The Terra-Belle Demon, Chapter 11

Phoebe queried me, “We live here just the two of us?”

“Yeah, why?” I responded to her as I drove to the end of the cul-de-sac.

“There’s someone in the driveway,” Phoebe pointed out.

I screeched the car to an abrupt halt. I hadn’t told anyone that she got released from the hospital, so I didn’t esteem that the figure hovering by our garage would have been there for a non-threatening reason! I turned off the headlights because I didn’t want Phoebe to see this confrontation. Sure, she accepted my bouts with the supernatural realm previously, but I assumed she had done so from already suspecting something hinky was afoot. I couldn’t imagine how she would react when she had no inkling of anything otherworldly transpiring! Besides, even if by some miracle she did accept this circumstance, she was in no shape to fight anyone after being on bed rest for a few days! I had just gotten her back, I didn’t want to lose her so soon! “Wait here!” I instructed her. I could hear her object, but I walked of prior to explaining myself…

…For a second! I returned to my vehicle, and I briefed Phoebe, “I actually need those on ‘cause the bulb in that light needs replacing.”

“Should I be worried?” Phoebe probed.

“No! Well, maybe! We’ll see!” I muttered prior to dashing off again.

As I traveled towards our abode, I privately thought the correct reply to her enquiry was yes. Once again, I was approaching a potential enemy without any sort of weapon to defend myself! I made a mental note to start carrying around a crucifix or something from then on as I observed the shadowed stranger on our property. They seemed human so far, but I reckoned that could change at any moment. The silhouette scurried off to a site adjacent to our dark stoop, and while I partly wondered when the porch light went out, I mostly kept myself on guard. I saw it crouched low by the steps, and before I could even turn my flashlight app on, I heard Jett hiss and a loud pop! A million negative possibilities ran through my mind, and my pulse raced at each and every one of them! I couldn’t illuminate the front of my dwelling fast enough! What I spotted went beyond any of my expectations…

Holding two heart-shaped balloons and a deflated red one, Brantley sheepishly greeted me, “Welcome home!”

“How did you find out our address?” I folded my arms to stifle the urge to punch that twerp. I supposed I may have had legal justification for doing so since he was trespassing, but the last thing I wanted to deal with following an arduous afternoon was legal proceedings!

“I saw it on her I.D… And I only went through her purse ‘cause she was still asleep when I first saw her and I wanted to know her situation!” Brantley justified himself.

Gritting my teeth, I growled, “And you memorized it?”

Brantley refuted that, “No! I took a picture… for emergencies!” He glanced around, and then he inquired, “Where’s Phoebe anyways?”

“It doesn’t matter! She doesn’t wanna see you!” I spat.

“Did she say that?” Brantley challenged me.

I informed him, “Her exact words were, ‘Make sure that asshole doesn’t follow us home!’”

Brantley pouted, “I didn’t follow you, I got here first!” My patience was wearing thin, and he gathered as much. As he cowardly fled from me, he expressed, “I’d rather hear it from her lips!”

I sped towards my car, and luckily, I beat him by a considerable stretch!  I got out of breath though, and Phoebe gawked at me with a startled visage. “What’s going on?” I couldn’t verbalize anything- instead, I locked the vehicle’s doors. I did so in the nick of time too! Brantley attempted to open the passenger’s side, and Phoebe groaned, “Oh, I see!”

“Darling! Are you happy to see me?” Brantley pressed her.

“Can’t you run him over?” Phoebe jokingly encouraged me. At least, I assumed it was a joke…

Brantley pathetically beseeched her, “Come on, sugar plum! I’m a changed man! I swear, I only wanna coexist with you, not control you! NOW, OPEN THIS DOOR AND TALK TO ME! Don’t be rude!”

Phoebe shouted at him, “How many times have I said it’s over? Seriously, how many times was it?” She looked at me, and I shrugged. “Bye, Brantley!”

“No! I refuse to say goodbye! You belong to me, and when you’re ready to do the right thing, I’ll be right here waiting!” Bradley took a position by the nearly completed McMansion and sat in a huff.

“Do you not have a job?” I inquired him.

He stubbornly replied, “I have two weeks of sick pay I never use ‘cause I’m as fit as a fiddle!” He proceeded to let out a series of sneezes as I pulled into the driveway.

As I used my cellphone to provide an unobscured path to our place’s entryway, Jett was on our lawn cleaning pieces of red from her paw. I appealed to her, “Keep that prick out of our yard!” Jett craned her neck up as if she was listening, blinked once, and returned to her grooming.

“Wow! It’s almost like she can speak!” Phoebe remarked as we went into the mudroom.

“Well, no, when she speaks, she…” I dropped my keys when I recognized that I was close to blurting an enchanted tidbit! Roxy’s one and only successful spell enabled Jett to communicate in English, and it bugged the heck out of us! I had gotten so used to commiserating about previous setbacks with her that I was going to gripe about it with her from sheer habit! I couldn’t do that in the present though- I wouldn’t want to chase her off before she had even crossed the threshold! She peered at me peculiarly, and it seemed necessary to complete my sentence, so I took a stab at it, “..Meow!” That didn’t remedy the problem at all, so I hurried and opened the door to distract from that awkwardness. 

I announced, “Here we are! Home sweet home!”

Phoebe surveyed the space, and her poker face made me slightly nervous. The furniture was the posh leftovers from my penthouse era, but the carpet was outdated and the structure was overtly asymmetrical. I worked out that this style was innovative in the decade this joint got built in, but it badly needed modernizing! I fretted that the facade would repulse her enough to make her leave, but to my relief, she commented, “I bet it’s never boring around here!”

“Nope!” I grinned. “Although, with how crazy everything’s been lately, a little boringness would be delightful!”

“Has our school been real batty?” Phoebe guessed.

I emphatically confirmed, “Oh yeah!” I had to suppress my laughter at her descriptive word due to its inadvertent allusion to Damon’s stint as a vampire! I dearly wished I could share this humor with her, but I didn’t want to suffer the consequences of revealing our paranormal history too soon!

Phoebe determined, “I need to explore more!”

“Feel free!” I chuckled. Her eyes sparkled with the glow of an upcoming adventure, and it was quite becoming! I felt tempted to join her in the bedroom, but in her condition, I didn’t want to push her into that too fast!

“Hey! We have two bathrooms!” Phoebe observed. “So, my long showers really aren’t a big deal, huh?”

I assured her, “Of course not!” I refrained from adding that I rarely used the guest bathroom msince Babelsama’s former presence in that locale continued to tarnish my thoughts, and I had no inkling how I was going to rationalize the windowless curtains in there! The porthole to the Netherworld got closed, but I didn’t feel ready to risk removing that cover!

