The man sat there in his Honda, his expression changing from anger to terror, eyes growing wider and wider. A wavering mist of heat rose up between us and there was a loud pop as his front window cracked into a spider web pattern. The man made an unintelligible drunk noise.
I jumped back as surprised as he was by the spontaneous crack in the windshield, though too angry to care about his stupid car. I stomped off with as much dignity as an eighteen-year-old could who’d just crawled out of a muddy puddle.
I was in a crabby mood as I headed for the photo section. I should have counted my blessings like my mother always told me to. I had just survived being hit by a drunk driver. My flip-flops squeaked and squished until I stopped at the photo electronics counter. I wondered if I should call the police and report the driver. He’d probably driven off by now.
“Can I help you?” asked the photo clerk.
“Mary Jacobs. I have prints to pick up.” My mom said she’d uploaded the photos two hours ago to the store’s website so they would be ready.
I tore the package open as soon as he handed them to me, immediately disappointed as I studied my graduation photos. There I was in my white cap and gown, blonde hair perfectly in place, the sun shining and all the conditions ideal. Yet I had red eye again. See if I let cousin Nickoli, the “professional” photographer take photos for my next momentous occasion. He said he’d fixed all the red eyes in Photoshop.
“My eyes are always red in photos,” I muttered, stuffing the photos back into the envelope. No one else had red eye in the pictures.
The clerk leaned over the counter, not a difficult task considering his spindly frame. “That’s because you’re a demon.”
I glanced at him, taking him in for the first time; spiky black hair, multiple facial piercing and managing to look Goth despite his banal red uniform. His nametag said Jo-jo. I tried not to smirk. “Lot’s of people have red eyes in photos. Are they all demons, too?”
“No. Some of them just have red eye because the flash reflects off their retinas. But your pictures were taken on a sunny day, so there wouldn’t have been a flash. There’s no reason for you to have red eye in those photos. Therefore, we can hypothesize you’re a demon.”
I laughed, uncertain whether he was trying to flirt with me. It was so hard to tell with guys and their moronic ways. He might have been considered cute, if you were into eyebrow rings and a dragon tattoo on the neck. He definitely wasn’t my type. Then again, his blue eyes were almost as vivid as his electric azure eyeliner—probably contacts—but it was such an amazing color it was hard to look away.
“Let me take a wild guess,” he said. “You don’t know at least one of your parents, do you? Your mom is mysterious about your dad or maybe it’s the other way around. Or maybe it was both of them you don’t know and you were adopted.”
I blinked, slightly startled. “You can’t just accuse every person who’s adopted of being a demon.” How did he know I was adopted? Maybe he’d assumed it from the photos he’d processed. I was the only blonde in my dark, Mediterranean-looking family.
He raised an eyebrow. “Another telltale sign would be that the constant Oregon rain depresses you—”
“Duh. It depresses everyone.” I stuffed the photos into my imitation Coach purse.
“You prefer warm places like Las Vegas,” he went on. “You don’t mind baking cookies in the sweltering heat of June. You crave the warmth of day, but you love the darkness of night. You were never one of those kids afraid of the dark. . . .”
“I’ve never been to Las Vegas,” I said, suddenly feeling intrigued. But I had been to Hawaii with my family last year, which had been heavenly. And the baking . . . well, it had been a massively hot June day until the rain took over. Maybe the aroma of the chocolate chip cookies I’d baked earlier had seeped into my clothes. Yes, that was it. As for the dark, it was 10 pm and X-mart was a 24 hour store.
He leaned against the counter, smiling pleasantly. “Another symptom of being a demon is that you probably have memory lapses. That’s normal in the early days of coming into your powers. Are you aware of any of your special talents yet?”
I raised my chin and tried not to laugh, deciding to play along. He was pretty cute, after all, even if he wasn’t my type. “If you know so much about demons, you must know of a test to make sure someone’s a demon, right?”
He nodded earnestly, missing the sarcasm. “Yes. There’s the standard float or drown test.”
I crossed my arms. “That’s for witches. Isn’t there another test?”
He hesitated, leaning forward to see if anyone was around before he reached under the counter and pulled out an ancient-looking sword. I was quite sure that didn’t belong in the store’s photo electronics section. “If I stab you through the heart with this sword and you’re a demon, angel or demi-god, you’ll die.”
I stumbled backward, my flip flops sliding underneath me and knocking over a pyramid of cat food. Somehow my black skirt got caught in the display. I tried to yank it out from the giant cardboard kitty, but the lacy hem was caught between folds of corrugation and the jagged words advertising the sale.
The Goth clerk gave me a withering look. He picked up the phone. His droll voice boomed over the intercom, “Clean-up on aisle five.”
I glanced around for a manager. This guy wasn’t crazy enough to stab me, was he? That would be psycho, plus he’d lose his job. I yanked at my skirt again, hoping it would pull free.
His sword remained on the counter, the steel seeming to glow blue in the fluorescent light. It took me a moment to realize it was radiating light, shimmering with an unnatural iridescence, pulsing with power.
