We barely talked in the car. The stereo was broken, and that made the silence even more unbearable. The sky outside was still bright, we would have almost twenty hours of sunlight today. I put my right hand up to my neck and tugged at the turtleneck sweater I had put on. The bruises had started to appear, and I thought it would be better if I didn’t have to answer any questions tonight. I put my hand in front of the heater to warm them up. The car was cold, and the steering wheel against my hands were absolute freezing. The bonfire was at the far edge of town (not that Clearwater was very big at all) where the woods cleared out a few hundred yards. It was surrounded by nothing but the trees with a small bubbly brook running inside it. Hopefully we would have a roaring bonfire to keep us warm. It wasn’t that it got icy cold in the summers (compared to the winters that is) but we never got tank top and shorts weather here. My body always ran warm for some reason. My average temperature ran at 100 degrees instead of the usual 98.6. It always puzzled the doctors because I was always so healthy. It was a running joke that my temperature matching my temper- high. Doctors always said something among the lines of my body adapting to the cold winters and didn’t speak of it again. I knew the real truth, everything in my body was enhanced, why not my temperature. As we neared the woods, I noticed Pheona was mumbling something beside me, she repeated it over and over. I looked over at her, something felt strange, above the normal strange that oozed off of her. She had her hands around her waist, looking out the window at the trees passing by.
“Are you okay?” I asked. I was genuinely concerned. Since Pheona had told me the truth about herself, I had felt a new connection with my older sister. We had something in common, and I had never been able to share this part of myself with anyone.
She squeezed her eyes shut, and continued to mumble incoherently.
“Pheona,” I said, this time a bit sharper. I didn’t want her to embarrass me at this party. My friends would, no doubt, be intrigued by her. They had all heard of her, but no one had met her. I needed to keep her normal, as normal as she would ever be.
She stopped mumbling and opened up her eyes. They were red and wet, filled with fear.
“What is wrong with you?” I asked. I felt bad, but at the same time so annoyed. I tried to hide my attitude and forced a smile to my lips.
“I’m just wondering. Why are they here during the day? It doesn’t make any sense at all. They normally hate the sun. There were barely any shadows…”
I had wondered this once or twice today also, but I also knew Garrick would protect me. I knew I had nothing to be scared of, they knew better than to hurt me. Sometimes they scared the living crap outta me, but I always got through it. It had been this way my entire life, but every summer Garrick came and rescued me. That was what had gotten me through my long winter nights. He had been here for me since the summer I turned six, and he continued coming each and every year, promising one day to take me back to where ever it was he came from. He kept all the darkling’s away; he was the only one who understood me. If he was actually a real person. Sometimes I worried that he wasn’t real, since no one else could see him. Now with my sister’s confession that she saw them to, it only made my haunting thoughts that much louder.
“Garrick protects me,” I blurted out, trying to give us both some hope. “He will protect you to, I know it.”
Pheona laughed again, very loudly I might add.
“Why is that funny?” I scrunched my eyebrows in confusion. I was confessing my secrets to her, and all she could do was laugh?
“I don’t need protection from anyone but myself.”
“Why not, if you don’t have to be scared anymore?” I pressed on.
“They obviously don’t leave you alone, they still haunt you, make your life a living hell.” She shook her head while speaking, and clutched something in her coat pocket.
“What you got there?” I raised an eyebrow and tried to get a better look. Obviously a bit too distracted, I swerved off the road a bit. I promptly corrected the old Toyota pickup, and looked back at my sister.
“Oops. Sorry,” I mumbled. It wasn’t a big deal. It was my father’s car, his off road baby. Not that he would of noticed any new dents. The thing was lifted with huge snow tires, and beat up to a pulp.
We sat there in total silence. As awkward as it was, I couldn’t get my mind off of Garrick. I tried to play off the darkling’s daytime visit as if it were nothing, but deep inside I was worried. Something major must have happened to give them the power to come out of the night. This was something I couldn’t understand, until I talked to Garrick that was. He always had the answers, and they were always wise and comforting. Just thinking about him put me at ease. A few minutes later I pulled the SUV off of the two lane highway and onto a small dirt road through the trees. I had been here many times before. In fact the bonfire spot was a frequent party place for teenagers in the summer. In the winter, it was just way too cold to be outdoors for long periods. I never left the house much in the winter anyways. Besides school that is. After about half a mile the trees around us started to clear. I noticed cars parked all around. Some smaller ones were parked deeper inside the woods while others had just simply pulled off to the side.