My phone chimed, and I sat at the dining room table to read my message. Ginger sent a text in our group chat to find out whether or not I obtained any updates on Phoebe, and the wounds from their mistrustful actions still stung, so the compulsion to shield the welcomed news of her arrival at our address from them appeared like a fitting punishment. However, I didn’t have the heart to keep them in suspense like that! We were going through a rough spot, but I esteemed that our alliance wouldn’t break from this! Besides, they were likely to see her on campus tomorrow! I begrudgingly composed a statement, but I got as far as “She came” when…

“Why do we have this?” Phoebe plopped a large tome onto the table.

“Aahh!” I jumped a bit from the fright of that surprise clamor, but once I recovered, I became intrigued by this discovery. “Where did this turn up?”

Phoebe relayed to me, “I found it under the bed. Do we do magic?” 

I couldn’t distinguish whether or not her piqued interest stemmed from an aversion to the subject or a keen willingness to partake! I itched to use this opportunity to profess all of our entanglements with the occult, but I chose to exercise caution and filled her in, “Oh, we used that spell book for a school project last year.” That wasn’t even a lie- it was an endeavor happening at Rosemary King, I merely didn’t mention that our effort wasn’t scholastic! “That’s actually a library book, and it’s long overdue! I should probably return it before I set a record for fines!”

From the way she looked at me, I felt fairly certain that she got the impression that I was hiding something. I anticipated an argument, but instead, she let it go and mentioned, “I’m gonna keep searching and see what other treasures I can dig up!”

I kidded, “If you stumble upon my yearbook, feel free to burn the page with my picture!” She giggled, and it heartened me to hear her share some joy! I glimpsed at my phone, and my gratification turned to horror to behold that I sent the phrase “Phoebe came” to everyone! Well, initially it horrified me, but then I became amused to read their aghast reactions. Ellie noted how we had been discussing too much about our sex lives lately, and I notified them of the truth as if I planned that quip all along. I pored over the spell book, and I dreaded adding an extra chore to my itinerary tomorrow! After mulling it over for a minute, I considered that it may give me some insight into the dilemma of wands that fell into the wrong hands, and I decided to allow more fines to occur…

At lunch the next day, which I finally got to sit down for, Phoebe regaled the others about her first shift back, “Thank goodness I wrote out a thorough agenda! I did that for substitutes, not my memory issues, but hey- it was extremely useful nonetheless!”

“Your sub thought it was helpful too,” Aleck conversed. “It’s fortunate Manuel got someone to do it! If he hadn’t, it would’ve fallen to the new secretary, and he’s… here! Hi, Mrithan!” Mrithan waved as he set up a new coffee machine.

“So… what’s new with everyone in the last decade?” Phoebe canvassed our bunch. “Fletcher, do your angels still wanna become nuns someday?”

Ginger, Aleck, Ellie, and I snickered at that notion, and Fletcher buried his head in his arms and moaned, “That would have been nice!”

Mrithan announced, “There! It’s ready to go! Who wants some coffee?” All of the faculty in the area put their mitts in the air, and his eyes widened. “Woah! I better make a large pot!”

“Brielle and I bought a house a few years ago,” Ginger acquainted Phoebe. “It’s so much better than our old studio! I’ll show you… Where’s my sweater? I had my cellphone in that pocket…”

“One big pot of coffee coming-!” Mrithan slipped on Ginger’s lost apparel, and the urn he was holding tipped over, which dowsed me in all of its contents! “Ugh! I’m such a clutz! Please, forgive me!”

I wasn’t pleased with this development, but contending this issue seemed rather pointless given his penchant for clumsiness, so I reassured him, “It’s alright! It’ll dry out! I’m gonna go see if I can speed the process up!”

As I went into the men’s room, I was grateful that no one else occupied these quarters so I wouldn’t have to account for the mishap! All I wanted to do was alleviate the giant, wet stain that took over my shirt and finish my meal, but as I reached for the paper towels, it became evident that wasn’t going to happen! “No, please! Not now!”

The Terra-Belle Demon, Chapter 9

I surveyed the class, and most of them avoided my eye contact. “No one knows?” The students were mute, but Roxy’s eyes spoke volumes! She gave me a very pronounced glare, and I could only imagine that she biked her way to the downtown area on Friday and found out about the defeat of that radioactive bunny! I wasn’t sure how she learned this since the only three witnesses to that affair were taken to the hospital, and one of them was unconscious! I would’ve shaken my head at her animosity over this occurrence, but we were in a quarter packed with somewhat judgy people who would definitely press me on something I didn’t want to explain… that is if one of them actually looked up and noticed my disapproval! “Come on, guys! The difference between short-term and long-term goals, it’s not that hard! I know at least some of you know it since a few of you took this class before!”

Yurei and Ismeray simply shrugged, and I had to stifle a noise of annoyance. This wasn’t a required course, these kids chose to be here! And yet they didn’t seem to have any desire to participate! I lost hope of anyone delivering the result I desired until Peter abruptly declared, “I’ve got it!”

“Go ahead and say,” I directed him while washing in a wave of alleviation. He was the last individual I expected to provide a response, but I welcomed his cooperation anyhow!

“It’s some sort of murder mystery!” Peter emphatically stated.

His assertion caused me to blink in confusion. “Huh?”

Peter clarified, “The movie I was working on this summer! Nobody in the warehouse would tell me about it, but I put the clues together… The handcuffs, the sweaty actors, that woman I heard screaming… It’s gotta be some whodunit story!”

“No, it doesn’t!” I managed to push the memory of that terrible encounter with Phoebe’s sister out of my thoughts, and I shuddered at its renewal in my brain!

“Sure, it is! What else could it be?” Peter wondered.

I obviously couldn’t divulge the pornographic nature of the flick, but I didn’t know how to address it except to try and quell one of my concerns. “Are you eighteen yet?”

Peter griped, “Why does everyone ask me that when I bring up the plot?”

“It’s probably rated R,” Ismeray theorized. “You need your parents’ permission for that sorta stuff. It would’t have bothered my parents, but… Oh! You know what it could be? A cult thriller!”

“You should announce the new name of our coven,” Yurei suggested to Ismeray.

I disagreed, “No, she shouldn’t! She should-!”

Ismeray proclaimed, “It is no longer the S-U-C-K ‘cause too many people made dirty jokes about it. It has been renamed the Movement for Occult Accordance and Nicety- try and make fun of that!”

