Feeling hopeless about the world, I tried to distract myself on a long hike with Arthur. I told him that I didn’t want to talk about my aunt, or my future, or anything at all. Instead, I let him ramble on about absolute nonsense while I dazed off at nature.
Halfway down the trail, I realized that spending time with him was probably a mistake. Being with a friend only made me feel more alone at this time. I asked him if we could enjoy a quiet and silent walk together, which he pleasantly agreed to.
But the animals were so loud. The birds wouldn’t stop chattering to one another. The deer, the squirrels, the insects — all of them were talking away and I couldn’t tune it out. The gift of understanding animals was sometimes such a curse.
I suddenly stopped completely.
“What is it?” Arthur asked.
“It’s so loud,” I covered my face with my hands.
“Here, sit,” he offered, guiding me down on a cold walk in front of a tiny river.
The cold felt really good and the water was so peaceful. But I continued gripping my skull.
“You’ve got a headache?”
“Not exactly,” I sighed. There wasn’t any pressure in my head, this wasn’t a migraine. It was a pain I could feel throughout my entire body. “It’s just so loud.”
Looking around, Arthur seemed puzzled.
“It’s the animals,” I explained, “they won’t shut up. Maybe I should go lock myself in my room so I can tune out the noise.”
“No!” He panicked, “you shouldn’t be alone right now.”
“Valerie, you are really worrying me. I know you didn’t want me to bring it up, but I feel like I have to. What are you going to do about…”
I stopped him, “I don’t know. Annabella, my childhood ex-friend, visited me the other day. I hadn’t seen her in ten years since she got married. And she looked like a wreck. She’s separating.”
“Yikes,” he sympathized. “But that’s nice that you got to see her again,” he attempted to point out the silver lining.
“I’m not ready for my next chapter,” I clenched my jaw, “I’m leaving the coven, now I’ve got to find a full time job or a husband.”
“Why don’t you become a full time witch?”
“I’m not experienced enough. I need many, many more years at the coven before I can charge people for my services.”
“Work really hard and you can make it happen!”
“I appreciate the optimism, but it’s just not realistic. I mean, if I had a husband, then maybe I could buy some time to practice my spell casting.”
“Marry me!” He shouted, turning to look me dead in the eyes. Oh, he was serious.
“Huh?” I couldn’t help but burst into laughter.
“We’re perfect for each other, don’t you think?”
“I mean…” I shifted uncomfortably, “sort of…”
“What do you mean, ‘sort of’? You know that we are!”
“You’re like a brother to me.”
“That’s because you’ve never tried it out,” he leaned in like he wanted to kiss me.
I had to think very hard, very quickly. He had a point.
“You don’t have a job, though!” I realized.
“I’m looking for one at the moment, actually. I can support us both and you can keep on studying.”
“Don’t do this for me,” I rolled my eyes.
“I’ve been planning on this for a while now, long before… well… you know.”
I thought even harder now. In a way, this could be perfect. Even if he wasn’t the type of love you hear about in the fairytales, it could at least be the type of love that allows me to live a satisfying and comfortable life.
So, I braced myself, leaning in to kiss him. It was strange. I hadn’t kissed a boy in five or six years, not since I was a teenager. I had always been too focused on my studies to make time for a boy.
It happened. We kissed. I leaned backwards to take a breath. It felt forced. But it also didn’t make me vomit.
“What do you think?” He asked.
“Maybe you’ll grow on me,” I awkwardly shrugged, “give me some time, at least.”
“Of course,” he nodded.
I took a deep breath before stepping into the coven. It would be my last time. I wanted to give my sisterhood a thoughtful goodbye before parting ways.
Impulsively, I grasped my head, squeezing my fingers tightly around my head. My jaw tightened with my teeth grinding together. There was so much chatter and it was ringing my eardrums like a punching bag. Has the coven always been this loud!?
“Valerie!” A few of the women called out, circling around me, including Olivia.
“I’m only here to say goodbye,” I explained.
“Do you have to?” one of the younger girls whimpered.
