“Sunni, baby, you okay?”

Sunni looked up at her with a bright red mark on her nose. Parker kneeled beside her and could see there was a little blood but not a lot. Parker looked around and picked up one of the pipes nearby, raising it in a protective manner. Both she and Sunni jumped back when a raccoon exited its hiding spot. Sunni started growling and jumping forward, trying to back the creature into the corner.

“Jesus, come on, Sunni. Leave him alone. It’s just a raccoon.”

They carefully exited the building and looked around. They strolled over to the other side of the property and found an abandoned building that had already buckled and was lying in a heap on the ground. They weren’t exploring in there, that was for certain. They also found the silo that was used to store grain, but it was empty, aside from the family of mice that were calling the place home.

“Now where?” she asked Sunni.

Sunni continued to sniff around as they started to walk back to the house. She suddenly stopped and raised her head. Her ears perked up like they did when she was really trying to hear something. A low growl emanated in her throat as she started to bark again. This time she was using the deep growl that was reserved for danger.

“What’s wrong, Sunni?”

Sunni continued to growl but Parker didn’t see anything. Soon Sunni was dashing forward, towards the woods. Parker didn’t immediately follow her because Sunni was on high alert and it could just be another raccoon for all Parker knew. She walked towards where Sunni had entered and stood staring into the deep cluster of trees. A cold wind blew around her, making her shiver in response. Her hand involuntarily went to her stomach as she started to feel the knot tighten.

“Sunni, come!”

She waited a few moments. She swallowed nervously when Sunni didn’t reappear or acknowledge that she had heard her calling. Parker blew out a breath and looked around quickly before finally stepping between two large trees to enter the wooded area. She started walking forward slowly, feeling the hairs on the back of her neck rise. Her skin pebbled as she took a couple more careful steps.

“Sunni, come!” she yelled more forcefully.

She looked behind her and could still see the house. She didn’t want to go too far and get lost. Her lip wedged between her teeth as she tried to figure out what to do. She glanced at her wrist and smiled. She took one of the large hair ties off and wrapped it around a low branch. She took a few more steps, trying to stay in as straight of a line as she could and then tied another hair tie onto a branch. She was really getting worried. It wasn’t like Sunni not to respond to her call.

“Sunni, baby girl, you come to mama right now!”

She stood still and listened. Nothing! She felt the tears on her cheek as she moved forward. Her heart started to beat rapidly, and she quickly looked around feeling as if she were being watched. That’s when she remembered that when she was in her bedroom earlier, she thought she had seen someone lurking in the woods.

“Hello, is there anyone here?”

The wind swirled around her and she thought how strange that was that it would do that in this dense of an environment. She whirled around and stopped when she saw something several feet away from her. She couldn’t make out the form completely, but it appeared to be a boy, or she supposed it could be a man too. She couldn’t see a face, but the body had the shape of a man.

“My name’s Parker. I’m just looking for my dog. I think she’s lost. Can you help me?”

She heard a loud growl and a flash of white go by her so quickly that it made her fall to the ground. In that moment, she was overcome with debilitating fear. She couldn’t move. Her breathing became erratic and her heart was beating so fast that she thought she was having a heart attack. She curled herself up near a tree and cried. She wasn’t sure why exactly, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was about to happen. And as suddenly as it came, it disappeared. She looked up just as Sunni leaped in front of her, licking her face profusely.

“Oh, God, Sunni. You scared me, baby.”

Parker held on to her tightly. She had been so worried and scared for her. She played with Sunni’s fur which had some twigs and debris tangled in it but at that moment she didn’t care. She was safe. Parker rose and looked around, trying to see if the person was still there, but there was nothing where she had seen him. Whatever she thought she saw was gone. She looked down at her dog who looked no worse for wear.

“Come on, girl, let’s get the heck out of here.”

Sunni started heading in the direction leading towards the house with Parker following right behind her. She found that the closer they got to the house the better she started to feel. When they finally approached the edge of the tree line and she could see the old white house, she breathed out a sigh of relief.

“Thank God!”

Her relief was fleeting though because just as she stepped out of the woods she heard what sounded like laughter coming from behind her. It was an odd sound, not jovial in any way, but instead, terrifying. She turned quickly but no one was in sight.

2 Native Barista

Parker woke with a start, blinking several times. She had slept rough. Her experience in the woods had haunted her dreams. She kept seeing this person, for lack of a better word, wearing a hoodie but without a face. She shuddered as she remembered her dreams and then smiled when Sunni began to lick her face.

“I’m up, Sunni girl.”

Sunni jumped off the bed and started barking. Parker knew this bark all too well. It was the one that said, ‘get your butt up and feed me and not the plain old food but mix the good stuff in it as well’. Yes, her dog was spoiled. Parker had accepted this long ago. She drug her tired body out of bed and trekked downstairs, finding her way into the kitchen where her mom was cooking.

“Morning, sunshine.”

“Mom, it’s too early for your enthusiasm.”

Sage laughed. “Oh honey, it’s never too early for that. Are you hungry?”

Parker nodded. “Let me take care of Sunni first.”

“As if she would allow you to sit down and eat before her.”

Parker grinned and let Sunni outside. She leaned against the house siding as she watched Sunni run around like she was possessed, until she found the right spot to take care of business. Parker found her eyes wandering towards the wooded area. There was something about them that didn’t feel right; sort of an uneasiness that she couldn’t shake. Sunni bound into her, effectively shifting the directions of her thoughts.

“Okay, come on, girl. Let’s eat!”

Within an hour, Parker had fed her dog, eaten, and taken a quick shower. She tied Sunni up outside and then hopped in the Explorer with her mom. They had already loaded the SUV with cleaning supplies and the stencil that they had made for the outside window.

“You got everything, Mom?”

“Yep, let’s go check out our new coffee shop,” she said with a wide smile.

They bounced along the gravel road. That road would be something that Parker would have to get used to. She had been on a few when she would visit relatives on the reservation but that was about it. Now she would need to drive one all the time. Well, her mom would be driving one all the time, at least until next month. Her father was supposed to send money so that she could get the car he had promised her.

“Mom, do you think Dad will send that money?”

Sage sighed and then smiled. “I’m sure he will do his best. But,” she grabbed Parker’s hand and squeezed it lightly. “I still have some money set aside, so if he doesn’t we will get something anyway. It may be a rez runner, but it will get you around.”

“What the heck’s a rez runner?”

“It’s not bad, just what we called cars when we lived on the rez. Bottom line, don’t worry.”

Parker nodded. She hoped her dad came through for her. Sometimes he wasn’t very reliable but he had been insistent that he would do it. She needed a car. Her mom was letting her drive the Explorer to school but that was going to get old quick, especially if her mom had errands to run during the day. Her dad had told her he would send it by the end of next month. She had to trust that he would.

“He’ll come through,” she whispered to herself.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing, Mom,” she said with a half-smile.

“Wow, lots of folks in town today. Wonder what’s going on?”