“So, you run a MOAN group?” a youngster deduced with a sly grin. “Do you-?”

“No!” I intervened. “We’ve gone way off topic! Since allegedly none of you know the answer, take out your books and-.”

Roxy slammed her text onto the floor, which sent a reverberation throughout the vicinity from its thud. “You are heartless, Mister Fenmore! Absolutely heartless!”

Her peers gazed at her in a startled intrigue, and I cut her off prior to her getting to expand on that concept, “Roxy, go to Principal Palillo’s office!” She stared at me with a growing huff of defiance, and for a moment, it appeared as though she were going to defy me and spill her guts about Damon’s displeasure at me surviving and foiling the initial phase of his plot! I prepared myself to call the hall monitor to escort her out, but I wasn’t ready to explain her antics to the rest of my pupils. I wouldn’t have personally cared if everyone considered her bonkers, but as a teacher, I had to promote fairness and harmony to everyone who attended my lessons. That would’ve been a pain in the rear, but I grew more worried about a few defectors siding with that demon and his devotee. I didn’t want to imagine how potent Damon would’ve been if he had more than one ally on campus! Thankfully, she stormed out without a fuss! I was in the clear, but for how long?”

“One is short, and one is long,” a girl remarked.

“What?” I queried as I recollected myself from that scare.

The girl elucidated, “Uh, I was answering your question…”

I had gotten so wrapped up in this hellish drama that I nearly forgot where I was at that juncture! I was almost certain that wasn’t the first instance these children may have developed a less than flattering opinion of my wits because of my spaciness too! I recentered my focus, and then I inquired, “Could you expand on that?”

“No,” she replied.

“No?” I echoed in surprise. “Why not?” The bell rang, and I commented, “Oh, I see!” As they exited the classroom, I went into the hall and instructed them, “You all have to write a one-page essay on the topic since we didn’t get to cover it today!” The juveniles groaned, and I added, “Someone tell Roxy!”

Casper aloofly leaned in his doorway, and he demanded, “Guess what I did this weekend!”

I bluntly refused, “No. I don’t really care that much!”

“I participated in a charity golf tournament,” he let me know anyways. “I placed third, but I still raised more money than anyone!”

“Good for you!” I reacted without any enthusiasm.

Casper concurred despite my lack of authenticity, “Yes, it is! I spent the weekend doing a bunch of good for… What was it again? Well, it doesn’t matter! It was a noble cause! How much good did you do for the community last Saturday?”

I definitely wasn’t about to indulge anyone in the true account of the chaos I recently endured, but I especially wasn’t going to regale him with it! I intended to utter something sarcastic as I usually did when he bugged me, but instead, I decided to wipe that stupid smirk off of his visage in another manner. “I was visiting my fiancé in the ICU. She got attacked by something powerful, and we still don’t know if she’ll sustain any permanent damage.” His expression shifted into guilt, and I darted back into my room with a small sense of satisfaction that at least one thing went right that day!

At lunch, I raced towards the teachers’ lounge. I promised to deliver a more detailed narrative of our tussle with that otherworldly brat’s concoction, and I was eager to relay this information to someone! Keeping this completely secret was maddening! I eagerly put my hand on the doorknob, but then…

A booming guitar riff erupted from the theatre next door! I witnessed youths using their lunch for performing arts practice, and I typically paid no attention to it, but I recognized this tune! It was one of my favorites! My curiosity peaked so intensely that there was no chance I would’ve been able to concentrate on the important conversation I needed to have, and it was crucial to air the details accurately, so I figured I had an obligation to unearth this mystery! Besides, I reasoned that this investigation wouldn’t take a very lengthy stretch…

Corvina masterfully strummed her instrument, and it stunned me that she possessed this ability! I mean, I recalled her recommending that we attend her band’s show, but I didn’t picture it having any genuine quality to it! Many high school students formed musical groups, but it seemed rare to encounter one that sincerely harbored any potential! If they did, they customarily produced songs of their generation, but she was playing an old-school jam as well as the pros! I awaited a break in their rehearsal so that I could commend her work, but her drummer sat down to join her. It looked likely that a pause would not ensue very shortly, but I was wrong!

The drummer hit one note, and it was overtly evident that something had gone awry! A gust of wind shot out of one of his sticks, which felt like my vision was playing tricks on me until that gale started to develop a form! The drummer fainted, and Corvina gazed at the spectacle in horror. I directed her, “Corvina! Get off the stage!” I was too late though…

A lofty man with a lanky, pointed beard and sand swirling where his legs should be hovered over her, so I sped up to the stage to intercede in this assault. As the sandy man dove towards Corvina, and she instinctively held her instrument above her body and yelled, “Don’t touch my baby!”

“Say goodnight!” the sandy man seethed.

“Goodnight!” I shielded Corvina and punched the sandy man in the forehead! Well, I tried to anyways! My fist went through him as though I stuck my arm into a dust-devil! I was addled on how to act other than to blurt out, “Actually, I’m not ready to go to sleep yet…”

  The sandy man lunged at me, so I swiftly hurled myself to the ground. I assumed that Corvina would follow suit, but she didn’t, so I yanked her down prior to her collision with the sandy man. Her guitar landed on the surface with a thump, and Corvina complained, “Hey! That’s expensive!”

I shot back, “Yeah, but no one will hear you play it if you’re dead!” The sandy man glided in our direction, so I spat, “Leave it!” We rolled in separate directions, but we each managed to avoid him.

Neither Corvina nor I could guess which one of us he’d target next, but he didn’t opt for either of the two standing folks! He floated towards the unconscious drummer! I was closest to him, so I zoomed over and knocked the drummer out of harm’s path! Corvina probed, “Now what?”

“Good question!” I strove to dredge up something helpful, but I came up blank. As I mulled it over, I could feel sand in my eyes! I crouched down to get out of his trajectory, but I couldn’t go far since I was having trouble seeing. I could sense him nearing me, and I panicked a little…

“Eat clouds!” Corvina aimed a fire extinguisher at the sandy man, and luckily, she was able to blur his sight in a span that allowed me the necessary seconds to clear the crud out of my lids! “Or whatever’s in these things!”

I ruefully mentioned, “Mister Thales would know! It’s too bad he’s not here- he could also explain how to defeat sand!” My range of view sharpened, and I espied the drummer’s lighter next to me. I grabbed it, bolted up, and snidely regarded the sandy man, “You’re toast!” I lit a flame and held it to his torso, but it had no effect whatsoever! “Dammit! I thought everything burned!”

Corvina ejected more haze from the fire extinguisher, and as I fled from my previous stance, Corvina catechized, “Isn’t sand a flame retardant?”

