"Move it, Hairy Sherry. I need the mirror."
Shara shrunk back before Tina plowed into her, relinquishing the seat before the makeup mirror. There she hesitated, watching Tina fluff her peroxide-blond hair. She couldn't go sit on Tina's bed, Tina would beat her to a pulp. Her own bed had been appropriated by Tina's best friend, Lupe, who would also beat her to a pulp should she be so foolish as to suggest Lupe move. Right now, the latina was filing her fingernails, bored, with an episode of the OC on their television cranked up to compete with the TV in the living room. The rough laughter of her step-dad's friends made Shara shrink in on herself further.
Tina looked up from applying another layer of lip-gloss and narrowed her eyes at the stringy, brown-haired version of her reflection. "What are you looking, at Hairy? You better be gone by the time Brad and Deegan get here."
"Maybe she likes to watch," Lupe smirked.
"Yeah, well if I catch her watching Brad again, I'm gonna beat her face in. You hear that, you little creep? He told me that you keep looking at him and trying to be alone with him." The thick black eyeliner emphasized the hardness in Tina's eyes as she glared at Shara in the mirror. "You're a little weirdo, hear me, Hairy Sherry? You creep everyone out. They all think you're a little psycho."
"Yeah, I totally wouldn't trust her while you're in the shower, Tina. Ee ee ee ee!"
"Yeah, well Brad thinks you're a freak. So just stay away from him. Stay away from all my friends," Tina snapped.
"But..." The words died in Shara's mouth. What would happen if she tried to tell Tina that Brad was the one following Shara around? That he was the one always trying to catch her alone? That he came into their room when Tina wasn't there and pushed himself on her on the bed? Said he'd kill her if she told anyone? Shara didn't think he was being literal, not really. But what he had done was much worse. Shara could always run away from Brad, she was good at that. But she had to share a room with Tina. They were sisters. There was no escape from that.
Whose word would Tina believe? Shara's or Brad's?
"...but this is my room, too," Shara whispered.
"Only because Mom makes me let you sleep here." Tina pronounced her words carefully, sharpening them with hate.
"She's such a little weirdo!" Shara could hear Lupe snickering as she shut the door behind her. "I mean... look at this shit she reads! All Stephen King and shit! Look at the size of this book! She's a total geek. She's like, Professor Geek, or something! She's gonna kill you in your sleep or something, Tina. Swear to god."
Shara leaned against the door for a moment and let out a breath. Down the hall, another round of laughter drowned out the dialogue of the sit-com on the front television. She crept down the hall. Her mom was in the recliner, eyes locked on the screen. At the other end of the room, the dining table was surrounded by men in Raiders jerseys and t-shirts, playing poker and drinking beer. Shara was able to quietly walk into the kitchen and get a soda from the fridge without drawing attention. She made her way back into the living room and sunk down onto a corner of the couch, keeping an eye on her mother. Nothing was said. Taking a breath, Shara took a sip of her soda and settled in to watch TV. Maybe she would be able to stay here the rest of the evening.
As Shara reached over to set down the soda can, the front door banged open and Brad came in, fixing her almost immediately with a look. Shara felt the soda can tumble out of her grasp, spilling over the side table and onto the carpet.
"Shara, goddammit!" her mother looked over and let out that nasal bray that wasn't really a shout, but had a way of carrying clear across the house. Shara felt all eyes turn on her. Flat eyes. Eyes that only saw her in terms of what they could take from her or what she might take from them. The whole house was full of those eyes.
"I'm sorry, Mom, I'll clean it up," she mumbled and hurried past where Brad was sneering at her, Deegan echoing his smirks just behind him. In the kitchen, she got a towel, trying to ignore the way two of the guys at the table were watching her, grinning above their heavily tattooed arms. Friends of her step-dad's, fresh out of jail, both of them. He was glaring at his cards, growing angrier every second she was in the room. She fumbled around under the sink for the carpet cleaner and then hurried back into the front room. She could feel the eyes of his friends watching her, heard a muttered comment and a hard laugh. She winced, knowing what was coming even before her stepfather exploded.
"Shut your filthy mouth, Carlo! Tammy, what the fuck did I tell you about not havin the girls parading around when I have friends over!"
"Go on!" her mother snapped as Shara scrubbed at the carpet hastily. "What are you tryin to do, be a little slut? Get the hell out of here!"