Parker had no idea but there were more people than when they drove through the other day. She and her mom would primarily be cleaning and painting today, and then tomorrow they were going to pick up the tables and chairs that her mom had already purchased. They pulled up to the front of the building.

“Here we go!” Sage smiled as she turned to her daughter.

“Here we go!” Parker repeated.

They stepped out and stared at the empty storefront. Sage held her daughter’s hand and breathed in deeply, finally turning the key. She had never owned anything before and was scared to death of failing, but that only motivated her more to succeed. She gave her daughter a smile and then pushed the door open so they could step inside.

“Oh Parker, this is perfect. Can’t you just picture it?”

“Uh huh,” Parker replied as she flicked the light switch on.

The place was not as bad as Parker imagined it to be. It was a large open space with built in bookshelves lining half of one of the walls. Apparently, that was where the previous establishment had sold their wares. She walked over to them and tugged on the shelves, making sure they were sturdy. She nodded at her mom who was walking in the back to where the kitchen was located.

“I think we can modify this a bit since we won’t really be cooking in here. What do you think?”

“Yeah, that’ll work,” Parker answered, coming into the kitchen. “This place is huge. Do we even have enough stuff to fill it?”

“Probably not,” Sage replied, scrunching her lips together. “Got any suggestions for filling up the space?”

“Umm, well, why don’t we make a little kids section in one of the corners out there,” Parker suggested.

“What do you mean?”

“Come here, let me show you.”

The two walked out into the main dining section again. Parker walked over to where she thought it would work. “We could set this part up as sort of a kid’s corner where they could draw or play while their parents relaxed.”

“That’s an excellent idea. We could pick up some stuff at the thrift store down the street. I bet they have all kinds of things at a reasonable price.”

“They might even have some of those bean bag chairs too. That would be cool. You could have a few of them along with a small bookcase that had kid’s books on it. And some toys and maybe we could have a little table as well.”

Sage wrapped her arm around her daughter and smiled. “We make such a good team.”

“We do.” Parker grinned and kissed her cheek. “Come on, let’s get to work.”

They went back outside, gathered all the cleaning supplies in the vehicle, and started the tasks of the day. They blasted music and danced while getting the place ready. Hours went by as they swept everywhere they could, mopped floors, and washed the walls. They still needed to put a fresh coat of paint on each of the walls but things were coming along nicely. The place definitely had promise. Parker wiped the sweat from her forehead and took a seat on the ground, wanting to rest a bit. Sage dropped down beside her.

“Good lord, I’m getting too old for this,” Sage exclaimed tiredly.

“You’re only thirty-six, Mom. Besides, what’s my excuse, because I’m exhausted too?”

Sage rolled her shoulders and sighed. “I take back what I said about the dude on that food channel. This is hard work.”

Both women laughed and then whined as their bodies ached from the movement. They lay there prone on the floor until Parker couldn’t take it any longer and stood, albeit somewhat gingerly. She reached down, grabbed both of her mother’s hands, and lifted her into a sitting position. Sage groaned but then sighed.

“I’m gonna start taping so we can paint,” Sage said as she stood up completely and arched her back.

“Do you want me to help with that?”

“Nah, why don’t you go check out that thrift store and see if they have anything that will fit our needs, and if you see something that works, just go ahead and get it. I trust your judgment.”

“Okay.”

Sage tapped her daughter lovingly on the shoulder before she walked towards the counter where they had all their supplies. Parker grabbed her phone on the way out, shoved it in her back pocket, and then snatched her mom’s debit card off the counter, thrusting it in the front pocket of her jeans, just in case she found something she liked.

“I’ll be back in a little bit,” Parker hollered from the open door.

Parker breathed in the fresh air. It was nearly four o’clock and there was already more activity on the street. School kids in cars with their parents and teens heading to the local diner for an after-school snack. She stretched slightly, getting the kink out of her back and then headed in the direction of the thrift store.

Grieselton Thrift appeared as all thrift stores seemed to be. Items were haphazardly strewn in this spot and the next. She would give them some credit though as there seemed to be at least some organization in regard to product placement. Parker immediately walked over to the toy section and grinned. There were all sorts of items that would work for what they wanted to do.

“Can I help you find something?”

“Do you have a furniture section?”

“Yes, we do, it’s towards the back of the store,” the sales associate stated, pointing Parker in the right direction.

“Thanks.”

As Parker maneuvered through the store, she noticed the old woman she had seen the other day. She was watching her closely. Her eyes followed her as she passed the clothes racks and into the home furnishings section of the store. Parker shook the uneasiness from her mind and went about looking for items that would be suitable for their needs. She smiled when she saw the beanbag chairs. There were two of them, one orange and the other green. They would be perfect. She smiled even brighter when she saw the price tag, definitely within her price range.

“Ma’am,” she called to an associate in a green vest.

“Yes.”

“I want to buy these two items but I’m still shopping. Can someone hold them for me?”

“Sure. We’ll take them to the register.”

“Thank you so much.”

As Parker turned again, the old woman was there, watching her. Parker narrowed her eyes. This woman wasn’t even trying to be subtle in her stalking. Parker turned away from her and continued to peruse the home furnishings, ignoring the obviously crazy old woman. If she could find a small loveseat perhaps, that would work well for the coffee shop. She stopped in front of a floral sectional. Both pieces had small orange flowers and green vines interspersed within it. She took a seat on loveseat and smiled. It was somewhat comfortable, albeit a tad smaller than what she wanted.

“Let’s see how you feel,” she said as she stood and took a seat on the accompanying couch.

The middle felt fine but as she hopped to the left side of it and leaned back, her whole body began to shake. Her hand tightened on the arm of the sofa and her head flew back. She felt as if she were pinned to the piece of furniture. Shapes started to take shape around her, but they were almost transparent.

~*~

The small house on the outskirts of town looked unassuming but there was tension in the air, a bubbling hostility ready to explode. Parker could see a woman walking into the living room followed by a man in coveralls. He looked angry. His body was tense, and his jaw fixed as he grabbed the woman by the arm and spun her around.

“I know you’re seeing him. I saw you two talking,” the man yelled, squeezing her arm.

“Baby, I’m not. We were talking about Mike’s schoolwork. He’s behind in his class.”

The woman jerked her arm out of his grip, which seemed to only anger the man further. His lips twisted into a sneer and Parker could see his hands balling into fists. She wanted to yell at the woman to run, to get away from this man but when she opened her mouth, no words came out. Parker watched in horror as the man took a step towards her.

“LIAR!”

“I’m not lying…”

The man swung his hand, slapping the woman hard enough that she fell backwards, stumbling onto the flowered sofa. Her head flew back as she gripped onto the arm of the chair, to steady herself. She tried to get up but she couldn’t. The man was on top of her, hitting her over and over again as he pinned her body underneath him.

“Stop, please stop,” Parker mumbled at the man.

The man didn’t though and inherently Parker knew why. He couldn’t hear her. He continued to swing at the woman with all the force he possessed until the woman was no longer moving. When he looked at his hands, they were bloodied and bruised as a look of shock and agony crossed his face.