“Well… I had to do something!” I pouted slightly from a kid showing me up, and in order to regain some dignity, I exclaimed, “In a situation like this, you gotta keep trying different stuff ‘til something works! It’s not like the solution’s gonna fall out of the sky!” I glanced up, and I beheld an object that I remembered using against a monster last semester. “Or maybe it will…!”

“What?” Corvina puzzled. The sandy man approached her, so she blasted him again.

I set the lighter against the theatre curtain, and its blaze moved pretty fast! Corvina almost deployed her extinguisher on it, but I advised her, “No, wait!”

The sandy man advanced towards us, but preceding his ability to get into our proximity, the sprinklers above the stage went off! I gazed at the sandy man with my fingers crossed, and it comforted me that he now bore a completely alarmed mood! Moments later, his form sunk to the floorboards, and to our relief, he became nothing more than a pile of soot!

Corvina galloped to the heap and gave it a robust kick. I was about to enquire about her behavior, but she anticipated this and conveyed to me, “I realized he’s gone, but I’m not taking any chances!”

She spread that muck across the stage, and the drummer was just beginning to stir when a heavyset fellow entered into the facility. He apparently wasn’t expecting to see anybody in the theatre, and for sure, he was not expecting to witness this scene! I presumed that he was going to scold us for creating a mess in his space, but instead, he applauded! “Love the energy! Very rock and roll! I need that area for my class soon though, so could you kindly clean that up? Please and thank you!”

“What’s going on?” the drummer groggily pondered.

“Practice is over!” I snatched his drumsticks away from him, and I observed that they were very knotted and gnarly. “Are these magic wands?”

The drummer justified his decision, “I thought it’d be cool since our band’s called Mystic Mischief!”

I recalled that Cricket was en route to a wizardry ball, and it seemed likely that she would’ve brought a wand too in order for her to manufacture that monster! I tersely told the drummer, “Not cool!”

“Totally agree! It’d throw off the quality of your percussion!” the theatre teacher chimed in. I wanted to delve into the origin of these commodities, but adolescents were trickling into the venue. I ran to return to my classroom, but I resolved to discover where these young people were getting these wands!

The Terra-Belle Demon, Chapter 7

“Phoebe, check your phone! Wait, if you’re hearing this message, you’ve already done that! Well, be on the lookout for… something! I have no idea what he’s gonna do, but Damon’s back, band he mentioned your whereabouts, so… I dunno! But it doesn’t sound good! I’m on my way to help you with… whatever! ‘Kay, love ya! Bye!” I hung up and threw my phone onto the empty passenger seat with frustrated venom. I knew I needed to urgently warn Phoebe about Damon’s activities, but it wasn’t until after I got on that call that I realized that I didn’t get many details on this scheme he cooked up for my fiancé! It could’ve been anything! I wasn’t sure what she would even do with the information I gave her when she received it! I considered that this vague threat had been a mere ploy to mess with me, or he may have been trying to distract me from a more serious threat, but I disregarded both of those theories pretty quickly since I didn’t believe Damon was that smart. I could that demented dimwit probably wasn’t trying to deceive me- he definitely had some deviousness up his sleeves! It may not have been as potent as I feared, but irrespective of whether or not it was lame, I had to do all I could to thwart any and all peril against my beloved. Or anyone else!

“Oh, come on!” I groaned as I stared at the downtown traffic. The streets were packed, and I could hardly budge an inch! I irritatedly banged my head onto the steering wheel, but I didn’t keep it there for long. I couldn’t, not when my soulmate was in danger! Either with her life or general annoyance from that jerk! I glanced around to ascertain clues to his malevolent plot. Everything seemed fairly normal. The antique buildings were still bustling with customers, and the lights shined brightly on the many drivers who were losing their patience in this jam. All of the cars contained ordinary citizens who didn’t show signs of mischief or darkness. I started to wonder if this gridlock was Damon’s plan to punish me, but I soon changed my mind on that!

A slender but imperious young lady with showy makeup and an elaborate updo screeched at a jaywalker, “You’re breaking the law, jackass! Oh, you’re gonna flip me off? Well, I hope you have fun in court for your criminality, you piece of shit!” She noticed me in the vehicle adjacent to hers and blushed. “Sorry, Mister Fenmore! I lost my cool, and…”

I reminded her, “Uh, Cricket… We’re not in school! You’re not in school at all, actually! Remember, you graduated last June?”

“As a matter of fact, I am still in school!” she proudly proclaimed. “I’m going to college for pre-law, which is why it drives me crazy to see so many morons disobeying the rules! Society set up guidelines for conduct for a reason, and their recklessness gets me so… ugh!”

“Have you seen anything especially heinous tonight?” I asked in the prospect of getting a lead on Damon’s tactics.

We crawled a few feet forward, and then she ranted, “Yes! One guy blatantly ran a red light! The truck ahead of him sped through a yellow, and he probably assumed that it was alright for him to mimic that move, but it’s not! My niece is in kindergarten, and even she knows what you’re supposed to do at a stoplight! And yet, this creep-!”

I pulled into an open spot, and I yelled to Cricket, “Talk to you soon!”

Cricket thought she could pull up more, but the influx halted once more, so she cried out, “Damn it! I’m gonna miss the Wizardry Ball! Do you know how much this f’ing wand costed?” I was slightly curious on how much she got duped into spending for a costume she would likely only wear one time, but I had far more important priorities to contend with, so I chose not to engage and darted off.

As I traversed the route to the bridal boutique Phoebe currently occupied, I visually scanned the area. Everything in my proximity behaved as usual, and I surprised myself by becoming vexed by the lack of horrible incidents! I needed at least one thing to go awry so that I could process what I was going to have to fight against! If nothing occurred, I couldn’t fathom what I would do next! Loiter around the district until Phoebe finished her appointment maybe? I grew more and more riled up at the possibility of wasting an entire evening, and then…

A shadowy figure suddenly emerged from the alley on my left, and my pulse dramatically skyrocketed! This was it, I thought! The moment of truth came at last… Or did it? A raggedy man petitioned me, “Can I wash your windows?”

“Sorry, I’m pretty busy right now,” I politely declined as I tried to allay my aggravated adrenaline. If I had a minute to spare, I would’ve advised him not to startle prospective clients like that so he could get more business, but because he obviously wasn’t Damon’s trap, I had to go find where the real one was situated!

“No, I’d do the work,” the homeless man condescendingly corrected me. “You go be busy, and I go wash your windows!”

