Light falling in from an overhead window threw his face into shadows while streaking into Adi’s eyes. She frowned. For a second, she thought she saw movement on the TA’s shoulder. She shook her head. Only a trick of the light, surely. But then it moved again, and this time, Adi remembered when she had first experienced this.
When she was four years old, an old woman had been sitting outside the local supermarket in Frankfurt, begging. It had been late winter, the sky a thunderous dark gray, the sun struggling to push watery beams through the dense cloud cover. The poplar trees shivered in a gust blowing straight down from the Taunus Forest, north of the city.
It was a miserable time of year to be sitting on the ice-cold ground, and Adi didn’t understand why the old woman didn’t just go home and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate. She’d asked once why some people were out in the cold, and her mom had tried to explain that they were less fortunate.
“Mom,” she said, tugging on her mother’s dark red wool coat. “Mom, can we give her some money so she can buy a hot drink? She looks so cold.”
“You’re a good girl,” her mom said, smiling at her. Adi liked being called a good girl. She happily skipped towards the beggar woman to put some Deutschmarks into her paper cup. But when she got closer, she saw a snake wound around the beggar’s neck.
Adi stopped and stared. She’d never seen anything like this before. She remembered a large snake in one of her fairy tale books. She was of course a cursed princess, and very beautiful even as a snake. She had a crown on her head and her scales shimmered gold and green. Adi loved that story, and her mom had read the book to her from cover to cover several times now.
The beggar’s snake was nothing like the snake princess. Green and brown, its mottled skin hung off in flakes. Adi hid behind her mother’s legs, but the animal looked straight at her and its forked tongue seemed to taste her in the air. There was something malevolent about the snake, its eyes black and lifeless.
When the old woman smiled and thanked Adi’s mom, the snake suddenly tightened its coils around her neck. Her face turned red and she gasped for breath.
Adi’s mom asked, “Are you okay? Can I help you?”
The woman replied after a flurry of coughs, “I’m fine, it comes and goes.”
Adi knew the beggar was not aware of the vicious animal around her neck. As they walked on, Adi felt the snake’s stare between her shoulder blades and she shivered, clinging onto her mother’s hand.
Adi didn’t know why the play of shadow and light aroused those memories in her. That vision in her childhood had triggered years of hallucinations later on, but she’d overcome them with professional help. Hadn’t she?
She nervously watched Diepger stalk towards her with an air of anger, maybe even fury. Adi stepped back in the face of his cold expression until her back hit a wall and she couldn’t retreat any further. The man stood close enough to her that she smelled his strong aftershave, cloying and pungent. Like wet dog mixed with eau de cologne. Yuck.
He knew he was intimidating her and he liked it. Towering over her in his curry-colored tweed jacket, his eyes flashing with anger and, yes, triumph, knowing she couldn’t get away.
“Miss Gutseel, how dare you? Don’t you challenge me like that again. I don’t care if you are right and I am wrong. You’re the student and I’m the instructor. I can have you expelled from my class, and I won’t hesitate to do so if you ever step out of line again.”
He smirked as he made it clear who held the power. A movement drew Adi’s eyes to his left ear, and this time, she saw it clearly. There was something on his shoulder. It looked like a small, twisted monkey, the hatred in its eyes as it glared at her mirroring that of the instructor’s.
“Look at me when I speak to you," Diepger snarled at her. Adi’s head snapped back, but her eyes kept darting to the side to take in the creature. Its fur looked like it had fallen out in patches, its paws twisted and bent, tipped with sharp nails. Adi’s eyes widened when the monkey opened its mouth to hiss at her, showing sharp stained teeth in the process.
“Are you on drugs, Miss Gutseel? Is that the excuse for your behavior?" she heard the TA ask quietly. When she looked at him again, his mock-concern barely covered his disdain. He clearly thought he was onto something. Good thing then, that Adi didn’t do drugs. Not illegal ones anyway. She had been forced to take antidepressants as a child, but not for many years now.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Diepger. I shouldn’t have said that," she mumbled, her head bowed. Maybe this display of her fake submission would calm him down.
“Damn right you shouldn’t have. And don’t think I’ll forget this in a hurry either," he replied. Then he turned around and walked towards his office.
Adi felt compelled to look after him. The creature had turned its head all the way around, staring back at her. In the dark hallway, it looked just like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Adi shuddered and her hand flew to her neck, rubbing her wolf medallion.
The monkey’s claws were digging painfully into Diepger’s forehead, and he groaned in pain and rubbed his head. The animal’s eyes were still fixed on her, shining sickly yellow. It cackled, then turned around to resume its ride on the instructor’s shoulders.
When the door banged shut behind Diepger, Adi exhaled a breath she felt she’d held for an eternity, her eyes still wide with shock, her hands shaking with delayed shock. She tugged on her necklace the way she had done ever since she was little.
This was real. She had seen the monkey with her own two eyes. Or had she? When she was a child in Frankfurt, she had seen animals and monsters clinging onto people. She had been sure then as well. It had taken years of treatment to get better, to accept the reality her eyes showed her, instead of the images her brain imagined. So why was she seeing those things now?
She took another deep breath, pushing down her apprehension, then turned around and found herself face-to-face with a man.
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