~*~

“Are you alright?”

Parker gasped and stared blankly at the associate in front of her. She swallowed thickly, her eyes shifting around her. She was in the thrift store not someone’s house. She leaned forward, finding that she was no longer pinned. She jumped up, almost pushing the poor woman in the process. Her body felt strange and out of sync.

“I’m fine, sorry.”

“Would you like to take the couch as well?”

Parker shook her held vehemently. “No, umm.”

“I understand. I hate even looking at that thing but don’t tell anyone I said that, okay?”

“Yeah, sure. Why do you hate it?”

“A woman was killed, right there where you were sitting.”

Parker turned towards it as a cold shiver raced up her body. She touched the back of the couch. She wasn’t sure why, but she did. Maybe she was curious if she would get the same response as she did before. There was no strange sensation anymore. It was just like any other sofa. Parker shook her head just slightly as she tried to make sense of what happened to her. She turned back to the associate and offered her a shaky smile.

“I think I’ll take the loveseat, but not the sofa.”

“Do you need someone to deliver it to your home?”

“It’s for the coffee shop down the street. If they could bring it there that would be great.”

“That won’t be a problem.” The woman took a pen out of her vest pocket and scribbled the words ‘sold’ on the tag for the loveseat.

“I have a couple more things to get and then I’ll pay for them.”

The woman nodded but she was already on her walkie-talkie calling for someone to help her move the loveseat. Parker took a steadying breath and went back to the toy section to pick up a couple of things she thought would work. She then brought it to the cashier and paid for all the items, which cost her only eighty-nine dollars total.

“We’ll have it over to the store within the hour if that’s okay.”

“Sounds perfect. Thank you for all your help.”

The woman nodded before turning to assist another customer. As Parker approached the door, she saw the old woman again. Parker had enough. Her patience was wearing thin. She was tired of being nice about this. She stalked over to the woman who suddenly had a smile on her face.

“What’s the deal? Why are you following me? Are you some kind of stalker or something?”

The woman let out a hearty laugh, which drew some attention their way. Parker frowned at her, staring at the perceived lunatic before her. As far as Parker could tell, the woman was absolutely crazy.

“What’s wrong with you?” Parker asked.

“Nothing, my dear. Tell me,” the old woman asked, leaning a little closer.

“Tell you what?”

“What did you see when you sat on that couch?”

“Nothing,” she lied.

The woman smiled. “Ahh, do not be afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Your gift,” the old woman said casually.

“Gift? What? You’re nuts … just … leave me alone and stop following me around like some crazy stalker,” Parker fumbled as she turned and started for the door.

Parker stepped out and felt the buzzing in her pocket. She quickly grabbed her phone and read the text message from her mom asking her to get some food for the two of them at ‘The Shack’. Parker texted her back and then told her she got some items that would be delivered within the hour. Parker glanced back towards the thrift store but didn’t see the old woman anywhere.

“Creepy old bat,” Parker mumbled aloud as she headed towards the diner.

The Shack was located across the street from Native Barista. Apparently, it had moved from where Native Barista was approximately three years ago. The owner, Patty Ridgeway, was a nice woman who had visited with Parker and her mother for over an hour at dinner the night before. By the end of the evening, they had come up with a plan on how to mutually promote one another. In fact, Sage and Patty had exchanged numbers and even recipes. That was one thing about her mom that she liked; she knew how to make people feel at ease.

Parker pulled out her phone as she entered the diner, reading her mom’s text. She chuckled a little and then looked up, right into the eyes of a young man about her age. He was sitting at a nearby table with several other people, all of which were wearing letterman’s jackets. He smiled and then someone laughed beside him, while another nudged him.

“Kyle,” a girl in a cheerleading outfit said quickly.

Parker glanced around the diner and saw that it was bursting with people, almost all of them teenagers. Based on the number of cheerleaders and boys with school jackets on, and the fact that it was Friday, she surmised that there must be a football game tonight.

“Great,” she whispered under her breath.

Feeling suddenly self-conscious, she quickly ran her fingers through her hair, and then realized that it didn’t matter because her clothes were dirty and filled with dust. She looked a mess. She sighed and walked up to the counter to place their order. She felt that the boy was watching her but she didn’t turn around to see if he was.

“Come on,” she urged, wanting the food to arrive so she could get out of there.

She hated that this was the first impression of her that her peers were getting. All dirty with messy hair and carrying a large bag from the local thrift store. It wasn’t that she was striving to be popular by any means but she didn’t want to deal with bullying either. And, let’s face it, new kids and social misfits are prime targets. When the waitress finally set the bag in front of her, Parker forced a smile as she chewed on her lip, and handed her mom’s card to her.

“Sorry for the wait.”

“It’s okay,” Parker said as she quickly turned.

“Come again,” Mary said to the retreating figure.

She just prayed she could get out without embarrassing herself any more than she already had. She swiftly exited the diner and headed back to the coffee shop. She stepped inside and closed the door quickly, finding her mom giving her a curious look. Parker didn’t say anything as she walked over to the counter and dropped the bag of toys on the floor and put the food bag on the countertop.

“Is everything alright?’

“Yeah.” Parker scrunched her brows as she took the drinks out of the carrying tray. “I don’t know.”

Sage stared at her for a long moment and then started pulling out the food containers. “Does this have anything to do with yesterday?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I noticed you seemed on edge when you got back with Sunni and then you were really quiet at dinner. Now, today, you have that same look on your face.”

“It’s nothing, Mom. Just that creepy old lady was watching me again and then…”

Parker gazed off for a second, thinking about what happened when she had sat down on the sofa. She wasn’t sure if she should tell her mom or not. When Parker didn’t finish her response, Sage snapped her fingers in front of her. Parker blinked and stared at her mom. No, she didn’t want to tell her, at least not yet.

“There were all these kids at the diner just now. Must be a football game tonight and I look like this,” she offered with a sigh.

“Oh honey, you look beautiful.”

“You’re biased, Mom.”

“Just because I’m biased doesn’t mean I’m not also correct,” she replied with a wink. “Look, I know the first few days have been a little … Oh, I don’t know, maybe not to your expectations but it will all work out. I’m confident this was the right move for us.”

Parker smiled at her. She didn’t have the heart to tell her that she wasn’t as confident in the move as she was. Parker ate quietly while her mother made small talk about the coffee shop and her grand plans for it. Eventually she started to feel better, her mother’s carefree attitude winning over her feelings of despair. By the time they finished eating and had started painting, they heard a knock on the door.

“I bet that’s the guys from Grieselton Thrift,” Parker stated knowingly.

“Oh good, I’ll let them in,” Sage replied as she set her paintbrush down.

“We have a delivery.”

“Come on in.”

“Where do you want us to put it?’

Sage glanced at Parker who motioned her head to the corner. “Over there. Thanks.”

“Not a problem, ma’am.”