With no room for patience in this instance, I snapped, “Hey man, I’m not interested!”

The homeless man trailed me and persisted, “Oh, come on! You look like you’ve got some money!”

“I’m a teacher,” I disclosed to him.

“My apologies.” He gave me a little bow and scurried off.

This interaction nettled me enough that I nearly missed the gown shop! I peeked in, and I saw Phoebe standing on a small stool as Miriam and the saleswoman admired her long, flowing dress. She had a vastly angelic appearance, and I stood there in awe of her beauty! It seemed incredible that this goddess wanted to unite her life with mine, and I got so gobsmacked by this sight that I temporarily forgot my purpose in that sector! My wits returned to me when I heard Miriam gasp, “Phoebe! There’s a weirdo outside gawking at you!”

I rolled out of her range of vision, and I upbraided myself for losing my focus on my mission! I may have gotten distracted enough to overlook a vital clue, or possibly worse than that, I could have ruined this exciting phase in the wedding planning process for Phoebe! Thankfully, Miriam didn’t seem to have recognized me or else she would have corrected the saleswoman when she assured her, “Eh, it’s probably Goofy Gulliver. He’s a bit off, but he’s harmless! So, anyways, what do you think of this mermaid style?”

“Hmm…” Phoebe glanced down at it with an uncertain expression. I peered in again, and even though I adhered to my cause and surveyed the store for hints of trouble, I couldn’t resist casting my eyes to her direction for a spell! She absolutely glowed in that apparel, so I couldn’t comprehend why she was hesitating! “It’s kinda lengthy…”

“It’s supposed to be,” the saleswoman explained. “It has a train that follows behind you.”

Phoebe probed, “Isn’t it sorta risky to have it dragging on the ground like that?”

The saleswoman became somewhat sullen by Phoebe’s characterization of her ware. “Dragging around… I’ve never heard of a train described like that! Well, I promise you it’s safe!”

As if on cue, a voluminous boom sounded from the alleyway! Miriam and the saleswoman gazed at the source of the cacophony with fright, but Phoebe’s instincts compelled her to intervene. She descended from her slight elevation, but the elongated hem made her tumble to the floor! “I’m gonna say no to this one” she decreed to the saleswoman.

Shortly after poring into the dark abyss behind the shopping row, Phoebe joined me with both hands holding up her skirt so she could travel without falling. “What’s going on?” she canvassed me.

“Damon’s about to launch a major offensive! I left you a message, why didn’t you answer?” I queried.

“I left my phone in my purse while I was changing. What do you mean Damon’s about to launch a major offensive?” Phoebe questioned me. “How could-?”

She cut herself off as Gulliver zoomed by while screaming in terror. He crashed into some garbage bags by a dumpster, and he agonized, “Oh no! They blocked the exit! We’re all gonna die!”

I catechized, “What’s after you?”

“The monster!” he bellowed.

“What kind of monster?” Phoebe wondered.

Prior to Gulliver getting to respond, we felt a series of quakes that signified the movements of a gigantic creature! The volume and vibrations of these tremors heightened as the unknown beast charged forward, and we desperately searched for a weapon, although I wasn’t positive what tools could get used against this concealed adversary. I regretted racing over to this opponent without obtaining some method of defending myself, but all I could do at this juncture was pray for a simple solution! The entity stepped out of obscurity, and…

Phoebe gushed, “Aww! It’s so cute!” The colossal bunny rabbit would’ve been an adorable spectacle indeed if it weren’t for those eyes! The rabbit whipped its head in our direction, and its glowing red orbs emitted an especially demeanor against its black fur. The illumination increased in intensity, and instantly, Phoebe and I dodged out of its scope. We leapt away right on time- the bunny shot out what I could only describe as radioactive lasers! From the crates she sought refuge behind, Phoebe vociferated, “What the hell is wrong with that thing?” 

The rabbit roared, and it advanced toward Phoebe! I couldn’t have that, so I grabbed a glass bottle from the pavement and called out, “Hey, hare-brain!” I threw the bottle at it, and I was pleased to see it swivel away from her! However, it was now seeking me out! I bemoaned, “Oh, crap! Speaking of hare-brains… what the hell was I thinking?” It created more of its radioactive lasers, and I intuitively clutched a trash lid to shield myself. To my surprise, the projectile ricocheted off of the surface and hit the brick wall of the edifice diagonal from me! “Hey! I’m still alive!”

“Maybe we can get the light to shoot back at it!” Phoebe suggested. “We’d have to work out the correct angle… Darn, I wish Ginger was here!”

“Catch!” I tossed a trash lid to Phoebe, and after she received it, she narrowly avoided catastrophe! “You too, Gulliver!”

I threw one to him, and he popped out of hiding to enquire, “Did someone say my name?” The lid clocked him in the mouth, and the bunny didn’t get a chance to go after him since he went down.

Phoebe stepped out and taunted the rabbit, “Yo, cotton butt!” The trajectory hit her cover, but it impacted the cement in the lane the monstrosity originated from.

“Hi-ya, floppy ears!” I shifted my position, but the projectile missed my target.

“Yoo-hoo!” Phoebe paged it. Again, we were unsuccessful.

I yelled, “Dumb varmint!” Another fail.

Phoebe barked, “Carrot breath!” I was beginning to feel bad that our abysmal geometry skills were resulting in so much structural damage.

“Bun-bun!” I hollered.

“Talking to me?” Gulliver darted up once more.

Phoebe jumped in front of him and repelled that assault. “He said bun-bun, not bum-bum!” The laser bounced off of some foil on a nearby roof, and to my horror, it partially landed on Phoebe’s side!

My heart froze as I beheld her limply fall! I couldn’t have the most important person in the world leave me! I ached to tend to her, but the bunny set its animus on me. I backed into the passage opposite from where I entered, and Gulliver reported, “She’s still breathing, and she has a pulse! She’s gonna need a decontamination shower asap though! Oh, that’s right! I was in paramedics training before the sickness! It’s all coming back to me now!”

It relieved me to hear her vitals were alright and that Gulliver collected his wits long enough to care for Phoebe, but I couldn’t articulate any of this because the bunny took a giant hop towards me! The path narrowed to a dead end, and I had nowhere to go! I used my arms to block my body as much as I could, but there wasn’t a lot I could’ve done to prevent myself from getting crushed! I braced myself for the worst…

Unexpectedly, the rabbit got stuck in midair! It howled in anger as it fruitlessly strove to release itself from the architecture that wedged it in suspense, and I exhaled in alleviation… until I espied the pressure from within the animal’s torso steadily increasing! “She’s gonna blow!” I announced as I fled from beneath the creature.

