Saint’s Grove, Virginia, October 24th, 2016
“Come on, Maddie. Aren’t you a tiny bit excited about tonight’s celebration?” Cher asks from her usual seat at the end of my counter.
“What’s to be excited about? Some planets will align, yay!” I reply in my fake enthusiastic voice.
“Not just some planets. Earth, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury. Plus, there’s a lunar eclipse on top of that. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
I don’t say anything to that. Cher always gets over excited about anything that is rare or mythical. I can’t find an ounce of enthusiasm over tonight’s party at the town’s main square when I have a million other things to worry about, such as paying the multitude of overdue bills that are stacking up on my kitchen counter back home. I already have a double mortgage on the only thing left on my name, which is the small store that houses my coffee shop, the Green Fox.
I ring up the out-of-town couple in front of me who came to Saint’s Grove to experience the historical vibe of our city and decided to extend their visit when they learned about tonight’s event. Must be nice to not have to hurry back to work.
Saint’s Grove is shrouded in mysticism, having more legends and ghost stories under its belt than what’s normal for most small towns in the middle of nowhere. Once upon a time, I wanted to leave this place, to go somewhere exciting such as Los Angeles or New York City. But that was just a little kid’s fancy. I learned to love the quirkiness of my town as I grew older, and as my sweet Grandma used to say, the grass is not always greener someplace else.
“See. You don’t even have a comeback for that,” Cher continues.
I tune her out while I prepare my customers’ drinks. After I give them their to-go cappuccinos, I turn my attention back to my best friend, noticing for the first time since she parked in her usual seat that her long dark hair has a purple sheen to it. She must have dyed it this morning for tonight’s party. Only Cher can rock the manic pixie look. I’m not sure if it’s because of her personality, Asian heritage, or tiny size. Probably a combination of all of those things.
“Nobody cares about what’s going on up in the sky. All they will do is stuff their faces with junk food and drink cheap beer.”
“Since when you do you have a problem with junk food and beer?”
“It’s not the food and refreshments that bother me. It’s the crowd.”
“Are you referring to Dick Face and his friends?” She raises an eyebrow at me.
Cher knows me better than I know myself. We have been best friends since primary school and when my financial burdens became too much to hide, she let me move in with her after I sold Grandma’s house. I don’t know what I would do without her. She decided to stay in Saint’s Grove and attend the community college here for my sake. I never tried to change her mind, even knowing that she couldn’t wait to escape Saint’s Grove. I’m cowardly and selfish. She is the only family I have left.
“You know he has been blowing up my phone with his incessant calls and text messages. He’ll get drunk tonight and harass the hell out of me,” I say.
Last week, I caught my boyfriend of two years getting up close and personal with Meredith Parks, a snotty rich girl who believes she’s better than everyone else because she drives a convertible Mustang.
“Just kick him in the nuts. You’re totally able to bring that baboon to his knees. Hell, if I had your skills, I would have done so already.”
“You could have been a black belt like me if you hadn’t quit.”
Mr. Suzuki, Cher’s dad, was the one who introduced me to martial arts when I was barely seven. He wanted Cher and me to be able to defend ourselves. I fell in love with the sport, Cher not so much. She went along with the lessons until she was old enough to say she was done with it.
The doorbell rings, and in comes the bane of my existence, Richard, my ex.
“If you’re not here for coffee, you’d better leave right now,” I say.
“Aw, come on, Maddie. You can’t possibly still be mad at me.”
“Really, dickhead? She can’t?” Cher jumps out of her chair and gets in front of Richard. “I don’t know what kind of pills you’re taking, but they have clearly messed with your brain. Get a clue. She doesn’t want to talk to you or hear your sappy, half baked excuses.”
“Get out of my face, Cher. This doesn’t concern you.”
I walk around the counter, picking up the baseball bat I have tucked into the corner. Saint’s Grove might be a small and relatively safe town, but I never take any chances, not when I find myself alone in the shop many late nights.
“No, Richard. You get out of my coffee shop right this second before you force me to use Chuck Norris here.” I hit my open palm with the bat as a demonstration and Richard narrows his eyes at me.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Fine. Have your way. I know you will come back to me eventually, like you always do.” His little jab hits the mark and I wince involuntarily.
His lips twitch into a smirk. He truly believes I will forgive him for the umpteenth time and I can’t fault him for his logic. He has been an asshole since the beginning, and I’ve always put up with his shit. The justification I used to give myself was that his good days were worth the times when he treated me poorly. He thinks I will be his doormat forever. And for the longest time, I had thought so too.