The men loaded the loveseat and the two bean bags, and then departed. Sage immediately took a seat and smiled. She glanced over her shoulder at her daughter and motioned with her head for her to come join her. Parker sat down beside her mom and leaned into her.

“Tell me again that it’s going to be okay here,” Parker stated sadly.

Sage kissed the top of her head and rubbed down her arm. “It’s going to be okay. You are a beautiful and kind young woman. Your peers are gonna love you.” She rested her head on her daughters. “I mean, they won’t love you as much as me, but they’ll still love ya.”

Parker laughed and smacked her mom’s leg. Sage grinned and held her daughter close to her. She knew that she was hiding something from her but she would wait it out. She and Parker were close and she always told her what was happening. She had every confidence that she would eventually do that again.

“Remind me to bring the sage tomorrow,” her mother stated assuredly. “I want to smudge the building.”

“We should smudge the house too.”

“I’ll do that when we get back tonight,” she sighed. “I probably should have done that yesterday. An old house like that is bound to have some ghosts lurking about.”

Parker involuntarily chilled as she remembered the woods and how scared she had been. She didn’t know if it was a ghost or not but it was something. If Sunni hadn’t gone after whatever was out there, she feared what could have happened to her. One thing was for certain; whatever was out there was not friendly at all.

3 School Daze

Parker stared at herself in the vanity mirror positioned precariously on her dresser. Her dark hair was down today. She figured if things got bad, it would serve as a shield of sorts. She was wearing a simple pair of faded ripped jeans paired with a flowing white blouse and her faux wine-red leather jacket that she often joked was her ‘armor’. No jewelry and only light makeup, just a splash of blush on her cheeks, mascara and a delicate line of black eyeliner, to bring out her eyes.

“You can do this, Parker!” she stated as confidently as she could.

She was at least trying to be confident, trying to will herself to believe it would be okay, but her stomach was tied in knots. Firsts of anything tended to do that to her. She could see Sunni on her bed, watching her with that forlorn look she always got whenever she sensed that Parker was leaving. Parker zipped up her jacket and turned, causing Sunni to lift her head up, her tail flapping against the bed.

“Come on, girl.” She patted her head and rubbed behind her ears. “Let’s get this day started.”

Sunni immediately jumped off the bed and followed her master down the stairs. Parker stepped into the kitchen to see that her mother had made her famous blueberry pancakes. Something she generally reserved for special occasions. It had been a first day of school tradition for as long as Parker could remember.

“You know, technically this isn’t the first day of school,” Parker stated with a quick kiss to her mom’s cheek.

Sage shrugged with a smile as she set a plate of pancakes in front of her daughter. “Well, technically it is your first day, so that qualifies,” she said as she sat down. “Are you nervous?” she asked taking a sip of her coffee.

Parker continued to prepare her pancakes and contemplated the question. She wasn’t nervous. Okay, that was a lie. She was petrified. At the same time, she was excited at the prospect of meeting new people and hopefully making a few friends along the way.

“I guess I’m a little nervous,” she finally stated around a mouthful of food. “But, I’m sure it will be fine.”

“That’s my girl.”

Parker and her mother took their time eating before they headed into town. Parker dropped her mom off at Native Barista where she would continue to clean and get things together before they opened at the end of the week. Parker wished she could help her, but she had bigger things to be concerned with. She took a deep breath as she drove passed the sign welcoming her to Grieselton High School, home of the demons.

“Perfect name,” she mumbled sarcastically as she found a spot in the parking lot.

She grabbed the lint roller from the glove box and proceeded to get all of Sunni’s white fur off her favorite pair of jeans that she hoped would bring her good luck. When finished with the roller, she tossed it on the passenger seat and gathered her backpack from the back seat. She readjusted her jacket and fluffed her hair a bit, hoping she could get inside the school unnoticed by anyone.

“Just breathe, Parker,” she whispered as she stepped through the doors of her new school.

The school was already crowded. There were people pushing and shoving their way down the long corridor while others were running up the stairway to their second-floor classes. Parker saw the little sign outside the office and made her way towards it. There were no students inside, thankfully, as she walked up to the woman at the desk. Parker thought she seemed kind of young to be working there but what did she know about things like that.

“I’m Parker Joseph,” she said by way of introduction. When the woman remained uninterested, she continued. “I was told to come into the office to pick up my schedule.”

The woman finally smiled at her. “Welcome to Grieselton High School, Parker.”

Parker gave her a halfhearted smile. It was the best she could do under the circumstances. The woman began tapping on her computer and soon a printer by her desk began buzzing as a sheet of paper came through. She snatched it off and handed it to Parker.

“All room numbers that start with a one are on the first floor, two on the second floor, three …”

“On the third floor?” Parker interrupted and immediately regretted it.

The woman stared at her and Parker could tell she didn’t appreciate Parker’s brand of humor. That would be something she would need to keep in check if she had to deal with this woman again. No need making an enemy with someone in the office.

“Yes, the third floor,” she replied less than jovial. “Would you like someone to show you around?”

“No, that’s okay. I’m sure I can figure it out. Thank you.” She started for the door and then turned. “Have a great day.”

The woman smiled, just slightly. “You too.”

Parker stepped out into the hallway, virtually kicking herself for being a smart aleck to the woman. That was not a good start. She glanced down at her schedule and saw that she was supposed to be in U.S. History, which was in room 214. She glanced at the stairs and shoved the schedule in her jacket pocket as she darted up the steps. She made a quick assessment of the numbers and their order and made a sharp right, finding the classroom only two doors away from the stairway. She stepped inside just as the bell rang.

“You must be Parker,” the teacher stated.

“Yes,” she answered, handing her the paper she was supposed to initial, indicating she had actually come to the classroom.

“Have a seat wherever there’s an opening.”

Parker swiftly surveyed the room. There were a group of kids sitting in the back, including the boy she had seen at the diner on Friday. She watched them for a moment and quickly assessed that they were the ‘cool’ kids, probably athletes and cheerleaders if she were to venture a guess. The honor roll kids were in the front of the classroom, with their books, paper and pens ready for the lecture to start. She wouldn’t lie, she wanted to sit with them, but there wasn’t a seat open in the front. She then saw a girl who patted the desk top next to her. Parker shifted her backpack off her shoulder and took a seat next to the girl. After all, she actually wanted her to sit next to her, that couldn’t be bad.

“Thanks,” Parker said as she pulled out her notebook and pen.

“My name’s Enya. Where you from?”

“Nebraska,” Parker whispered when she saw the teacher look in their direction.

“Cool,” she said quietly and then mouthed, “we’ll talk later.”

Parker grinned and flipped to a clean page. She was pleased that the teacher didn’t make her stand up and say who she was and where she came from. Why teachers did that she would never understand. She just hoped her other teachers would do the same. The class went along smoothly enough. Parker was thankful that she had already covered this section at her old school, so she wouldn’t be starting out behind, at least in this subject. At the end of class, she pulled out her schedule again to see where she needed to be next.