“Please,” Olivia held up her hand to the girl, “don’t make this harder for her than it already is.”
“We’ll stay in touch,” said Dove, the eldest member of the group, “what is your next step, dear?”
“Looking for a job,” I sighed, “or a husband.”
“How about a full-time witch?”
I rolled my eyes, “you know I’m not good enough to charge services for spell casting.”
“I strongly disagree,” she calmly shook her head.
“I need to study more, but maybe someday.”
“We’re all teachers here — that means that you can be your own teacher, too.”
Dove had a point. I scrunched my lips. It was something to think about.
“I can’t stay long,” I urged, “a few hugs and I have to go. My head has been killing me.”
I hugged a few of the ladies and gave the rest of the group a big wave goodbye. It was terribly upsetting. And yet, as I walked out the door, I felt a strange sense of relief. It almost felt like freedom.
But before I could go any further, I heard a distressed voice call out — “Valerie!”
I turned around to see Arthur — his eyes completely bloodshot! They were as red as scarlet! I screamed!
“What happened!?” I screeched.
“I woke up like this!” His voice was shaking, he was absolutely terrified. “Since this morning, my vision has become more and more blurry. I’m afraid I might be losing my vision!”
“What!?” My jaw dropped, “what did you do?”
“Nothing!” He threw his hands up, “this has been the freakiest morning ever! I kept stumbling into things and losing my balance as I was getting ready for the day, and my whole walk to the warlocks, it felt like I was being followed. I’m hearing voices and now I’m starting to see things. I’m going crazy.”
“It’s okay,” I told him — because the only thing I could think to do right now was calm him down. But of course it wasn’t okay. He was either poisoned or having a manic episode. I could not stand another death. I needed him to stay with me.
“The warlocks here think I’ve been cursed — some of them are seeing black fog around my body. Do you see anything? Is there anything you can do?” He was out of breath.
I paused to stare at him for a moment. I didn’t see black fog — I couldn’t see his aura at all. There was certainly something different about him. I mean, it was hard to look past the bloodshot eyes. Those were definitely stealing my attention. I wanted to ask him to close his eyes so I could see the rest of him without distraction, but I feared that once he closed his eyes that they would never open up again.
“Here,” I pulled out the bundle of sage from my pocket and handed it to him. He surely needed it more than I did. And then I pulled out my perfume bottle and sprayed it all over him.
Immediately, I saw his eyes turn from red to pink. I wave of relief spread throughout my body.
“Your eyes!” I cheered, “they look better already!”
“My vision is coming back,” he blinked a few times, but he was still absolutely panic-stricken.
If the sage was working this well then it was true — he had been cursed. As I swallowed that harsh truth, I gulped. Curses are no joke — possibly worse than being poisoned. A poison will lead to a quick, maybe painless, death. But a curse will torture you until you’re begging for death.
“I’ve been cursed,” he said aloud so that I didn’t have to.
“Have you been having any health issues or cases of bad luck?”
“No,” I shook my head, “I don’t think so…” and then I paused to think a little deeper.
“What about your head? You kept clenching it yesterday. You were saying how everything sounded so loud.”
“I mean, I’ve always been very sensitive to sound,” I reasoned. But he was right. Noise was certainly bothering me much more than usual lately.
“We have to figure out what’s going on. Maybe your aunt would know, since she’s on the other side — could you ask her?”
I couldn’t bare to tell Arthur the truth, but it was obvious — he was under attack by a dark entity. I knew exactly what I had to do. I would confront this dark entity — this demon, this monster, this ghost, whoever it was. It would have to be a the strike of midnight.
“Sure,” I told him, “I’ll talk to my aunt, do some research, see what I can do to help. I’ll meet up with you tomorrow afternoon — I have to go job searching in the morning. But if there’s an emergency, please come and find me right away.”
“Alright” he nodded.
“Look at me,” I told him, “tell me that you’re going to be just fine.”
“I hope so…”
“Promise me,” I widened my eyes.
“Everything will be okay,” he let out a small smile.
I needed someone to believe it. Because personally, I felt a strong sense of doom.