“How do you know it’s a she?” Gulliver inquired.

“Trust me, okay!” I replied as I gripped one of Phoebe’s arms. He clutched onto the other, and the two of us brought her as far away as we could from the beast…

An explosion blasted us onto the street, and bystanders shrieked at the terrifying occurrence. “What was that?” Miriam demanded.

I fibbed, “No idea!” I then directed her, “Call an ambulance!”

Upon seeing her daughter’s state, Miriam swiftly summoned first responders. Cricket appeared and sheepishly solicited, “Um… Did an oversized bunny happen to chase you?” I ogled her incredulously- I didn’t want to accept that a former student would unleash this terror on us! She clearly thought I was casting her in a less-than-lucid aura, so she expounded, “This hobo was panhandling without a permit! I wished that a monster would hassle him, but I picked something cuddly ‘cause I didn’t wanna hurt him But that wish couldn’t have possibly come true, could it? Whatever happened to you wasn’t from that, was it? I’m being silly, aren’t I?” I held my unconscious fiancé and my tongue- I couldn’t fathom how to respond to that with a smidgen of credible sanity!

The Terra-Belle Demon, Chapter 6

“I’m pretty sure the Arioch has rules against this!” I told her. “They don’t have a lot of them, but they do have some regulations on guest conduct, so you may wanna get down fast!”

“How did you see me?” Roxy pouted.

I glanced at the shadow cast by the lights that flickered on after twilight, and I sarcastically stated, “I’m clairvoyant.”

As Roxy climbed out of the tree, she showed keen interest in my claim. “Wow! Really?’

“Yeah! And in your future, I see… your mom and dad grounding you for going out without their permission!” I took a gamble with that assertion, but given that she was hiding, I seriously doubted that her actions were done with any sort of parental approval.

“Oh, very funny!” Roxy sulked. “Well, this changes nothing! I’m still gonna carry on with my plan!”

I hadn’t considered her motivation for patronizing the hotel, but now that it had come up, I grew slightly panicky. “What are your plans here?”

Roxy boldly declared, “I’m following your every move!”

“Thank god!” I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to return to the lobby and pop that pornography director in the head for using minors during his production.

“You’re not mad that I’m stalking you?” Roxy pondered.

My alleviation shifted into befuddled curiosity- I couldn’t comprehend why she had chosen to do that, but I knew that whatever her reason was, it wasn’t going to prove itself as fantastic news for me. “Oh, right… Why are you doing that?”

Roxy relayed her response in a manner that suggested she thought I was missing an overtly obvious fact, “Uh, to stop you from interfering with Damon’s scheme, duh!”

“What scheme is that?” I couldn’t tell if she had gotten into communication with that supernatural jerk or if she had merely presumed that I was privy to his activity. I hoped it was the latter because if he did share secrets with her, I didn’t relish trying to wrangle the truth out of a person who was incredibly stubborn and, well, not the sharpest tool in the box!

“The scheme you came to foil! You did come here ‘cause of my sweetheart, didn’t you?” Roxy interrogated me.

Not wanting to relive the fiasco with Phoebe’s sister, I maneuvered the conversation away from that direction, “How can I foil his scheme when he no longer exists?”

Roxy fumed, “Yes, he does! How could you say something like that?”

“I personally watched him get carted off to Hell. He was supposed to stay there all along for all of the evil deeds that he’s done, and someone illegally brought him back as a ghost. He’s proven he’s untrustworthy to remain on Earth, and they’re not gonna let him return!” I purposely omitted the part where I feared that he found a technicality that allowed him to continue his vengeful plot against our community. In this instance, it seemed like her venture would conclude faster if she dropped the idea of him having a presence on this planet. In the event of him reappearing in Terra Belle again, I intended to keep using this ploy for her own safety! She really should’ve been focusing on completing her senior year instead of chasing a crush who committed horrible atrocities and also never reciprocated her feelings anyways!

“You can’t tell me all of those weird things got caused by something other than him!” Roxy insisted.

Initially, I didn’t believe I could argue with that allegation since I held that position myself, but for her sake, I needed to drum up something to counter that! Remembering a movie Phoebe and I watched recently, I asserted, “Sure, I can! Rosemary King could’ve been built on an ancient burial ground! Perhaps the spirits of yore aren’t happy with us being there!” Roxy didn’t appear to buy that, so iterated, “What? You think that your ‘sweetheart’ is the only one to hold a grudge against our school?”

Finally, Roxy showed signs of buckling on this issue! “He did always say it was full of wicked people…”

“That’s right! Now, why don’t you call your folks and have them pick you up? You can sit on this bench, enjoy the view, and…” I steered her over to a seat by the water, but suddenly, I saw a flash of something that made me change my mind! “On second thought, you should wait in the parking lot! The nice, beautiful parking lot!” Every ounce of logic in my brain convinced me that I hallucinated the sight in the lake, but just in case I was wrong, I navigated her as far away from that area as I could! 

“Hello, Mister-!” Damon’s unmistakable voice echoed out.

I wasn’t certain if figments of imagination came with sound too, but hearing him speak led me to believe that my hunch about his reemergence had been correct all along. I reckoned that my stunned reaction stemmed from that last iota of hope that I was hugely mistaken and that I could live my life happy and drama free, and not only did that ship sail, the boat sunk and would never port again! As devastating as that realization was, I couldn’t even react to it properly due to my duty to this naive child in front of me- I had to remove her from the situation for her own protection! To cover up Damon’s articulation, I loudly advised Roxy, “You need to find a new purpose outside of him…”

Damon uttered another bid for attention, “Your attempts to ignore me is-!”

“There are so many things that you can do that’ll give you equal or greater amounts of fulfillment…” I increased my volume as I counseled her to conceal his arrival.

“You cannot-!” Damon tried to call out.

I shouted, “I learned the hard way if you make one individual…”

Damon yelled, “Do not ignore me!”

“…your only drive to succeed…” I vociferated.

“Cease your blathering!” Damon howled.

I continued, “…you’ll run out of gas pretty quick!”

Damon roared, “You’re so rude!”

“Independence-!” I bellowed.

“Reprobate!” Damon wailed.

I clamored, “…isn’t easy…”

Damon cried, “You’ll pay-!”

“…but it’s…!” I screamed.

“….for this!” Damon screeched.

I hollered, “…worth it!” I reached a point where I couldn’t ignore my need to catch my breath, and I prayed that Damon’s repulsion for Roxy would sway him to clam up for a stretch.