“Geez, they have you going all over the place,” Enya said as she peeked over Parker’s shoulder to see her schedule.

“Well, at least I’ll get my exercise in,” Parker stated only half joking.

Enya laughed and tapped her shoulder. “I’ll walk with you to your next class. It’s just a few doors away from mine.”

“Thanks.”

“So, do you like it here?” Enya asked as they began walking down the hallway.

“Um, well, I haven’t really been here that long. My mom and I moved in on Thursday and we’ve been busy getting the coffee shop ready.”

“Oh, I think I saw that sign the other day. Native Barista, right?”

“Yep, that’s us.”

“So, I take it you’re Native?” she questioned.

Parker nodded but didn’t elaborate any further. She had wanted to make a snide remark but refrained herself until she could ascertain whether it would be appreciated or not. After all, it was a legitimate enough question. She saw the number of her next class and motioned her head to the door in question.

“Thanks for walking with me.”

Enya smiled. “Hey, if you want to sit with me at lunch you’re welcome to.”

Parker smiled and nodded before finally stepping through the door of her next class. The room was already filled with people, no one from her previous class though. She kind of wished Enya was there. Luckily, the teacher just initialed her sheet and told her to sit down. She was happy that for the second class in a row, she would not have to give the, ‘Hi, I’m Parker. I moved here from Nebraska because my parents are divorced’ speech.

By the time lunch arrived, she was actually feeling pretty good. She found that she wasn’t behind in any of her classes so far, which had been something she was worried could happen. You never knew where other schools would be at in their curriculum. In addition, people were being nice to her. Not necessarily engaging her, per se, but not staring at her like the new kid in school either.

“Parker,” Enya called out when she saw her walk into the cafeteria.

Parker glanced towards where her name was being called and could see Enya waving her hand. Parker smiled and strolled over there, holding her tray of food, which consisted of a bottle of water, Doritos and an apple. She absolutely hated cafeteria food and her nerves were already shot for the day, so she figured it was better not push it with food that may or may not make her sick. She set her tray down and took a seat next to her new friend who stared at her tray.

“That’s all you’re going to eat?”

Parker shrugged. “Better safe than sorry.”

“I promise. The food is not bad here,” she said with a laugh. “Try this,” she offered her a fry from the little checkered container it was in.

Parker tasted it and smiled. “Okay, so the fries are pretty good. I’ll have to get some tomorrow.”

They laughed simultaneously and as they did, two other girls approached the table. Parker was usually good at classifying people into the appropriate cliques. It was a skill that had helped her navigate high school without any major drama, but these girls didn’t seem to fit in any specific classification. One was dressed in black and at first sight you might consider her to be Goth but that didn’t seem to quite fit her, while the other one was wearing a floral dress with a pretty white sweater and white flat sandals, someone you would consider a ‘goodie goodie’. These two didn’t seem to fit with Enya who was a wannabe hippie. Parker liked this group of misfits immediately.

“I’m Mal,” Goth girl stated as she took a seat across from Parker.

“And I’m Amber,” miss squeaky clean added

Parker nodded. “Nice to meet you. I’m Parker.”

“Enya said you moved here this past weekend and that you’re Native American. Is that true?” Mal asked nonchalantly.

“Yes, on both accounts.”

“So how do you like our little ghost town?” Amber popped in and Parker could see the excitement behind her eyes.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Oh please, don’t get her started,” Mal answered, reaching over the table to snatch a fry from Enya.

Amber rolled her eyes and sat down next to Parker. “So, no one’s told you about our town’s spooky history?”

“Oh God, Amber, don’t,” Enya urged.

“She wants to know,” she said with a quick glance to Enya and then back to Parker. “Don’t you?”

“Amber, I can’t believe someone as smart as you actually believes all those old stories are true,” Mal stated, somewhat annoyed.

“They are true,” she insisted. “Just because you don’t believe in the supernatural doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Besides, haven’t you noticed how weird things have been lately? Something is going on,” she finished with confidence.

Enya turned to Parker apologetically. “Amber is our resident paranormal freak.”

“Hey!” Amber huffed as she smacked Enya’s arm. “I’m not a freak.”

“Yes, you are.” Mal shrugged as she took a bite from the sandwich she brought for lunch.

“Mal, be nice.” Enya turned to Amber and smiled. “Being a freak is not a bad thing.”

“You know what?” Amber started, flustered. “When everything goes crazy around here and no one knows what the heck is going on, you’re going to be looking at me for answers and I’m gonna tell you, sorry, only freaks allowed,” she said, sticking her tongue out at her two friends.

“Alright, alright,” Parker interjected. “Now you’ve got me curious. Tell me about the town’s ghostly history,” Parker teased but inside she was a little unsettled, especially after her experience in the woods behind her house, and the sofa incident in the thrift store. She involuntarily shivered thinking about it.

“Please don’t encourage her,” Enya begged, not wanting her friend to go off on a tangent, talking about ghosts when they could be spending the time getting to know Parker better.

Amber ignored her friend and shifted in her seat so she could speak directly to Parker. “Alright, the town was formed centuries ago by a group of Dutch immigrants who set up a colony in the area. At the time, it was mostly all wooded terrain. In fact, there are still a lot of houses that are surrounded by trees.”

Parker nodded, knowing that her house was one of them.

“So, the colonists cleared the trees and built homes everywhere. They named the town Bosville because of the forest that surrounded it. It’s cool too because if you look at some of the old documents and hand drawn maps you can still see the town referred to in that way. No big deal, right?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Parker agreed, waiting for the punch line.

“Wrong!” Amber stated happily, excited that she had Parker’s full attention.

Amber suddenly got very quiet and looked around as if she were about to tell a secret. Both Mal and Enya shook their heads and motioned to Parker to have Amber stop, but Parker wasn’t going to do that. She wanted to know what made the town haunted.

“What happened?” Parker asked anxiously.

“Well, rumor has it that one day there was a young man who was trying to make a name for himself. You know trying to show the ladies that he was brave.” She wagged her brows dramatically before she leaned in closer to Parker. “The townsfolk had always avoided the woods, but this young man wandered into them and,” she licked her lips as she watched the anticipation on Parker’s face grow, “he came upon the devil!”

Parker swallowed and then furrowed her brows. “The devil, really?”

“Yes, I’m serious. The devil in the form of some kind of demon entity that invaded the young man, causing him to kill himself.”

“He killed himself?”

“Yep, the people sent in a search party when he didn’t return, and they found him hanging from a tree. An old seer amongst the colonist said it was the work of a demon in the woods. After that, the town council forbade anyone from going in there and soon the legend of a creature so evil it could make you take your own life was formed.”

“So, this demon made people kill themselves? I mean, well, that’s bad but I don’t think it’s so extraordinary. We have a spirit in my culture that people say does that too,” Parker stated, disappointed that the story wasn’t a little more remarkable.

The three girls looked at one another and then back to Parker. “There’s a spirit that does that?”

