Young Adult by Nicole Zoltack
Little rays of light flittered through the trees, and I closed my book with a sigh. The story was just getting good but it was time to go home before Mom freaked out. I stood and stretched, my hand resting against the rough bark of a giant oak. The forest was my favorite place to read, but twilight made the letters nearly illegible.
A cool wind picked up, and I shivered as I made my way through the trees. Should’ve worn a jacket.
Something rustled behind me. A small creature, I tried to tell myself, but the hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I glanced around. Nothing was there.
Stupid overactive imagination. That’s what you get for reading a horror story in a forest.
I hurried forward until I heard a more sinister sound — a low rumbling growl.
Whirling around, I half-expected to see a wolf even though few, if any, roamed freely in Pennsylvania.
Instead I saw a face with dark eyes and red skin. The being was massive, with broad shoulders and muscles on top of muscles, and so tall it blocked the stars’ light, covering us in darkness. I gasped with fright. Its large mouth opened and revealed rows of gnarled teeth. The stench of rotting flesh surrounded me, and I gagged. I tried to lift my feet, but I couldn’t move. All I could do was stare at the demon.
Its pointy tail slammed toward me. I shrieked and somehow managed to dodge the blow despite closing my eyes. My knees stopped shaking, and I ran.
I glanced behind. The demon bounded after me. My foot caught in a tree root hidden in the underbrush, and I fell. The demon would overtake me at any moment. I patted the ground, scrabbling for a tree branch or a rock, something, anything to use as a weapon. My fingers curled around a large stick, and I brandished it before me like a sword. With a deep but shaky breath, I waited for the creature to attack me, to kill me. I peered through the darkness.
Nothing was there.
Trembling, I climbed to my feet. Belatedly, I realized I must have dropped the book during my flight.
There it was, only a few feet away. I clutched the book to my chest, and tried to calm down.
For weeks now, I had been having recurring nightmares, all about demons trying to hunt me down and kill me.
I shivered as a feeling of déjà vu came over me. The demon I had seen — no, not seen, it had been a product of my overactive imagination — the demon had looked exactly like those in my nightmares.
Demons weren’t real. I repeated this mantra to myself as I left behind the forest and walked up the path to my house. Demons weren’t trying to kill me.
I bounded up the stairs to my room and collapsed into my bed. Mom would call me down for dinner any minute, but I enjoyed the stolen moment of peace and quiet. With any luck, I might have a dreamless night tonight. I knew one thing for certain — I wasn’t going to read another horror novel anytime soon.
The next day at school, I headed down the hallway, rubbing my eyes. After my encounter with the phantom demon last night, I hadn’t been able to fall asleep. I yawned, my jaw aching from stretching so wide.
A sudden shove from behind caught me off guard, and I braced my arms for impact against the cold, hard floor. My papers scattered everywhere, and my books fell with a loud thud. I snatched my belongings and glared at the senior football player who stood there snickering.
“Look at the freak.” He elbowed one of his friends.
“She’s always writing,” a girl scoffed. She flicked her blond hair over her shoulder. “Such a nerd.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I’d had it. Jason was a dimwit and I was sick of his constant bullying. I stood up and stomped over to him. “You’re the type of guy who would throw a drowning man both ends of the rope.”
He frowned, obviously confused. “But…”
Unable to help myself, I chuckled quietly. Insulting Jason filled me with a sense of empowerment, and I fought back a grin.
He glowered. “You better watch it, dweeb.” He flicked his hand at me as if I were a pest. His friends laughed, and the crowd walked away.
Demons haunting me at night, bullies tormenting me at school. Wasn’t my life wonderful.
Artex, a recent transfer student, lagged behind. He leaned against the off-white wall, his gaze fixed on me. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” I scrambled to collect the rest of my papers. Someone’s large footprint was stamped into one of my open notebooks. With a sigh, I brushed some dirt away and closed it.
Artex bent down to help.
“Thanks, but aren’t you worried what your friends will think if you help me?”
He handed me several pages. “Do you agree with everything your friends do?”
Good point. Rifling through my pages, I realized one was missing, the story I started in Spanish class, about an obsessive-compulsive knight named Alessandro. I clenched my fists. If Jason had my page, his bullying would escalate to torture. Even though I dreamed of seeing my name, Alexia Streaming, on the spine of a book, I didn’t have the courage to allow someone else to read my writing.
I looked around and realized Artex was reading it. Temporary relief filled me, quickly replaced by anger. I straightened and frowned at him, my thankfulness melting away. “Is that mine?”
His lips curled into a lazy smile. “I’ll have to finish reading it first to find out.”
My fingers itched to yank the paper from his hand. “I would rather you didn’t—”
He chuckled. “Poor Alessandro. You really wrote him into a tight spot. Those bloody pirates are more than he can handle.”
I snatched the paper from him and glowered.
“Are you going to finish it?”
“Eventually,” I said coolly.
“You’re a good writer.”
The compliment neglected to instill a sense of pride within me, and I bristled. “You shouldn’t go around reading other people’s stories.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t stories meant to be read? Why don’t you want to share your writing?”
He had me there. I shuffled my books in my arms. “I have to get to class. So do you, for that matter.”
I walked over to the staircase and waited in line to climb it. The back of my neck pricked. Looking back, I saw Artex still staring at me and immediately felt ashamed. After all, he helped me while the others had laughed and harassed me. I smiled, blood rushing to my cheeks.
His eyes sparkled, and he tapped his forehead twice with his right hand before brushing some of his dark hair back. With a curt nod, he disappeared into the throng of people.
“Come on, Alexia, we’re going to be late!” a tall, bubbly brunette said.
I grinned at Cassie Willows, my best friend. “Yes, let’s hurry. Chemistry is my favorite class after all.”
We both giggled at my lie and ran up the stairs and dashed down the hall, barely reaching the room before class started. I slid into my seat and tried to catch my breath while Mr. McMichaels distributed a pop quiz. Students groaned, me included. My reward for arriving to class seconds before it started — a pop quiz. Just my luck.
I stared at the blank periodic table before me. Let’s see… hydrogen, helium…. I preferred English and history to science. But Mr. McMichaels hated me ever since he confiscated a story I wrote during class.
A story about an evil goblin warlord. Named McMichaels.