Roxy ogled me dumbfoundedly. “What’s going on? You’re acting weird even for you!”

Prior to me getting a chance to retort to that unfounded slur, Damon’s snicker reverberated to our proximity. Roxy caught wind of it, and I strove to avert her focus from that din, “Your friend, Ismeray, started a coven, you should-.”

“Did you hear that?” Roxy asked me.

“I didn’t hear anything,” I lied.

Roxy apologized, “Oh, sorry! I forgot you’re old!” Damon guffawed at that offense, and at this point, I couldn’t do anything to cover it up. Roxy’s eyes sparkled, and she shrieked, “It’s him! It’s my Damon! He found me!”

Damon exclaimed, “Oh, hell!”

“Day-Day! Ooh, I knew you couldn’t resist being in my arms!” Roxy lunged at him to give him a hug, but she wound up face-planting into the pond.

“That was low even for you!” I remarked as I pulled her out.

Damon inquired, “Which one of us are you referring to there?”

I replied, “Both! And I don’t know what you were laughing at earlier- you’re over a hundred!”

“But he’s got the heart of a youngster- it’s mine!” Roxy cooed.

“Ugh! Since when did you start hanging out with this dizzard?” Damon scathed.

I sneered, “I was about to send her home, so if you held off for a few minutes, you wouldn’t have this problem!” It pleased me to see him grimace. Obviously, he had ill intentions with his actualization, so any jab I could send to him gave me a slim portion of victory. Once I savored this small win, I exasperatedly sighed, “Alright, you clearly have some nasty business in store for us while you’re in town, so hurry up and get it over with! I have a lot to do, so I’d rather deal with your crap sooner rather than later!”

Damon scowled at my blasé pushiness, and he folded his arms in defiance. “You’re not my teacher anymore- you can’t tell me what to do!”

“Do it, Day-Day! I want to see it unfold!” Roxy urged him.

“Yeah, Day-Day! What are you waiting for?” I needled him. Normally, I wouldn’t encourage a paranormal entity to attack me, but my intrigue got the better of me. I recalled seeing Babelsama in his window from the Netherworld, and he couldn’t do much to affect the surface from that vantage point. He had to go the long route to summon Damon to our level, and afterwards, he relied solely on Damon to do his bidding. Babelsama was in a leadership position, and in Damon’s short stint as a Hellian, I didn’t have confidence that he was able to climb the ranks much. Babelsama did more when the portal was around, and if a guardian like him couldn’t produce much without it, I could only assume that Damon couldn’t do much either. If he ad been able to step foot onto land as I previously suspected, then I would’ve been more worried, but the tea leaves were reading in my favor at this juncture! 

After wincing at my mocking, Damon spat, “I don’t need to do anything!”

I derisively probed, “You won’t, or you can’t?”

“What? Me, personally? I have no power there…” Damon verbalized.

“Ah, so you only showed up to waste my time! Well, sorry if you’re bored in the afterlife, but I’m not gonna be your entertainment! Roxy, call your family for a ride already so I can go!” I directed her.

Roxy informed me, “I rode my bike here.”

I amended my order, “Alright, fine! Get your bike and-.”

“Why would I wanna go anywhere when my honey bunny is here?” Roxy gazed at Damon longingly.

“Oh! I see it now! You’ve been sentenced to eternal damnation, and they sent you to Terra Belle to get tortured by her!” I badgered him.

Damon growled, “Have your fun while you can! You won’t be laughing when you behold what I have in store for you!”

I shot back, “Nice try! You said you can’t do anything in this realm! Welp, this has been interesting, but there’s a bunch of other stuff I’d rather do on a Friday night, so… bye!”

“Are you gonna join your bride at the gown shop?” Damon canvassed me as I started to walk away.

“Uh, no! The groom isn’t supposed to see the…” It took me a couple of seconds to register what he said, but once I did, I grew apprehensive once more. I turned around and questioned him, “How did you know where she is?”

Damon revealed, “As I was gonna say before you so impolitely cut me off, I can’t do anything, but I don’t need to! I’ve planted a conduit in your city, and now I can broadcast my messages to vulnerable victims as often as I please!”

That notion disturbed me, but I wasn’t about to permit him to observe this, so instead, I scoffed, “Psh! No one’s gonna listen to you! You’re insane! Besides, you gained a bad reputation here prior to your demise, and most people would recognize you immediately from how you talk! What’s up with that accent anyways? You grew up in Pennsylvania, not Transylvania!”

“Do you really think I’m that stupid?” Damon queried.

“Yes!” I affirmed.

Damon chided himself, “Ugh, why did I ask that?” He glanced at me and elucidated, “I use the conduit to broadcast my words, but everyone presumes that they’re listening to their own thoughts. I convince them to give in to their worst impulses, and I watch chaos ensue forthwith! And my mother immigrated to this country from Romania, if you must know!”

I pressed him, “Why?”

“My grandparents wanted more opportunities, and-,” Damon began to fill me in.

“No, you idiot! Why are you doing this? What’s the end game?” I quizzed him.

He divulged, “The end, of course! I’ll see to it that this region burns to the ground for what they did to me!”

I threw my hands up in perplexion. “All this ‘cause your girlfriend dumped you?”

“There’s more to it than that!” Damon barked.

“Like what?” I pushed him.

Damon realized that he let too much slip out, and after displaying a pronounced frown, he warned me, “You shouldn’t concern yourself with me right now! You should be concerned about your fiancé’s well-being… She’s about to get into some hot water!”

I waved him off, “I’m not gonna freak out! We’ve kicked your ass before, so I’m confident she can handle whatever you throw at her tonight!” I paused and then added, “On an unrelated note, I have to get going!” I moved casually towards my car, but as soon as I felt certain that I wandered out of his periphery, I sprinted out of that locale!

The Terra-Belle Demon, Chapter 5

“Why did I schedule it for tonight?” Phoebe regretfully pondered as she hurried to gussy herself up. “I know I was excited and took the first appointment outside of school hours, but I should have known that the first week of the new semester would turn out hectic!”

As I sat on the bed watching her get ready in our master bathroom, I comforted her, “Hey, don’t beat yourself up over this! How were you supposed to know we’d have to deal with the crap that we did? Seriously, how could any of us have predicted we’d go on lockdown ‘cause a naked woman was running around the neighborhood?”

Phoebe concurred with that premise, “Yeah, that’s true! I wouldn’t have guessed that the rain would cause the fire alarm to go off incessantly! It’s never done that before!”