“Well, my mom always said that if there were good spirits there were also bad ones, but I never encountered any,” she said, seeing the girl’s curious expressions. “So how did the town go from being called Bosville to Grieselton?” she asked, trying to change the subject.

Amber breathed in deeply. “It didn’t take long for the town to acquire the nickname of Griezel Town which in Dutch, loosely means, town filled with horror. You know how people are.” Parker nodded and Amber continued. “Over the years, it got combined and became known as Grieselton. After a while, the town name was officially changed. And…that’s why our school mascot is a demon. It’s sort of a homage to the origins of the town.”

“Hmmm, that’s kind of cool,” Parker noted. It wasn’t what she had expected but it was something.

“I’ve read other research too and talked with people who believe the demon can actually make people do bad things,” Amber stated quickly, wanting Parker to trust her.

“What people, Amber?” Mal inquired.

“People online who…”

“Seriously,” Mal interrupted. “Amber, you need to quit going in those chat rooms. That’s dangerous. You’re going to become some movie of the week if you’re not careful.”

“This is real,” Amber responded, desperate for them to believe her versus placating her like they always did. “There are people out there who know more than I do.”

“Hey Amber,” Parker inserted, touching her arm to get her attention. “Thanks for telling me. It was a cool story.”

The bell buzzed loudly before Amber could respond. There was a lot of activity that happened at once as everyone in the cafeteria started to stand and gather their belongings. Parker shoved her apple into the front pocket of her backpack and said goodbye to her new friends. She heard footsteps approaching behind her and then a hand grabbed her arm, stopping her in her tracks.

“I know that Enya and Mal don’t believe any of this, but it is real. And,” she glanced around. “The demon I was talking about doesn’t just make people kill themselves. It makes people kill other people as well.”

“Okay,” Parker drug out the word and moved her arm out of Amber’s grasp.

“I just want you to be safe, okay,” Amber whispered thoughtfully.

“Alright,” Parker stated a bit freaked out by the turn of events.

 Amber moved a little closer to her, forcing Parker against the wall and out of people’s way. She glanced around again and then tucked her hair behind her ear as she looked at Parker. Parker swallowed thickly as she saw the evident fear on Amber’s face.

“You’re … you’re living out at that house on 433rd Street, the white one, right?” Amber asked tentatively.

“How do you know where I live?”

“Those woods around there are haunted, Parker. Please don’t go in them okay,” Amber stated, clearly concerned.

“Sure. I, um, really gotta go, Amber,” Parker stuttered, clearly affected by what was happening. “I don’t want to be late.”

“Okay, but I mean it. Don’t go into those woods.”

Parker nodded as she walked away from her. Her heart was beating fast. She had already been in those woods and knew that there was something lurking around in there. Was it the demon that Amber was talking about? That, she wasn’t sure of. All she did know was that she had gotten an uneasy feeling when she was in the heart of those woods. It was as if she would never be happy again. Maybe it was the demon doing that. She quickly shook her head of that thought. There were no real demons and certainly not one in the woods behind her house. Amber was just an impressionable young girl who had seen way too many horror movies.

“Excuse me,” someone said as they pushed passed Parker.

“Sorry,” she mumbled to the voice.

Parker realized that she must have stopped in the middle of the hallway as she was thinking about what Amber had told her. She then looked down and noticed that her hand was shaking. She frowned and took a deep breath, angry that she was letting Amber’s story get to her. She shifted the weight of her backpack to her other shoulder and walked into her next classroom, late.

4 Uneasy Feelings

Parker was dressed casually today. It was Saturday and the opening of Native Barista. She was hoping that it would go well. Her mom had put all their eggs in this basket and if it didn’t work out Parker wasn’t sure what would happen to them.

“You ready, Mom?” Parker asked, hopping off the last rung of steps.

“Yep,” Sage replied nervously.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Parker stated, throwing her arm over her mom’s shoulder. “Now let’s get over there so we can throw those egg thingies in the oven. I’m starving!”

“They aren’t thingies, they’re omelet muffins.”

“Yeah, okay, well, let’s go, because I need to sample them,” she snatched the keys off the table. “I’m driving.”

“That’s fine,” Sage replied as she grabbed the remainder of items she needed to bring.

As Parker exited the house, Sunni, who was already hooked up outside, immediately began barking. “Sorry, girl, you can’t come today. I’ll take you for a walk later, okay?”

Sunni licked her hand relentlessly before Parker left her, jumping into the Explorer, ready to get this grand opening started. As she waited for her mother to load more things into the vehicle, she reflected on the first week of school. It had gone better than she had anticipated. She had found a nice little niche with Enya, Mal, and Amber. After the initial ghost discussion on that first day the girls had not brought it up again, which truth be told, Parker was ecstatic about.

“You alright?” Sage asked when she saw the faraway look her daughter had.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

Parker put the SUV in gear and they made the trek into town. The two of them unloaded the vehicle with ease and began final preparations. The morning flew by as they cooked the food and finished all the last-minute decorations that they weren’t able to do the previous night. As Parker stood in the middle of the room, she felt a tremendous amount of pride. Her mom had actually done it.

“Can you believe this is happening?” Sage asked, bringing her out of her thoughts.

“Yep, sure can. There’s not much you can’t do when you set your mind to it.”

“Thanks, baby.” Her mom smiled as she kissed her cheek.

“Are you ready to open?” Parker asked eagerly.

Sage nodded enthusiastically and pivoted to the door where she proudly flipped the switch on the ‘we’re open’ light. They unlocked the door and waited. There wasn’t anyone waiting for them to open but Parker hadn’t anticipated there would be. They were brand new, literally, no one really knew them. Parker’s friends had told her they were going to come by and she sincerely hoped others would as well. When the bell rang, indicating someone had walked in, both Parker and Sage smiled.

“Oh Sage, this is amazing,” Mary stated as she stepped inside the newly opened shop.

Sage quickly approached her and gave her a tight hug. Parker watched them with a smile. Mary was one of the waitresses at the diner across the street and had become a confidant and friend to her mother. Something she was extremely thankful for. Her mother didn’t have a lot of friends in Nebraska as she often joked that Sam got all the friends in the divorce. Parker had to admit that was true. Her mom had been a transplant to Nebraska, so all her friends were people her dad knew or their significant others. After the divorce, most of them, while not siding per se with Sam, simply reverted back to established patterns.

“What can I make you, Mary?”

“Let me take a look,” she said as she approached the counter and observed the menu options. “Oh, I think I’ll try the Umonhon Common Ground and one of the omelet muffins.”

“Good choice.”

Parker smiled as she went to warm up the muffin while her mom made the Umonhon Common Ground. Parker and her mom had spent many months planning the menu for Native Barista. They wanted to make their menu items stand out from the main coffee chains people were familiar with while also making sure that their items were distinctly Native. She thought they came up with a good selection of choices.

“This is amazing!”

“Thanks, Mary.”

“It’s got some kick though. I think I’ll be up for days,” she laughed.

Sage laughed along with her. “You just might be,” she replied with a wink.