“We’re here,” I announced. Pheona took her seatbelt off and I pulled the keys out of the ignition. I was not looking forward to this. Clearwater was a small town, and everyone knew everyone else’s business. I bet my sister’s special appearance at the annual bonfire would keep the gossip mill running for weeks. No doubt, mom and dad would find out soon enough about this trip.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been here,” Pheona told me.
I rolled my eyes. “You’ve been here?” I asked.
“Sure, I was a teenager once to you know.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t exactly peg you for the social type.” We both got out of the car, slamming the heavy truck doors loudly behind us. Pheona started to walk towards the music, like a fly drawn towards the light. I decided to follow close behind her.
“I was once, you were too young to remember or maybe care,” her voice drifted off as she moved through the woods and towards the clearing up ahead. I tried to keep up with her but this girl was fast! Although the sun was up, the woods were still eerie and dark. It was a quiet walk to the bonfire, the trees stood high all around us shutting out the daylight at the forest floor. The sounds of crickets and other forest creatures sung out so soft I could barely hear it. I could sense small shadows all around me that made me feel watched. The hairs on the back of my neck stood at end. I paused for a second to take a look at my surroundings. Nothing but brown and shadows. None of the shadows moved, and that was all that mattered. I tried to ignore the feeling that kept tugging at the back of my mind. It told me to be careful, and I tried to focus on the sound of the laughter and music that was only hundreds of yards ahead of me.
“Pheona! Wait for me!” I started to follow her again, and tried to run through the trees. I awkwardly stepped over roots and rocks. I cursed myself for wearing high heels. I should have known better, but the thought of seeing Garrick had made me want to dress up. Not that I had any romantic feelings for him. I cared for him, a lot. But that’s where my logic kicked in. He was beautiful with his silver white hair and light pale skin. His looks varied much from the darklings. Instead of radiating death and a horrible stench, he always smelled like a warm rainy day had washed over him. He was much taller than the darklings and towered over me by about half a foot. And his voice. Oh that voice just radiated with authority and dominance. Deep in my thoughts, I hadn’t even been paying attention to where I was going. I looked straight ahead to look for my sister and stopped to listen, but there was no music or yelling anymore. Confused, I spun around, looking for some sign of the party, or at least Pheona.
“Pheona?” I whispered. I searched for some sunlight, anything to make me feel better. There was no sound, not even bugs chirped. The unnatural silence was starting to scare me. Something wasn’t right.
The voice made my heart stop, but in relief. I spun towards the voice.
“Oh Garrick!” I cried, running towards him. “I was so scared; please tell me it’s going to be okay.” He looked the same as he always did and dressed in his usual black trench coat and oversized black boots. He was a few inches taller than me now, with a square jaw and pale skin.
Garrick placed his arms around me and shushed me. This was where I needed to be, safe and sound in his arms. He calmed me by rubbing the side of my face. His hands were so warm, it filled me instantly.
“It’s okay little one. There’s no one but me and you now.” With his touch, I instantly felt calm as always. I stopped my shaking.
“What’s going on?” I asked, drawing back to look at his face. He was the one thing in my life that I could count on, and since I could never really count on him, that was actually a sad thing. His life was a secret, and his world was an even bigger secret. He had never introduced me to anyone like him, if there were in fact others. He didn’t explain where he went or what he did while he was away, but I had complete trust that it was for my own good.
“My Gaby.” He smiled, stepping back and taking me all in. “You have grown so much since I saw you last. You grew your hair out.” He grabbed some of my blond locks between his fingers. “And it suits you.” I smiled inside brightly. I left his hand fall from my hair on to the tops of my shoulders. He held me strongly.
“Thanks.” I loved hearing a complement from him. His face grew serious, making him look much older than his usual twenty something face.
