Home > On Demon Wings (Experiment in Terror #5)(9)

On Demon Wings (Experiment in Terror #5)(9)
Karina Halle

CHAPTER SIX

I woke up in a strange, dark place. There was no pil ow or mattress underneath me. Instead I was lying on something spongy that scratched my bare arms and tickled the back of my legs.

I sat up careful y as a cold breeze whipped around me, making the ends of my hair fly. I was in a forest fil ed with a blue-green glow. all around me fireflies and lightening bugs darted and danced with each other.

A baby’s cry broke the thick silence of the trees and I immediately leapt up off the mossy ground and walked across the uneven terrain until I came to a darker patch of the forest grove. I entered along a tight, unwelcoming path and ducked underneath the low branches that seemed to reach for me. I was certain if I looked up at the trunks, I’d see pairs of wooden eyes watching my every movement. I could almost hear them rol ing back and forth in the bark.

I walked and walked for what seemed like forever until I reached a clearing. A man sat on a log in the middle of it, a fire burning brightly in front of him. His back was to me and he was holding something in his arms, staring down at it and occasional y saying something in a language I had never heard before.

I paused halfway across and the man lifted his head. I could see now that my suspicions were correct. It was Dex, down to the faded grey hoodie. And he knew I was here.

“Perry,” he said. His low voice sounded as if it were touched with metal ic reverb.

I came forward and walked around the log so I was between him and the fire. He didn’t look up at me. He kept his attention focused on whatever he was holding in his arms. I couldn’t see it properly since it was swathed tightly in white cloth but I knew it must have been a baby, most likely the one who I’d heard crying earlier.

“I wish it had been ours,” Dex remarked with an eerie lack of emotion. “Here, you take it.”

He held out the bundle and I took it into my arms warily. I peeled back the corner of the cloth. There was nothing inside but a pile of raw, oozing flesh that squirmed and squiggled against me. Within seconds, putrid blood saturated the bundle and began to spil down my arms in sticky torrents.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Dex asked, and raised his head to face me. His eyes were dead white and smoothly blank, like they were plucked from a marble statue.

“What the dickens?”

My dad’s voice boomed out from the trees and my vision was suddenly fil ed with artificial light. I winced at the brightness then coaxed my eyes back open.

I was standing in the middle of my kitchen, in only my boxer shorts and a ripped concert tee. In my hands was a giant piece of steak, bloody and raw. Half of it had dripped down my arms and legs, staining them a pinkish red, and a transparent puddle pooled at my feet.

I turned around and looked at my father, who was standing by the fridge, his hand on the light switch. His eyes widened at the sight of me.

“Perry…what on earth are you doing?”

I looked back down at the steak. I had no idea what had just happened. One minute I was in a forest, the next I was fondling steak in my kitchen.

I was sleepwalking.

My dad opened a cupboard, took out a plate and got me to drop the steak on it. It landed with a sickening splat.

“Were you trying to make something? It’s the middle of the night,” he commented warily after he placed the plate on the counter and handed me a wad of paper towels to wipe myself with. “My goodness, were you eating that raw?”

He reached over and touched the side of my face. It was wet and sticky all around my mouth. It was then that I noticed the taste of blood and meat on my tongue. I guess I had been.

A wave of revulsion swept up through me and I barely made it over to the double sink before I vomited into it.

I heard my dad mutter something and he quickly disappeared from the room. I didn’t care if I was making a mess of the kitchen; I had to get this poison out of my system.

He came back a few minutes later with my mother in tow.

I had nothing left to throw up by then.

“Oh, Perry,” my mother said once she saw me.

I waved her away with one hand while I wiped my chin with the other. I turned on the taps to wash away the vomit, careful not to look too closely at it or it would happen all over again. Then I splashed the cold water on my face and dried it off with a stained dishtowel.

I took in a deep breath as shudders swept through me. I was weak and surprisingly stil hungry. I turned around and faced my parents. They were silent and I could only imagine what they were thinking. With the two of them so close to each other, and a healthy distance away from me, it made me feel even more alone. I knew my mother acted afraid of me at times, but now it was both of them and I wasn’t sure it was entirely unwarranted.

I was probably losing my mind.

“Uh, miss. This isn’t what I ordered.”

A man just uttered every barista’s worst nightmare.