Parker grinned because that was definitely a possibility. Her mom combined three different dark roast coffees to come up with Common Ground. It was the first coffee she had come up with. Everyone loved it and told her she should sell it.

“Be sure to let people know that we’re open, okay?” Sage said, bringing Parker out of her thoughts.

“Will do,” she smiled as she took another sip, before she stepped out of the store.

“First customer,” Sage practically giggled, thrilled beyond imagination.

“The rest should be a piece of cake,” Parker grinned and held up the muffin, “or should I say muffin.”

“You are just full of jokes this morning.”

“It’s a talent,” Parker stated with a dramatic bow.

For the next several hours, people were in and out of the coffee shop. Not a huge flux of people but enough to make the day feel successful. Her friends hadn’t stopped by yet, but it was still early. Parker waited at the cash register, thinking about how she wanted to call her dad and tell him that Mom did it, she got her coffee shop going, but realized that probably would not turn out too well.

“Parker.”

She jumped, startled by her mom coming up behind her, but before she could respond she saw that she was carrying a tray, similar to the kind you might use at school, except it was a little larger. On it were several small paper cups, barely an ounce that had her mom’s signature drink in them, the chokecherry splash.

“Whatcha got there, Mom,” Parker asked speculatively.

“I want you to hand these out to the vendors near us.”

“Why?”

Sage arched her brow. “Because it’s a nice thing to do and it will encourage them to direct people our way. And if you see people in the stores give them samples too.”

“Okay, but,” she sighed, not wanting to go door to door with little beverage cups.

“Please, Parker. This has been a great day so far so come on, just do this for me, alright?”

Parker nodded and picked up the tray, balancing it precariously as she headed out the door. She looked up and down the street and decided that she would hit everything on one side then the other. The first shop was the thrift store. As she stepped inside and made her way to the cashiers in the back, she glanced at the furniture, almost tempted to take a seat on one of them and see what might happen. She didn’t though.

“Hey, we wanted to offer some samples of one of Native Barista’s specialties, the chokecherry splash,” Parker stated, offering little cups to several people who were shopping. “Today’s our grand opening so come on by and check us out.”

“Thank you.”

Parker smiled when she heard several people say how good it was. Mission accomplished. She went to a few more shops, each one excited and thankful for the unexpected treat. She was feeling so good about how things were going that she entered the next shop without realizing where she was. She stopped as she looked around. There were candles and figurines everywhere, a whole section of what she presumed were amulets and several natural herbs, some she recognized. Her stomach lurched though when she saw the old woman striding over to her.

“Welcome,” the old woman said as she stopped in front of her.

Parker swallowed and then pushed the tray forward. “We have some samples from our coffee shop, Native Barista. Would you like to try one of our chokecherry splashes?” Parker asked uneasily. “It’s one of our signature drinks.”

The woman stared at her, her head tilted sideways. She was wearing a long flowing dress with a wrap over her shoulders. Her dark, weathered face was kind and mysterious. There was, however, something about her that made Parker feel uneasy. She wasn’t exactly sure why, she just felt light-headed around her.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Parker finally said while stepping back slightly.

“No, wait, come sit with me,” the old woman said urgently. “I am Ophelia and we must talk.”

“I really should be going,” Parker said the words, but her body started moving forward anyway.

 “Come, you may set your drinks on that counter,” Ophelia stated matter of fact.

Parker carefully set the tray down and sat in the large chair across from the woman. Ophelia’s arms came across the table swiftly and took Parker’s hands in hers. She squeezed and then closed her eyes, looking up to the ceiling, mumbling in a language that Parker didn’t recognize. It sounded like gibberish. Her head rolled back and swayed.

“You have a strong gift,” she stated, almost trance like.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You have had the gift since you were a young girl,” she continued before mumbling again.

“What gift?”

“You are very powerful.” Ophelia squeezed her hands tighter. “You must remember.”

Parker’s eyes blinked several times as she started to sway in her chair. Her eyes drooped closed. Her breathing slowed. An image began to take shape behind her eyelids. She was in a small house that she immediately recognized. Her body moved through the rooms until she reached a bedroom in the back. Inside was a little girl, no more than two or three years old, sitting on the floor, in the middle of the room. There were many toys scattered around.

~*~

“What do you want to play with next?”

“Okay.”

The young girl giggled and got on her knees, clapping her hands joyously as the little toy car with the blinking lights and loud noises skirted across the floor.

“Do it again!” she screamed out excitedly as the car moved again, its lights flashing.

“Parker, baby, who are you talking to?” the child’s mother said at the door.

“My friend.”

The woman looked around and furrowed her brows, not seeing anyone. “What friend?”

Parker looked up with a confused expression and pointed to where the car was. “Right over there.”

“What’s your friend’s name?”

“Susie.”

Sage smiled and stepped out of the room, not concerned in the slightest. After all, it was quite common for young children to have imaginary friends.

~*~

Parker’s body was pulled back and the room floated around as if it were in a tornado. Parker wanted to stay there and watch her younger self but when the winds cleared she could see her mother and father in the living room, arguing.

~*~

 “Sage, we need to do something about this?”

“Why? So what if she has a little ghost friend in the house. It’s really not that big of a deal, Sam.”

“It’s dangerous to play around with the spirit world.”

“Oh for goodness sake. It’s perfectly normal.”

 “It’s not normal, Sage. It’s the work of the devil.”

“That’s your mother talking, Sam. You know damn well that the spirit playing with Parker is just a little girl, not the devil.”

“Well, maybe it’s a little girl right now but what about later?”

~*~

The room once again floated around, the furniture spun while the pillows flew around her violently. The scene shifted again. This time they were in a bedroom. There was a man in black. Parker could see that he was holding a bible and determined that he must be a preacher. He was talking to the little girl, who was lying on the bed, looking at the man with confusion, while Parker’s parents waited against the wall.

~*~

“This is unnatural, Parker. You must say goodbye to your friend. She must go back to the spirit world.”

“But I like her. Susie is nice.”

The little girl looked over to her parents for guidance. She saw that her father was angry and that her mother was crying. She didn’t understand why they were upset. She looked at the man holding the book and nodded.

“Okay.”

~*~

Once more the room flew violently around, faster and faster. Parker’s head was spinning and she felt as if she would pass out at any moment. She wanted this to stop but she wasn’t sure how to make that happen. A new scene formed before her. She saw her younger self in the bed crying. She looked a little older than she did before. Why couldn’t she remember these events she was witnessing?

~*~

“Parker, baby, are you okay? What happened?”

“A mean man came to take Susie away.”

“You mean a spirit?”

She shrugged. “He grabbed Susie and I told him to stop hurting her.”

“Parker, why are you holding your arm?”

“The mean man grabbed me when I tried to help Susie get away from him.”

Her mom moved Parker’s fingers away from her forearm to see a red mark just above her wrist, similar to a burn. She ran her finger along it to find that it was ice cold and hard to the touch. Just then, her dad came into the room. His eyes widened with fear when he saw his daughter’s arm.

