Her father’s eyes held a vitality she’d never seen in them before. He looked much younger, almost her age. When he smiled at her, the expression didn’t look put on. It seemed effortless. He stepped towards her and a warm draft brushed across her face and encircled her. She relaxed in its embrace, feeling at ease for the first time since her world fell apart. Again, she felt removed from her surroundings, but not as she did in the church; she felt instead as if she stood in a different reality, a place behind the scenes of everything familiar.
Her father raised his hand. That strange green light glowed in his palm and he opened his mouth to speak.
“It’s okay,” he said.
He motioned for her to come and she approached belly aflutter, heart still slamming. He approached, too, moving far more confidently than she. They met and locked hands. She cried and felt no shame, because she and this apparition of her father were separate from the rest of the world. She could see it, but she didn’t acknowledge it and it didn’t see her. The veil only existed on their side, like a two-way mirror for the spirit world.
She drew closer to her father. He helped her forward and pulled her in for an embrace. Heat radiated from him. The closer she got, the less comfortable the heat made her. She felt like she did the time she fell asleep on the beach and got a terrible sunburn. He snaked his arms around her. She looked up at him. She needed to see him. She needed to know this was real. Maybe then she could ignore this awful heat.
He opened his mouth and leaned in for a kiss.
“Dad, no,” she said and tried to pull away.
The heat in his core increased. She squealed in revulsion and tried to worm her hands between them to push him off. Her father grinned. His blue eyes turned the color of burning coal. His mouth opened wider. A red tongue lolled between the lips and split in two, leaking yellow pus that dribbled down his chin. Finally, Katie kicked free and fell hard on her butt. Painful vibrations rocked their way up her spine.
When she looked up, she met the burning gaze of the monster that took everything from her. His hands were hooked into claws. Katie screamed and flailed and kicked, too panicked to regain her feet.
But then, something else broke through her fear: a pure rage unlike anything she ever felt in her twenty-one years, a rage she never before thought could live inside her.
She rose and tackled her assailant to the ground, screaming like a banshee with its hair on fire.
The voice cut through her fury, distant and muffled. She swung her fists, pounding the face of the demon who had ruined her and her family. The voice crying her name took on a more anxious tone. A hint of pain slipped through. The face changed into Jake’s. He held her hands, but cringed against her.
She jerked her head side to side, checked her surroundings for any sign of the demon. Dale stood at the edge of the woods, Melissa on his arm. His eyes were soft and wide. Melissa’s eyebrows were cocked.
“Jake, oh my God,” Katie said, and fell into his arms.
“What the hell was that?” he asked.
“I…I don’t know. I thought…never mind…I just…I think I need to lie down.”
“Sure. Sure. I’ll take you to the car.”
He took her to the black Corolla and she plopped down in the passenger seat.
“So, what was that all about?” Jake asked as he lowered the seat for her.
“Fuck if I know. Probably having a goddamn nervous breakdown.”
“Should we call Ruthanne?”
Ruthanne was her therapist, a middle-aged hippy with an office that smelled like cinnamon. The office was the only place Katie felt safe. She wanted to say ‘yes’ so badly, but there was still so much to do.
“I’ll call her, just…after today…after Dad’s house is cleaned up.”
“I can pitch in, too,” Dale said, coming up behind Jake.
“Sure Melissa will be cool with it?” Katie asked.
“She’ll have to be. I want to help you.”
Katie took her brother’s hand and squeezed it. After she released him, Dale and Jake rejoined Melissa and walked back to the church. Katie curled up against the passenger seat and watched the black, swirling storm clouds through the dirty windshield.