Ignoring the nasty giggles from the direction of her room, Shara grabbed a paperback from the curio shelf by the front door and bolted outside. It was dark, and a little chilly without her jacket, but she could head down to the basketball court on the corner and read by the streetlight. She looked at the dog-eared paperback in her hand. Carrie. Great. She had only read this one about a million times. She looked back over her shoulder at the house as she walked down the sidewalk, hoping that her step-dad and Carlo didn't get into a fight. Last year, he had spent a night in jail for pulling a knife on a guy when it became evident he was getting the worst of the brawl they got into in the back yard. It started because Tina kept wearing her short shorts and watering the lawn with a garden hose on poker nights. Their step-dad said it was because he came out to hear the guy telling Tina to come to a motel with him, but Tina said it was because the guy won all their step-dad's money, then wanted to leave while he was ahead. Shara didn't care. She was more than happy to stay away from her step-dad's friends. Some of them weren't very nice.
At the corner, Shara picked her way across the cracked asphalt of the court, trying to avoid the slick spots where the murky puddles filled with trash and leaves had created a slimy mud that never really seemed to dry out. The gas station next door hosed down their dumpsters a couple of times a week, and the run-off always trickled here. Cautiously, Shara peered at the bench before she sat down, making sure there weren't any wads of gum or hypodermic needles. The wood of the bench was damp and speckled with tiny black spots of mold, but looked otherwise clean. Sure, someone had probably wiped their snot on it, but there was no one here to laugh at her for sitting there right now, so she sat down with a sigh and tried to relax. It was a little musty smelling, like a damp basement, but otherwise it was actually kind of peaceful out here. No sounds but the occasional car driving by with its stereo booming. Some gangsters would probably come along and give her a hard time, but it's not like she was pretty enough to rape or anything. Her clothes never fit right and her hair was just plain. She kept it that way on purpose. No, they'd probably just hassle her, maybe rough her up a little and tear her book or something. Tell her to get lost. No big deal. It's not like she'd have to share a room with them.
"What's the worst they could do?" she muttered, flipping past the first few pages. She hated that first description of Carrie White. Frog among swans. More like frog among pitbulls. If you weren't a big enough to sit at the top of the food chain, your only other choice was to make yourself unappetizing to the predators. Tina, she was like those other girls in the locker room. She was mean enough to flaunt her prettiness. Shara looked down at her stomach, where she still had scars from when Tina had sat on her head and burned her with the curling iron for refusing to leave the room when Tina wanted to have sex with her boyfriend two years ago. Shara had said No -- I've got midterms tomorrow at school and I want to get some decent sleep. The guy was kind of nice -- from a nice neighborhood, not normally Tina's type -- and he looked embarrassed anyway. He said it was no problem and kissed Tina goodbye, said he'd call her. Tina had been furious. Said that if he broke up with her because of that, she'd kill Shara. Well, the boy didn't call her, and told her at school later that they just weren't right for each other.
"I'm letting you off easy, bitch," Tina had told her while Shara struggled to breathe, screams muffled by the mattress her face was pressed into. "Don't cross me again. You have to sleep sometime." "What are you doing here?" A voice startled her out of her reverie. It was young, cocky. She looked up to see a couple of kids on skateboards, trying to look tough. Shara shook her head and went back to trying read her book by the streetlight.
"She's fuckin reading a book!" When did guys stop using the f-word to try to make themselves sound tough? A lot of her step-dad's friends still said it every other word, but with them it sounded more like habit. She wondered if they knew how stupid it made them sound.
Wheels rolled closer. "Why are you reading a book out here?"
Shara looked up and sighed. The boy was threatening. Well, trying to look threatening. But still young enough to be side tracked by someone doing something strange.
"Hey, aren't you Scary Sherry?" the other one said.
She felt a surge of irritation. "My name is Shara."
"Dude, I heard she's like a devil-worshipper and stuff. She reads all sorts of weird shit about demons and vampires and stuff."
Shara took a deep breath of the cool night air. It was beautiful out here, even if it smelled a little damp and mouldery. The sky was like a blanket made of gray cotton balls, highlighted orange with the glow of the city, like a psychedelic easter bunny's tummy. This was not something that could be taken away from her. She owned this, shared it with no one that she would be expected to sleep near, shower near, get undressed near. Setting down the book, she looked the boy in eye and smiled darkly. "Of course I do. After all, I live with a monster." While they were still mulling that over, completely unprepared to handle a concept like that, she followed it up with, "I suppose you're out here because you're too smart to sleep either."
"Sleep." The clouds above her roiled, soft as a bunny, colored like hell. "That's why you're here, right? Only an idiot sleeps. That's when they come for you."