“Gaby, there is something wrong… in my world.”
I looked up at him just a bit worried, he never spoke about his world, ever. What was so different now? He had me worried.
“You can tell me. I hope everything is okay,” I urged on.
He hesitated briefly. He took a deep breathe then continued,
“ For every world there must be an opposite, there must be something out there to balance it. For my world, Axenia, there are the darklings. A long time ago their world started to die that’s when they started to merge into your world. When their world disappeared, many of them wanted to take over Axenia.”
I pulled back from him, I was a little confused as to why he was telling me this now, and I could tell he was struggling. There was sadness in his eyes,
“Are you okay?” I asked him. I put my hand on his forehead and wiped some of his long hair back. He smiled small at first and lovingly brushed my hand away. He put his arms around me tightly.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m just having a hard time keeping time still.”
I nodded. I had no idea that he could stop time, he had never done it before. I looked around at the trees and dirt covered floors. The silence and stillness of it all was wonderful. I felt myself relax a little more. I wondered how this silence could have frightened me so much earlier.
“Oh Gaby, I want so much to protect you.” he cried. “We don’t speak of the war, but in the end the darklings were banished. Some of them are alive among your world and a few migrated to other worlds. Lately, the evil in your world has strengthened them. They feed on the fears of you world. Yesterday, many of my guards joined them; they betrayed Axenia and took the forms of our enemy. They will look as evil and as rotten as any other darkling. Except… “
“They can come out in the daytime, out of the shadows,” I cut him off, knowing exactly what he would say.
I nodded and stared off into the picture still background. Everything around us was starting to blur around the edges.
“You’ve seen them.” he stated. I nodded firmly.
“They still won’t hurt you. I won’t let them. They may haunt and bother you but they are still scared of me. And when they lose every bit of goodness inside of them, they won’t be able to come out in the day anymore like the rest of them. It has already begun; they have retreated to the shadows.”
“And what happens,” I demanded. “When they aren’t scared anymore.”
An unfamiliar feeling inside of me started to creep up. It was a feeling I never experienced around Garrick. It was a feeling of distrust.
Surely they couldn’t be scared of his wrath forever. Why did the darklings stay away from me? Why were they so scared of him? It was a truth I had accepted long ago but now the unanswered questions kept nagging me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I didn’t think he had as much control as he thought he did.
“I have something for you.”
He said, putting my chin in his hand. He put his hand inside the pocket of his heavy trench coat.
When he pulled his hand out, around it was a long golden chain. Hanging from it, a large rock. It was about the size of a baby’s fist and looked similar to a crystal.
“Oh, it’s beautiful!” I whispered. A smile lit up on my face.
“It’s charged with the power of the sun It will give you more protection, they won’t want to come to close to you in that.” He put the long chain around my neck and put his hands on my shoulders.
“I can’t stay this time; my world needs me right now. But I will check in with you whenever I can.” He started to turn around but then I remembered I hadn’t asked him about Pheona.
“Wait,” I grabbed the end of his coat and tried to pull him back.
“My sister. Did you know she has the sight also?”
Garrick turned back around towards me. He was silent for what felt like minutes, but I’m sure it was only a few seconds.
“Yes I know, but I’m not interested in her.”
“What do you mean you’re not interested?” I cried. “She’s my family. Can’t you give her some sort of protection too?” I felt a bit guilty inside. I didn’t care to much about her before, but now that I knew she could see them like me, I felt a bit more protective.
Garrick’s shook his head sadly. “And you can’t tell her about me.”
“Oh...” I bit my lip, afraid to look him in the eye. I didn’t want to tell him that I had already told her.
“Why not?” I asked innocently.
“I’m telling you more than I planned, just remember. I would do anything to protect you.”
“Please don’t leave me,” I begged. I was desperate. I didn’t want to be alone anymore. He was the only one I could talk to, trust. He gave me a pained look and put his hand on the side of my face and gave one of his melting smiles that made me temporarily forget what I asked. The warmth of his hand spread across to my other cheek. His touch made me feel as if I had been sitting out in the hot sun for hours. Just as a bead of sweat started to trickle down my temple, he disappeared and the world went back to normal.