“What happened, Parker? Tell me!” he yelled, frightening his daughter.

“The mean man tried to hurt me but I sent him away.”

“What do you mean you sent him away?” Sage asked concerned.

Sage turned her daughter’s hands over to see that they were covered in what looked like ash. Her father jumped back and then kneeled in front of her, grabbing her arms. He shook her slightly, desperate for her to see the severity of the situation.

“You are NEVER to talk about this ever again. Do you hear me, Parker? There are no ghosts, no spirits, nothing. Do you understand?”

The little girl nodded as fresh tears fell from her eyes. She wasn’t sure what she had done to make him so angry but, whatever it was, she would stop it immediately. Her father stood up and stared at her mother.

“Don’t you dare say that this is normal, Sage.”

“I…”

Samuel raised his hand to stop her and then stomped out of the bedroom. Sage shook her head, tears slipping from her eyes as she turned to her daughter and touched her face lovingly.

“Not all spirits are good.”

“Susie was.”

Sage nodded and looked at her daughter’s arm. The red mark was already starting to fade. She picked her up out of the bed and brought her out of the room so she could wash her hands. As they entered the hallway, they could both hear her father yelling angrily into the phone that there was something wrong with Parker and that he wanted the priest to come back.  He was screaming that he wanted someone to make her normal and not some freak. Parker buried her head on her mother’s shoulders, crying once more.

~*~

Parker gasped and yanked her hands away from Ophelia. “What the hell is going on?”

Parker didn’t wait for an answer as she shoved her chair back and made a mad dash to the door. She needed to get out of there. As her hand touched the door, she realized that she left the tray of drinks on the counter. She cursed under her breath and went back to get them. When she did, she saw that Ophelia was not moving. She was sitting straight up in the chair, while her head fell back, and her eyes remained closed. Parker started breathing heavily, suddenly worried that maybe the old woman was dead. She walked over to her tentatively and placed her fingers against her neck, feeling for a pulse.

“Thank God,” Parker muttered when she felt the faint thump of Ophelia’s heartbeat.

Ophelia moved, and Parker jumped back. “You must remember, Parker Joseph.”

Ophelia’s voice was somehow deeper, almost a man’s voice. Definitely not her own. Her eyes suddenly popped open, causing Parker’s heart to skip rapidly. Her eyes were dark, almost black while the skin around them seemed to sink into itself.

“You are the only one who can defeat him.” Ophelia’s voice bellowed.

Ophelia’s head dropped again, and her breathing became labored. Parker was torn. She wanted to make sure that Ophelia was okay and to ask her what she was talking about, but the more dominant thought was to get the heck out of there. She started to run to the door and then cursed at herself yet again for forgetting the tray of drinks. She tiptoed back over there and snatched the tray up, walking carefully out the door and right into someone walking by.

“Are you alright?”

Parker gained control of the tray and looked up to see a boy from her school. His name was Kyle and apparently he was a wide receiver for the Grieselton Demons’ football team and the point guard for their basketball team. According to Enya, he was between girlfriends now, but the cheerleaders were in the process of auctioning him off. Parker didn’t believe that last part, but one never knew.

“I’m fine, thank you. Sorry I almost knocked you out.”

He laughed. “It’s good practice for the game next week.” When she looked at him confused, he added, “You know, the whole bobbing and weaving.” He then proceeded to show her what that meant.

“Well, then I’m glad I could help the team,” she said sarcastically and then kicked herself for doing it.

He didn’t seem to mind her comment as he proceeded to talk. “We go to school together. I’m Kyle. You’re Parker, right?”

She nodded, surprised he remembered her name. He looked down at her tray and then back to her. She blew out a nervous breath and smiled. “Would you like to try one? They’re really good.”

He took a tiny cup and swallowed quickly. “That’s amazing. What is it?”

“It’s called a chokecherry splash.”

“It kind of tastes a little like cranberries.”

“Yeah, chokecherries are in the same family.”

He nodded and was quiet. Neither knew what else to say. They had never had a conversation before. Parker stood there shifting her weight from one foot to the other.

“So, what are you doing exactly?” he finally asked.

“Just offering samples to people. We opened our coffee shop today.” She motioned her head to the right. “It’s called Native Barista.”

“Nice. So, you’re going to all the shops on the street?”

“Yep.”

“Would you like some help. We’re kind of slow right now so I know my dad won’t mind.”

“Sure,” she replied timidly. After a moment of silence, she looked up and down the street. “What kind of shop does your dad have?”

Kyle pointed over to a shop across the street. “He repairs different kinds of electronics.”

She smiled. “Ahhh, sort of like the geek squad?”

He laughed and nodded. “Yep, that’s us.”

“You don’t strike me as a geek.”

“That’s because I’m wearing my armor,” he indicated, flipping his fingers under the collar of his letterman’s jacket.

Parker stared at him, her eyes wide. She always referred to her leather jacket as her armor, but she had never heard anyone else use that terminology. He stepped before her and opened the door to the next shop. She smiled and strolled inside, with the star football player following close behind. That had to up her credibility in the community.

“Hi, I’m offering samples of one of Native Barista’s signature drinks, the Chokecherry Splash.”

“Oohh, that sounds yummy,” a young mother said as she took one of the cups.

Parker and Kyle continued their trek through downtown. Parker would give her spiel to people while Kyle held the tray and in between all of that they started learning more about each other. For instance, she found out that Kyle’s favorite band was Bring Me the Horizon which just so happened to be one of her favorite bands as well. She also found out that he knew an awful lot about computers and that he planned on going to MIT when he graduated high school next year. He loved playing sports, but he didn’t have any grand plans of playing in the NFL or NBA. Parker also found that he had a wicked sense of humor just like she did.

“Guess that’s it.”

“What’s it?” she asked distractedly.

“No more drinks,” he said as he lifted the empty tray.

“I should head back and see if my mom needs me.”

“I had a great time helping you out, Parker.”

“Thanks, me too.”

He smiled and then started to walk away but stopped and turned back to her. “Our last home game is on Friday. Do you want to go?”

“Umm, I don’t know. Football’s not really my thing,” she said quickly and then worried herself that she had just turned down a date.

He grinned that all American grin she was accustomed to seeing in yearbook photos. “I thought maybe after the game, we could hang out again.”

“I’d like that.”

He nodded. “I’ll see you around.”

“In first period,” she hollered to his retreating figure.

He glanced over his shoulder and smiled at her and for a moment she thought she was in some dopey teen movie. She watched until he entered his father’s shop and then swung her tray as she started to make her way back to Native Barista. As she passed Ophelia’s storefront, she noticed that the sign indicating she was closed was now up. All the fun she had just had with Kyle vanished at that moment as she thought about what she had seen. She wasn’t sure if those events happened or if they were brought on by the spookiness of Ophelia but either way it left her feeling uneasy and vulnerable.

to be continued in 

An Unexpected Gift

Book One in The Diakrisis Tales
Out August 7, 2018

Order HERE