I poked my head around the espresso machine and looked at the culprit. It was pompous Larry again. Figures that I’d bother to know his name and he stil cal ed me miss.

Maybe that just proved that he annoyed me more than I annoyed him.

I sucked in a small breath and gave him what I hoped was an apologetic smile. It was my first day back at work and everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong. I’d spent the morning taking it easy and just sorting out the merchandise in the backroom but as soon as Shay left for the day, I was ushered out into the front of the store where the chaos reigned. I was messing up orders, snapping at people and just feeling like I was slogging through mud to get the simplest things done.

Not to mention there were times where I’d be doing something like grinding a bag of beans for someone and then the next instance I’d be wiping tables and I had no recol ection of how I went from one thing to the other. With time slips now part of the question, Larry was just icing on the cake.

“I’m so sorry, Larry,” I said, putting special emphasis on his name. “I’l get you a new one right away.”

I quickly made him another drink, even though the lunch hour rush was in ful swing and with Shay gone, it was just Ash, Mikeala and me at work. I could feel Mikeala shooting me a dirty look from the register as she scribbled another order on the paper cup and slammed it down beside me.

She had taken a while to warm up to me. She’s always had an obvious crush on Ash, though, and now I could see why I annoyed her.

I tried to squelch the flustered feeling and made the drink, properly this time, taking deep breaths through my nose as I did it. When I got flustered I made even more mistakes and then I panicked. I’d been through too much recently to panic over coffee.

I handed Larry the right (and terribly convoluted) version, and apologized profusely. He raised his chin and set out of the store. That was usual y the sign that things were OK.

“Daydreaming again?” Mikeala asked under her breath as she brushed past me to grab something.

Actual y, I hadn’t been. I’d just been asleep on my feet, trying to clear my thoughts and get it together. I could stil feel the sickness of last night and it only grew worse with each waking hour I’d spent in the shop. You guessed it, that bathroom smel was back again, and since it always reminded me of bad meat to begin with it didn’t bode well with my midnight raw steak endeavor. Also, I was fairly certain I’d only gotten two hours of sleep since I weaned myself off the NyQuil, lest I start going to Walgreens for glitter and false eyelashes.

“Hey, she’s back, that’s all that matters,” Ash yel ed over the grinder as he prepared a bag of fresh java for someone.

Mikeala didn’t look too pleased at that, which only solidified my theory. Mikeala wasn’t a bad-looking chick at all . She was tal and flat-chested but had a delicate porcelain face - when she wasn’t giving me the stinkeye.

She was funny, too, and someone I hoped to win over one day, whenever that was. The way I was acting, I started to doubt having much of a future at Port-Town.

I gave Ash a grateful smile. I’d make it up to him one day. I didn’t want to lead him on – my acquired hatred for men didn’t extend to him – but he real y had been the biggest supporter, along with Ada.

“Tal , extra hot, no whip, sugar-free caramel latte,”

Mikeala barked as she scribbled down another order and plunked the cup in line. I quickly noted the person who had been at the register, a man in a pointy blazer and hipster glasses, and got started on the drink.

I moved over to the syrup dispenser but for the life of me couldn’t locate the sugar-free caramel one, which was weird since I had to use it at least three times in the last half hour.

I leaned over and concentrated, careful y examining the label of each one. We had vanil a, sugar-free vanil a, mint, sugar-free mint, caramel, almond, sugar-free almond, hazelnut and cinnamon. No sugar-free caramel.

“One second.” I raised my finger at the man and ducked down to raid the cupboards by the sink. Ash was standing beside me, wiping the excess coffee grinds off the bag.

“What are you looking for?” he asked.

“The sugar-free caramel. I was just using it, but now it’s gone,” I said, straining as I reached to the back of the cupboard. I pul ed out a bottle but it was vanil a like all the rest of them were.

I looked up at Ash. “Did we run out?”

He looked over at the syrup dispensers by the machine.

He frowned. “Isn’t that it right there?”

I turned my head. Right beside the machine, in plain view and separate from the others, was a bottle of syrup with a sienna-shaded label.

I walked back to my station and picked it up. It was sugar-free caramel. It would have been in front of me the whole time; how the hel did I not see it?

“Perry,” Mikeala growled softly as she plunked down two more cups. The line in front of her seemed to be growing and growling with impatience. “What is the holdup?”

