“I thought you’d never get home, Kass.” Julie bounced in from the kitchen.
As I expected, Julie was still doing her version of the Snoopy happy dance. I gave her a big hug and asked her what had happened.
Demon check. Whew. No critters chomped on her. No weird colors.
She kept repeating, “I can’t believe it.”
I opened the fridge and got myself a soda. “So, what’s this all about?” Seeing her dimples and the sparkle of happiness in her eyes pleased me. She’s a sweet person who deserves good news.
“You remember that book I read about healing after a broken heart?”
“Yes,” I fibbed. Both of us were avid readers, but with wildly different interests. Whatever book she meant, it would be on the book shelf. I could figure it out and sneak a peek. An image of my father scowling at me came into my mind. It’s hard to overcome being a preacher’s daughter, but I suppose it helps keep me honest. Well—closer to honest anyway, most of the time.
I asked, “By the lady Christian minister?”
“You had to send an essay about why you should be chosen to be in the audience, right?
“I made it!”
Whether it was good or bad, I couldn’t say, but Julie decided to try out going to church after she read the book. I never wanted to set foot in another house of worship as long as I lived, but I loved my friend and kept my thoughts about organized religion to myself.
“That’s great, Julie. I’m happy as a hound locked in a smokehouse for you.”
She cocked her head. “I can tell you came right off the farm.”
Putting on an exaggerated country accent, even more than my usual, I declared, “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t never take the country outta the girl.” I am an Ozarks hick chick to the bone. God help me if I ever use grammar like that at the paper.
“So I’ve noticed.” She brushed a stray hair out of my face. “They only sent me one. I wish I had a second ticket for the show.”
“Why, so you can bring your ex along and publicly humiliate him for dumping such a bright and beautiful woman?”
Her blue eyes sparkled with joy. “Hey, you know, that’s not a bad idea. But if I had another one, I’d rather bring you.” She hugged me again. “You’ve put up with all my crying and complaining for so long. You’re a good friend, Kass. Thanks so much.”
“You’re like a sister to me.” Julie had not let go, so I squeezed her. A lump formed in my throat and a tear spilled onto my cheek. I didn’t have a sister, but if I had one, I’d want it to be her. The fate that brought us together as roommates during a mutual time of need had been kind enough to make our growing friendship work, despite our differences of background and interests.
So why did terror seep into my mind and clutch at my senses during this time of joy for my friend?
It had been a long day, and I desperately wanted to sleep, but when I drifted off, the image of the man with the serpent attached to his neck came into my mind. My palms heated and tingled like they used to when something evil was around. Not that it ever helped before, but I rubbed my hands against the covers, wishing this would banish the images. I knew what the burning palms meant.
The nasty critter itself didn’t bother me, but the implication of seeing it formed a cold stone in the pit of my stomach. Although I could sense the creature, it was not likely to come after me. They never did in the past, except that super baddie that had hold of Pa. Well, maybe the one I encountered today could try to get me, but it didn’t. If it does later, I’ll just have to deal with that crisis then. He munched on that man’s energy with evident glee. Why leave a steady food source, right?
That line of thought didn’t make me feel one bit better. Not even a little teeny tiny bit. I chewed on it for a minute and figured out what really gnawed at me. Now that I was aware of a source of evil, I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. A religion in which I no longer believed shaped my way of dealing with it as a child.
What did I do now? Was I responsible for clearing every critter I found attached to someone? Even if I was, I had no idea how. I thought back to the various ways people got infested like that. Some folks actively invite harmful presences and provide a well-decorated home for them. Since I did everything I could to push the accursed talent away, I had not considered any of this in years. As a result, I had never thought it through from an adult perspective. I didn’t understand how my ability worked or why I could sense these entities.
Were they mindless energy creatures, demonic beings working for a more powerful evil, or just some unpleasant life form? This was like living a Dean Koontz novel, and I didn’t appreciate the infringement of the supernatural world in my life again. I figured some of those energy critters possessed more power than others. What makes the difference?
Entirely too weird.
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