My voice came out in a rush. “If you stab a human through the heart with a sword, they’ll die, too! And I’m definitely not a demon. I go to church.” Well, I went on Christmas and Easter. “I ran a marathon for a Catholic charity and, and—” There had to be some proof I wasn’t a demon. I managed to drag the cardboard display about six inches farther away from him.
He smiled, tucking the sword away under the counter again. “Relax. I’m not going to kill you. Demons are cool.”
A greasy-haired, pimple-faced teenager wearing a red vest and dragging a broom stopped before me and began to pick up cans of cat food. Her name badge said, “Sindy.”
“Excuse me, my skirt is caught. Could you help me untangle it?” I lowered my voice. “And that guy has a sword back there and he’s kind of creeping me out.”
Sindy looked to the photo clerk. “If Elvis hears you brought that sword in again, he’ll whip your ass good this time. You could hurt someone with that thing.”
Jo-jo crossed his arms, smirking. “I don’t have a sword back here. Come check.”
Sindy did. I continued struggling with the lace hem, some of it ripping. I cringed. It was a hundred dollar skirt I’d gotten on sale at The Rack for $9.99.
“See,” said Jo-jo.
“You probably transported it to another dimension.”
Sindy kicked a cat food can out of her way as she bustled past me. My heart pounding, I ripped a long strip of fabric along the hem of my skirt, trying to pull free. I looked up to see Goth boy coming toward me with the sword, light pulsing from it.
Rattled with fear, I brought up my hands, half protectively half pleadingly, palms facing toward him. A flash of warmth surged through me, my face growing hot. A sonic boom vibrated from my body as a shimmering wave of heat issued forth from my fingertips. As the wave hit Goth boy, his clothes caught on fire. I jumped back and screamed, looking around for the fire’s source because there was no way it could have come from me.
Jo-jo hardly seemed to notice the flames, which had turned as blue as his eyes and danced over his clothes and skin. He was saying something, but I couldn’t hear over the rumble from under my feet and the crackle of fire all around me. The cat display was on fire, the cardboard boxes on the aisle behind it rising up in a wall of flame.
Jo-jo brought up the sword and again I instinctively raised my hands. A shock of energy shot through me and hit him square in the chest. He stumbled back but regained his footing enough to bring the glowing sword down. I jerked back as far as I could from the flaming kitty, staring open mouthed as Goth boy cleaved the edge of skirt caught in the cardboard claws.
He hadn’t killed me? And I wasn’t on fire? I wasn’t even hot despite the flames licking at my arms and legs.
Jo-jo smiled like he was some kind of heroic knight. He held out a black business card. “Here, take this. This center helps people like us.”
I cringed away from the card, dodging left then right, trying to get away from this freak. It took a few seconds to register his words. “Us?”
He shoved the card into my hand. “It takes one to know one.”
I stared into his face. His irises flashed red.
I dashed out of the store, the card crumpled in my hand. “I’m not a demon, not a demon, not a demon,” I chanted under my breath.
My vision blurred and I felt lightheaded. I slowed as the calming rain hissed and steamed against my skin, the unreal scene from moments ago fading like a dream. I rubbed my groggy eyes, feeling unusually tired. Why was I running? I’d gone into the store, picked up my prints and then . . . my mind drew a blank.
Disoriented and weak, I wondered if I was having a sugar crash from all the cookies I’d eaten earlier.
Some guy sat in his Honda outside the store, his windshield shattered. The car looked vaguely familiar. I wondered if I’d seen him on the way in.
Warmth radiated from behind me. When I heard the pop of shattering glass and the crackle of burning wood, I turned to stare up at the building. Flames danced out the windows, rising skyward despite the downpour. I leapt back, wondering what had happened. I’d just been in there picking up my prints. I was lucky I hadn’t been caught in that.
A scrap of black paper was crumpled in my hand. I threw it into the nearest recycle bin.
For once, I decided to count my blessings. Oddly, I had an inexplicable craving to go to Las Vegas.
BIO: As a child, Sarina Dorie dreamed of being an astronaut/archeologist/fashion designer/illustrator/writer. After years of dedication and hard work, most of Sarina’s dreams have come true; in addition to teaching art, she is an author/copywriter/artist/fashion designer/belly dancer. She has taught English overseas in South Korea and in the JET program in Japan, where she felt like an alien much of the time which inspired numerous stories. She has shown her art internationally and sold illustrations to magazines and currently works as a high school art teacher. Sarina’s paranormal romance novel, Silent Moon, published by Soulmate Publishing, won second place in the Duel on the Delta Contest, second place in the Golden Rose, third place in the Winter Rose Contest and third in the Ignite the Flame Contest. Her alien versus Puritan love story, Dawn of the Morningstar is to come out next year. Her unpublished novel, Wrath of the Tooth Fairy won first place in the Golden Claddagh and in the Golden Rose contests. She has sold short stories to over thirty magazines and anthologies including Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine (F & SF), Daily Science Fiction, Cosmos, Penumbra, Sword and Laser, Perihelion, Bards and Sages, Neo-Opsis, Flagship, Allasso, New Myths, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, and Crossed Genres to name a few.
Now, if only Jack Sparrow asks her to marry him, all her dreams will come true.