Icy wind stung my cheeks and burned my lungs, releasing hot steam against the cold night. Low hanging branches scrapped my face and tore at my dark hair like angry hands. I frantically stumbled through the grove of twisting trees, fog and darkness blanketing my path.
The monster chasing me was gaining ground.
My heart pulverized the inside of my ribcage and my muscles trembled with fatigue. I peeked over my shoulder, squinting through the creeping fog to see shining teeth and sharp claws.
My gasp was echoed by a shrill, high pitched laugh.
Goose bumps exploded across my flesh. Why is it after me?
My bare feet slipped on the dry forest bracken, tangling in a briar patch. When I wrenched my legs free I noticed an ivory hilted dagger clutched in my hand. The wicked blade was smeared with crimson.
Sickness rose in my throat and I longed to lie down, but the presence of hot, fetid breath slithered down my nape. The monster was right on my heels. I had to keep running.
A light beamed ahead. I stretched my arms out as if I could drag the safety of the glow closer.
Almost there. Almost there.
Gnarled, boney claws suddenly snagged my hair.
My scream froze in my mouth as it whirled me around and I saw those angry, soulless eyes.
I was falling… falling… falling…
My head thudded against the hardwood floor of my bedroom and I wished I hadn’t chunked the fuzzy rug that used to surround my bed. “Ouch,” I grumbled, brushing long strands of dark hair out my eyes to see my aqua blue satin sheets demurely hanging off my bed as if they hadn’t just tossed me out.
Stupid, slippery, betraying monsters.
The image of that soulless eyed creature from my nightmare rose up, prickling my flesh.
“Where the hell had that come from?”
I bit my lip recalling the thick grove of trees, swirling fog, and bloody knife.
“Must have been that hotdog, hamburger, and pasta pizza experiment I conducted last night,” I mused, brushing off the lingering unease. “Note to self—favorite foods don’t always become extra favorite when blended.”
I staggered up and decided, even though it was only 8 o’clock on Saturday morning, to nix returning to bed since my day probably wouldn’t get any weirder.
Oh how wrong I was.
“I’m sorry. You want me to what?” I glared at my parents, my light honey eyes bulging from their sockets.
Their delighted faces beamed back as if this was the greatest news in the world. “We want you to attend Highland Academy while we’re in Antarctica,” my mother said.
“I thought we decided I was going to stay with Jill while you were gone.” Actually I decided I was going to stay at home alone. Not for lack of parental guidance or rules, but for the quiet solace. There’s nothing like having a house to myself for months!
“Everything will work out Rubi. You’ll see.” My father patted mother’s hand, a smile twisting his thin lips.
If anyone ever needed proof opposites attract look at my parents. My mother was a granola crunching, tree hugging, barefoot loving, free spirited hippie while my dad was a straitlaced, glasses wearing, pocket protector collector, geeky mathematician.
Marshall McHale was tall and lanky like a beanpole with close to the scalp black hair surrounding his symmetrical face. His dark, almond shaped eyes were serious yet comical when he squinted at his paperwork through glasses sliding down his nose. Sarah McHale was petite and curvy with long golden hair feathering around her mischievous honey eyes.
The only thing they had in common—besides me—was their commitment to preserving the environment and planet Earth. I had to admit they made an unstoppable team with my mother’s charisma and my father’s number crunching and formula driven brain. They’ve been planning a trip to Antarctica to help stop global warming or save the whales—something along those lines. Their environmental consciousness didn’t spread to me as much as they like. I have no idea what my carbon footprint is.
“I know you want to stay with your friends, but you can’t pass up the opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious boarding schools in New England,” my father said, pushing up his wire-rimmed glasses, a tell-tale sign of his excitement. “We put an application in four months ago and a spot unexpectedly opened.”
I paced in front of the round kitchen table where my parents sat, the sunlight reflecting brightly on the translucent glass top. My fingers twisted through my long dark hair, frustration ebbing to the surface. “But it’s September—the middle of the semester.”
“Oh Rubi.” My mom flashed me a smile laced with pride. “You’re so smart. You’ll be able to catch up in no time.”
I clenched my jaw to stop from rolling my eyes. It was only semi-successful. How could they expect me to be okay with this? My friends are here—all two of them—and I have no idea how to make new friends because I’ve only ever lived here. I’ve basically known the same people all sixteen years of my life.
My father’s smile suddenly stretched tight across his face. “You’ll just love Salem in the fall.”
I blanched. “Salem? Salem, Massachusetts?”
“Yes,” my parents said in unison.
I didn’t think it was possible to be more shocked than I already was.
My eyes glanced out our giant bay window overlooking the sparkling Florida ocean and powder sandy beach. The weather was a delicious 85 degrees and I saw the hint of a fragrant breeze swaying the palm trees in a rhythmic dance. Coconut oil perpetually lingered in the air and an array of bright sea food was readily available. And swimming was an everyday event.
My gaze flickered back to my parents, my face horrified. “Salem, Massachusetts?” I repeated, my voice gaining a shrill edge. “As in cold and dreary? Oh and not to mention witches and stuff?”
A nervous layer surrounded their laughter.
“There aren’t any witches in Salem Rubi.” My mom’s calm voice contrasted with her fidgeting hands tangling in her wavy blonde hair.
My father stood and placed his hand on my mother’s slender shoulder, demonstrating their unity. “It’ll be great,” he insisted, his smile stretching all the way to his clean cut black hair.
I crossed my arms against my chest convinced it would be the opposite of great. A boarding school in Salem, Massachusetts makes me picture gloomy weather, opposing shadows, and unfamiliar snobby kids.
The school probably looks like an old castle outfitted with turrets, cobwebs, and ghosts. It probably even has gargoyles.