Satisfied that he got the final word, he turns on his heel and leaves with his chest puffed and extra swagger in his step. I used to love his confidence, the way he commanded the attention of an entire room. I had been bewitched by his easy charm, and when he looked twice in my direction, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. And also completely undeserving of his attention.
As soon as the door shuts, Cher touches my arm. “Hey, don’t let him get into your head.”
I snap back to the here and now and stare at my friend. Her bright brown eyes shine with kindness and also understanding. I never really told her why I stayed with Richard for so long, but I think deep down she knows why. I lost my parents when I was too young to remember them, and soon after I lost Grandpa too. Grandma loved me dearly, but being a widow with a poor pension didn’t allow her a lot of time to spend with me. She worked long hours and when I was old enough to help with the expenses, she got sick.
Sadness overwhelms me and I shake my head. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. The chant is all can do to keep the gigantic tide of emotions from sweeping me under.
I’m so tired of it all. I don’t want to be that girl who is so lonely and desperate for love that she will fall for the first guy who smiles sweetly at her, who throws her a bone. I don’t want to be that girl who can’t find joy in anything because she’s too overwhelmed with bills and a lack of money. From the depths of my listless heart, I pull a spark of excitement, and I plaster a small smile on my face. It’s not real yet, but hopefully one day it will be.
“You’re right, Cher. I’ve let Dick Face dictate my life for too long. So, what time do you want to get to the party?”
Cher raises a fist into the air. “Yes! Now we’re talking.”
* * *
“It’s freaking cold!” I close the blanket tighter around me.
“Drink more tequila. That will warm you up.” Cher giggles.
“Shh. Sheriff Alyx is over there.” I point with my head to the newly elected leader, not too far away from us.
“You’re paranoid. She didn’t hear us.” Cher puts the cheap Dollar Store binoculars in front of her eyes. “Have you seen anything yet?”
I do the same and after trying to adjust the dial for almost a minute, I drop the thing onto my lap. “These binoculars suck. They’re probably damaging my eyesight.”
Cher tosses her binoculars to the grass and picks up her solo cup, knocking my baseball bat out of its propped up position in the process. “Did you really have to bring Chuck here?”
“Yes. It worked like a charm on Richard earlier. I hope its presence will keep him at bay.”
I sit up straight in my portable chair and look around. The town square is jam-packed, there’s barely any room left on the grass to stand. It’s loud and lively, and despite the fact that I’m freezing my butt off, I’m glad I came. I needed a carefree evening with my bestie. I’m about to announce I’m going to get hotdogs when Cher shouts, “Holy shit!”
She’s not the only one making excited declarations, the entire square is caught up in sudden euphoria. I look up at the sky and see why. The midnight canvas has lit up like it’s the Fourth of July in a shower of brilliant colors.
“Falling stars,” someone says to my right.
“No, it’s a meteor shower,” says another.
Cher grabs my arm. “Do you see that, Maddie? It’s gorgeous.”
I’m enthralled by the spectacle like everyone else. I can’t keep my eyes off of the sky. I’ve never once seen a lone falling star let alone hundreds of them all at once. My lips break into a grin that feels genuine and I don’t know if it’s the alcohol, the rare celestial show, or something else entirely that’s making me smile. Nonetheless, there’s a buzzing in my veins that I can’t explain, but that feels a lot like anticipation.
The feeling of euphoria is cut short when I notice something strange in the sky. One of the falling stars seems to be getting awfully close to the square. I realize a moment too late that a small piece of meteorite is coming our way. The screams around us are no longer the excited type, but the freaked out kind. The little piece of outer space rock comes in faster than lightning, leaving a trail of sparks and smoke in the air. It hits the ground right in front of Peter Saint’s statue, the impact akin to an explosion, the sound a deafening boom. It shakes the ground and sends a geyser of dirt everywhere. A fog of dust soon follows.
The fallen meteorite was probably not bigger than a baseball, otherwise it would have blown up the statue and all of us as well. But even with its insignificant size, it managed to create a crater big enough to fit a car.
A moment of silence follows, before everyone begins to talk all at once.
“Everyone remain calm,” Sheriff Alyx commands.
“That was freaky,” Cher mumbles next to me.
“Yes.” It’s all I can say.
There’s an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and I find myself shaking where I stand. I don’t think it has anything to do with the cold. Something major is coming, I can feel it in my bones.
A wicked wind comes at us from the north, but it doesn’t do anything to dissipate the gray smoke. As if things couldn’t get any weirder, the smoke increases in size, taking on different hues from blue, purple, green, and finally red. A sliver of fear lodges itself in my heart and when the ground trembles beneath our feet, I find it difficult to swallow the huge lump in my throat. I’m not sure if everyone felt the tremor, but I’m one hundred percent sure they heard the loud roar that followed.