They hesitated. "Who?" one asked.
"The demons. But I thought you knew that."
"Heh, she's full of shit," said the first kid, but his smirk was uncertain.
"Am I? Look at the sky," she leaned back against the bench, heedless of whether or not the mold would leave black marks on her shirt. "The underworld is close tonight. That's why I'm out here. I'm communing with my family."
"Shit," scoffed the one, but the other kid was tugging on his sleeve. "C'mon, man, we should leave."
"She's just spoutin crazy shit."
"Yeah, but the clouds are red," the other kid whispered. His buddy glanced up and then crumpled in on himself a little. Shara knew that body posture. It was the way you curve in on yourself when you want to run away. "Fuckin-a," he whimpered. "Looks like blood on the sky or something."
Now Shara glanced up. Orange smog. Stupid little potheads. Over by the gas station dumpster, a cat jumped, causing whatever it had used for a springboard to slide with a menacing thump and a tinkle of broken glass. Both kids jumped. Shara sensed victory and the opportunity to drive them from her place. "Do you hear them? They're coming."
"I thought you said they only come when you're sleeping!" "Are you certain you're awake? How do you know you're not at home in your bed dreaming. Dreaming a nightmare about a 'freaky girl' under a blood red sky?" They were afraid. They were going to run from her. She was going to be the one defending and taking the territory. She was going to get to have some peace and quiet. All to herself. It was a heady thrill. She almost couldn't fault Tina for being such a bitch. Those who were strong, those who were smart, those with the will, they were the ones who made other people run. It was just like something off of the Discovery Channel.
"Yeah, I'm asleep," said one kid quickly. "This is a nightmare. So you can't hurt me."
"Except that in your dreams is where they kill you," she replied coolly as a car rolled by, hip-hop reverberating. "Don't look," Shara dropped her voice to a whisper. "They're in the shadows. Don't you see them moving?"
Under the headlights, the shadows stretched and lengthened, sworling lazily across the asphalt as the car cruised past. It turned the corner, leaving the basketball court suddenly darker. "The shadows are closer," she whispered, enjoying the game but wishing they'd get on with it and run.
"Make them go away!" shouted one of the boys, grabbing his friend's arm and looking ready to crawl up his back.
What kind of bad trip were they on? Shara laughed to herself. "Your only choice is to wake up. Before my father comes."
"Your father? I thought you guys lived with your step-dad," one boy accused nervously.
"My real father. Or didn't Tina tell you about him? About why I'm so different? He came to my mother in the shadows, just like he's coming for you. He looks like darkness and blood, he smells like rot and decay..." "I smell him!" yelped one boy. Well of course he did, thought Shara wryly. They were twenty feet from a dumpster.
"At first you'll think it's just another crack in the asphalt," she continued, laying it on thick, "But then you'll see the black-top start to buckle. Just a little unevenness, but then it starts to look like tar." Both boys were looking at the ground now. One let out a cry and pointed. "Then it forms into a hand. It reaches up and grabs you so you can't run. That's when the shadows close in on you and tear your skin from your body, strip by strip!" "A.J.! It's got my leg!" screamed the more gullible -- or maybe more stoned -- of the two. A.J.'s eyes were wide as saucers as he turned to look at Shara.
"Run," she whispered to him.
Dropping his skateboard, the kid took off down the street, darting things only he could see. Shara's grin was startled off her face by the agonized screams from the boy standing in front of her. They were the most horrible things she had ever heard, driving her to her feet with their soul-chilling desperation. Speechless, she watched him claw at his face, trying to get away with one foot planted to the ground as if held there by some unseen hand.
Some... demonic hand?
For a moment, she thought she saw shadows gripping his leg, white teeth in the darknesses fluttering across his face from the flapping of his own arms.
No, she told herself firmly. I made that story up to scare away a couple of stoned idiots.
Just like that, the tricks her mind played on her cleared up. The boy stopped screaming. Then he fell onto the blacktop all at once, completely limp, head striking with a wet sounding crack that knotted Shara's stomach. "Oh my god," the words flew from her mouth as she darted forward to grab his shoulder. His body was weirdly heavy as she shook it. "Are you all right? Oh my god." She patted his cheek, looking with horror at his open eyes staring up at the sky. For a moment, she thought it reflected blood red in them, then she realized that his eyes were just bloodshot. "Come on, you poor little pothead," she whispered, feeling his neck for a pulse. When she realized there wasn't one, she recoiled.
To be continued.