If it weren’t for me this would have never happened, but it has happened and now I have to fix it.
Ten year-old Ceil wiped away the tears making clean trails down her dirt-streaked face, smearing them into muddy swooshes. Her brown hair had wrestled its way out of the single braid her mom had put in that morning and long stringy clumps of hair framed her timid face. Her rain jacket was soaked through because she hadn’t kept it fastened closed and her sweater was damp and clung to her small body. Her jeans were muddy and uncomfortable and her socks and sneakers were wet. She shivered as she packed her backpack.
Dead autumn leaves skittered across the yard as Ceil climbed down from her tree house and made her way around her house. Twilight had turned to darkness and the moon was rising. Street lights made bright pools up and down her street and a cool breeze whispered up the dampened pavement.
She hurried down the street into the expanding darkness with her backpack bumping her leg. She could feel the spell book inside poking her back. For the hundredth time in the past twenty-three hours she found herself wishing she had never walked into the occult store and bought that book. It was just a joke. Everyone knows there are no such things as witches and spells and magic. It was just for fun.
It was fun setting out candles and feeling the old paper of the pages and reading the fading ink. It was fun to recite strange words. The giggling at the ridiculousness of it all turned to fear when the swirling mist formed, and the fear turned to terror when the hideous creature had appeared. Ceil had done the first two things that had come to mind: she screamed and then she ran.
She had run right to her room, jumped into bed and pulled the covers over her head. Eventually she fell asleep. Sometime during the night she felt her mommy behind her in bed. She didn’t remember hearing her come into the room, but Ceil welcomed the comfort of having someone near. She sleepily snuggled back into her mommy’s arms and she felt her mommy sigh against her back. Then there was a loud noise that startled her and made her sit upright in bed. She looked to see if her mommy was awake too, but she was alone.
At first she was only confused. She knew she had felt arms around her, but except for herself her bed was empty. As that fact registered her fear increased. Something had been in bed with her. She screamed again and was taken by her dad into her parent’s bed. She spent the rest of the night without incident between them.
In the morning, as she made her way past the wooded field, she had heard a crashing sound. Something big was moving through the brush, breaking small branches and twigs, kicking up leaves. She couldn’t focus at school. Every time she started to relax a little she swore she could hear a deep grumbly voice whisper in her head. It was saying words she didn’t know. It was speaking a language that was much older than her ten years.
She thought about the arms around her in bed, the mist, the whoosh of wind when the creature appeared and the glint of the reflected candlelight in its metallic eye. She decided all she could do would be to go back to the field and do everything like she had last night. But, would saying the spell again do anything? Would it make that creature appear…or another one? Ceil was terrified. And if it didn’t work, how could she find the creature she had let loose and then make it go away?
At the field she looked at the moon higher in the black sky, and noticed the pale moonlight bathing the grass and trees. There was no creature and no mist. Ceil was momentarily thankful. She got the candles and spell book out of her backpack and lit the candles. By candlelight she flipped the stiff musty pages of the book until she found the one she had read last night. If only she knew what the words said. She had no idea what she was doing, she only knew that something had to be done, and that she was the only one who could do it. This was her fault.
She stood with the book in her hands and recited the ancient words. She gasped as the mist formed and her heart leapt into her throat as the terror made her blood run hot. She could hear her heart beating in her ears as the creature started taking shape and the air whirled around her. A body emerged and settled on the grass in front of her. Metallic eyes blinked high above her and a large mouth opened revealing long jagged teeth. The creature screamed its rage.
“No!” Ceil screamed, clapping her hands over her ears, “No! How do I get rid of you?”
The creature’s ancient voice said something.
“I…I don’t understand.” Ceil gasped, stepping backwards, her eyes as wide as saucers.
Candlelight glinted in the armor-like scales as it lowered its head toward Ceil. Its gruff voice roared, “Choose. Another.”
“Another?” Ceil was beyond terrified. Then somehow she understood. In her mind’s eye she saw the image of the girl at school who bullied her, stole her money and pushed her into a wall.
Straightening, trying to be brave, Ceil yelled into the wind and mist, “Claudia!”
The creature stood, towering above her, sniffed the air and growled. Huge leathery magnificent wings unfurled and the creature flew into the night.
The search for Claudia Rhinehart was called off after four and a half weeks. Her body was never found.