My arms break into goose bumps beneath my clothes and my fear expands tenfold.
“What the hell was that?” Cher asks.
“I don’t know, but we need to get out of here.”
A dark shape leaps out, landing on four legs a few feet away from us. Slowly, the dark figure rises to a standing position, a mass of fur, muscles, and teeth.
“Oh my God. Is that what I think it is?” Cher grabs my arm.
It’s exactly what she thinks it is, a werewolf. The beast raises his nose up in the air and howls at the moon. Beneath the coarse fur, I can see the powerful muscles of its shoulders and arms, and I also instinctively know that his canine jaw is powerful enough to pulverize bones.
The werewolf’s call is answered by a dozen more. Slowly, I bend my knees, and blindly search for Chuck Norris on the ground. I don’t dare take my eyes off of the beast. My fingers curl around the wooden bat with a tight grip. I uncoil my legs and touch Cher’s arm, leaning closer so I can whisper in her ear.
“Come on. We need to move. Now.”
She nods, a silent agreement that shows how much the scene in front of us is freaking her out.
Before we can so much as take a step back, other creatures come through the multicolored smoke. My throat becomes awfully dry just as my heart beats frantically inside of my chest, pounding out of control as if it wants to flee. If this is a dream, I want to wake up.
A terrified scream pierces the night and that’s when chaos descends in full force. Creatures I have only seen in movies and in my craziest nightmares pour out into the square, sending the crowd running in all directions. I grab Cher’s hand and break into a run, back to my car that is parked right in front of the Green Fox.
A lawn chair zips past us, missing our heads by a hair’s breadth. I don’t have time to slow down to see who is responsible for it. We manage to circle the crater, giving it a wide berth, and I begin to think we are home free, when an eight-legged critter the size of a pony appears in our way. Its body resembles a giant worm, but it’s the huge mouth and sharp teeth that has my heart leaping out of my chest.
It advances toward us faster than I can blink. I swing Chuck with all my strength before the monster can get to one of us, sending it skating through the grass.
“That was close,” Cher says.
“Aren’t you glad now that I brought Chuck?”
We try to resume our escape only to find our way blocked by something else. This time, is a woman dressed in a long white gown, with matted strings of dark hair framing her pale, gaunt face. Purplish skin circles her sunken eyes—eyes that have no whites, just a pair of black orbs.
“Leaving the party so soon, pretty girls?”
I raise my bat, ready to swing again. “Get away from us.”
The woman throws her head back and laughs, a screeching sound that raises the hairs on the back of my neck. When she lowers her face, all trace of amusement is gone, and pure venom is in her gaze. I can feel her malice coming toward us in waves. With a snap of her fingers, Cher is yanked forward by an invisible chain, ending up in the monster’s grasp. She kicks her legs frantically as the ghostly lady holds her off of the ground by the neck. Fear for my friend has my feet rooted to the ground.
“Oh, I sense much power in you, pretty girl. You’ll make a wonderful meal.”
I scream Cher’s name when the monster opens her mouth, her jaw dropping in an unnatural way. Jagged teeth adorn her distorted mouth and she’s about to sink them into Cher’s shoulder. I finally snap out of my paralysis and run to my friend’s rescue, fearing I won’t make it to her in time.
A blur collides with the monster, freeing Cher in the process. She falls to the ground, clutching at her throat while I breach the final distance between us. I kneel next to my friend and pull her into a sitting position.
“Cher, talk to me.”
“Fuck this shit,” she says in a raspy voice.
We hear a dog going batshit crazy and turn toward the noise. Cher’s savior is a German Shepherd and it has the monster by the throat, thrashing her like she’s a rag doll. I stand up and pull Cher with me. We’ve wasted too much time already.
We resume our escape, hoping not to encounter any more devilish creatures in our path. From the corner of my eye, I see a werewolf throw the hotdog cart into the distance like it weighs nothing. I slow my pace and turn fully to the scene. The beast spots something or someone that it wants, and the tension in his hind legs is visible. He’s going to pounce. I stop completely and follow the werewolf’s gaze until I find a man sprawled on the ground, trying in vain to stand up. Shit.
In a split second decision, I run toward the werewolf. I must be crazy, but I can’t let a person be mauled to death.
“Maddie, what are you doing?” Cher yells after me.
The werewolf jumps before I can get close enough, so I send Chuck Norris flying his way, praying I don’t miss the target. The bat hits the beast on the side of its head, and the sound of its skull being cracked is disgusting and satisfying at the same time.
Without pausing in my trajectory, I reach the man on the ground, hoping I didn’t just save another creature of the night.
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