I couldn’t answer her. I looked up at the hipster businessman who was waiting for his drink while distractedly flipping through a newspaper.

“Excuse me,” I asked him. He looked around and then came forward.

“Yes?”

I pointed at the syrup. “Was this always here? I mean, did you put this here? Or was it here all this time?”

His head lurched back on his neck and he eyed me through his glasses. “I beg your pardon?”

“I just want to know if I’m going crazy or not,” I blurted out.

“Because this wasn’t here a second ago and yet now it is.

Explain that.”

I heard Mikeala inhale sharply.

“Are you accusing me of hiding the syrup?” the man asked incredulously. And loudly. I think the entire shop turned its head to look our way.

“No,” I said, my face going beet red. The thing was, I did feel like he hid it on me. I could see his beady little face as he came up to the line to place his order, like he had this whole thing plotted out. When I wasn’t looking, he’d take the syrup to mess me up, and then put it back. Make me waste my time. Make me look crazy.

“I’d just like my drink then. Please,” he added, with false politeness.

“Wel , you’re not getting your drink until you say you’re sorry,” I said.

The store grew quiet. So quiet I could hear the edges of his newspaper fluttering from the waves of shock that I was sure were hitting him. I couldn’t quite believe it myself but I couldn’t stop myself, either.

“Perry, I don’t think you’re feeling well ,” Mikeala said, placing her hand on my arm and gripping it hard.

I glared at her and ripped my arm out of her bony grasp.

“Oh, don’t you try and coddle me,” I said. “I know when I’m being made to look like an idiot. And that’s just what this guy is doing. Doesn’t like the look of me, thinks I’m unstable.”

Someone in the back of the shop let out a small laugh and my blood boiled inside my head. I’d find who did it, find them and kil them.

“Perry,” Ash’s voice said from behind me. It was soft and shaking. “Can I talk to you for a second, Perry?”

He asked so politely, so…afraid, that it caught me off- guard.

And I realized what I was doing. I was fighting with a customer over a bottle of syrup.

As if everything slowed down, I saw Mikeala’s awestruck, angry face, her small mouth open in shock, I saw Hipster Glasses’s fingers clutch the newspaper tightly, I saw Ash’s sunny face clouded over in fear, and maybe pity, and I saw myself, bitter, red-faced and seething from a reality that wasn’t quite there.

I looked at everyone, the faceless blurs in the crowd, then I turned around and ran into the back room. Ash fol owed me and tried to calm me down, tried to get some sense of what was happening, but he couldn’t leave Mikeala out there all alone and I was no help whatsoever. I couldn’t begin to explain a thing except that I wasn’t myself.

I wasn’t well . The only thing I was good for was keeping out of the public eye, and with a quick phone cal to Shay, I was sent home for the rest of the shift.

CHAPTER SEVEN

The ride home was absolutely miserable. There’s real y nothing worse than riding in the rain and even though you’d think I would be used to it from living in the Pacific Northwest and all , it stil sucked. But it suited my mood, suited the level of defeat I felt from the meltdown with the customer.

How could I have been careless, to let my emotions get the best of me like that? I was acting out of character and succumbing to my own paranoia that there wasn’t something right with me. I just couldn’t seem to get my head screwed on properly, couldn’t seem to focus and bring myself into the present, into the here and now. Even the ride home, with the nasty, cold rain and the wind that picked up as I rode and battered me from the side, even that felt like it happened to someone else.

I cal ed for my mom but she was out, so I went upstairs to my room, each step rising above me like a mountain, and crawled right into bed.

I lay on my back for a while, just staring up at the speckled ceiling. I was numb and grateful for it. I knew there was a whirlpool of feelings just churning beneath the surface, waiting to come out. all I had to do was think about how scared I was and how alone I felt. all I had to do was wish I had someone at my side who would know what was wrong with me and do whatever they could to fix me. I had that once and I didn’t have it anymore. If I thought about that, the tears would never stop coming, so I pushed the thoughts away.

Rol ing over on my side, I spied a pamphlet that my mother had brought back from the hospital, sitting on my bedside table. I picked it up and flipped through it. It was all about miscarriages and the recovery process and was littered with poorly drawn cartoons. I was surprised it wasn’t cal ed So, You’ve Had a Miscarriage!

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