“What about the birds that invaded the cafeteria?” I brought up. “I’ve seen one fly in by accident, but a whole flock of them? I don’t know what was worse- staying after class to help clean up feathers and droppings or trying to explain the old horror movie that made this occurrence spook all of the older teachers to the kids!”

“Don’t forget about the small blimp that crashed onto our quad!” Phoebe reminded me. “Thank goodness no one got hurt! Well, not physically! The hall monitor did get a panic attack. I didn’t realize that counted under his balloon phobia!”

I grinned at how supremely awful our shifts had been, but then I soon developed a thought that caused me to wipe my smile away. “One of these things happening would be odd, but with all of these things happening, that’s not odd- that’s planned! What are the odds that all of these things happened without someone orchestrating them?”

Phoebe disagreed with the direction I was going with this argument, “It can’t be Damon! Vanina ordered him to return to Hell, and I completely doubt the boss angel would allow him to resurface again after that fiasco! They had to have put security precautions there to ensure he couldn’t do that!”

“But what if he found a loophole?” I challenged her.

“They don’t let demons out to the surface!” Phoebe asserted. “That’s the Netherworld’s job, and the demons’ job is to… Actually, I’m not sure! They’re not getting punished, so what are they doing down there?”

I verbalized, “Kaaron visited Babelsama in the Netherworld. What if Damon is hanging out with him or another Guardian of the Undead? He could convince them to wreak havoc at Rosemary King or anywhere else in Terra Belle our kids may convene!”

Phoebe paused her primping to give that notion some consideration. After a minute or so, she shook her head and stated, “I don’t even wanna entertain that possibility! There’s gotta be another explanation for everything that transpired!” We got quiet for a moment. Neither of us could provide a plausible rationale for the series of chaotic events that didn’t involve Damon, but neither of us wanted to say it out loud. Airing that idea out loud would make it real, and neither of us wanted that! The doorbell interrupted our rumination, and Phoebe requested, “Can you get that? I gotta pee!”

“I could…” I joshed her.

“Let me rephrase that… Get the door, asshole!” she giggled as she threw a cosmetic sponge at me. I tossed a small pillow back in retaliation, but she closed the door prior to it getting close to her. “Ha, ha!”

I smirked from the flirtatious nature of this interaction. A part of me wanted to make her miss her gown fitting by continuing our bout of friskiness, but I recalled that the shop didn’t have any other late afternoons free for a few months, and this was too important to Phoebe to allow it to get screwed up. I didn’t understand why though since we were nowhere near ready to pay for a wedding, but I went along with it to keep her pleased. Phoebe’s happiness meant everything to me, so I wasn’t going to do anything to upset her. At least not that deeply- obviously, I liked to tease her a bit! I didn’t relish getting out of my comfortable repose, but I willed myself to get up and go greet our guest.

On the other side of the entryway stood a woman who bore the appearance of an older version of Phoebe, and when she saw me, she remarked, “Hey, Connor! Did you see that home across they’re building across the street? It sure sticks out like a sore thumb!”

“Yeah, I dunno what they were thinking! The abandoned hovel didn’t fit in with this block, but neither does this posh one!” I glanced over her shoulder and stared at the McMansion in progress with a frown, but then I shrugged. “At least they’re getting it done quickly! Maybe Phoebe and I can get a decent night’s rest soon! So, what’s new with you, Miriam?”

“I’ve got good news- I finally got Blaise’s death certificate!” Miriam joyfully announced. “His life insurance wouldn’t accept my claim without it, so I had to ask the state to do it. Well, apparently death by haunted house wasn’t a good enough reasoning for them, and I didn’t know what to tell them! Technically, he died years ago, but I couldn’t say he stayed on Earth as a zombie until my future son-in-law brought him back to the Netherworld! I had to file a missing person’s report, and then enough time finally passed where the police could put down that he was presumed dead! Now, they’re processing my claim, thank heavens! Ugh, what an ordeal though! That bastard stressed me out when he was here, and he’s still doing it even after his departure from this planet!”

I laughed, and then I curiously asked, “And you didn’t have any clue that he was unliving?”

Miriam answered, “I didn’t know that was even a possibility!” I nodded at her fair point, and then she added, “I suppose I should’ve gotten suspicious when he quit begging me for sex, but I was too relieved to give it a second thought!”

“Hi, Mom!” Phoebe gave Miriam a hug. “Where’s Mara?”

“She’s still on the set,” Miriam reported. “But don’t worry- she assured me she’d make it to the boutique before it was too late!”

Phoebe kissed me and sweetly expressed, “Bye, my soon-to-be groom!”

I echoed her sentiments, “Bye, my soon-to-be bride!” She beamed at me as she headed out, and I sincerely wished we could obtain the funds to get married asap! I was so ready to spend the rest of my life with her! With an elated trance, I made my way towards the bedroom to take a nap… until…

“No!” I groaned as my cellphone rang. I got this premonition that whoever was on the line intended to bestow a long and tedious task onto me, and I prayed that I was wrong about that! “Please be a telemarketer! Please be a telemarketer!” I looked at the screen, and the caller ID said it was Mara. “Damn!” I couldn’t comprehend why she was contacting me instead of her sibling, and it mystified me even further when my first reaction had been wanting to ignore her call! We got along fine, so I couldn’t grasp why my instincts were pushing me away! I didn’t want to act rudely though, so despite my dread, I spoke to her, “Hello?”

“Connor! You’ve gotta help me!” Mara frantically conveyed.

The distress in her voice caused my entire attitude to change. If she was in jeopardy, of course,  I was willing to come to her aid! “What’s the matter?”

She distraughtly filled me in, “Something strange is going on at the Arioch! The lights keep flickering, the walls are constantly creaking, and I swear someone’s watching me! Off the set, I mean! I’m alone in my room, and I swear I could hear laughter! I turned on the heater, but it still feels cold! Am I losing my sanity?”

“No, you’re not losing it!” I bitterly articulated as I inwardly assessed that this sounded like Damon’s handiwork. I didn’t enjoy it when he attacked me, obviously, but him going after relatives was a step too far! Phoebe may not have wanted to accept his reappearance, but it couldn’t have been a coincidence that she spotted signs of our supernatural nemesis too!

“Can you get over here? I’m afraid to be by myself!” Mara beseeched me.

I obliged, “Absolutely! I’ll get there as fast as I can!”

Mara appreciatively regarded me, “Thank you! I’m in thirteen-thirteen! See you soon!”

After she hung up, I grabbed my jacket and keys. Jett was ogling me with wide pupils, so reassured her, “I won’t be out long!” As I headed to my car, I wondered if I was going to be able to keep that promise!

“You’re here!” a female who greatly resembled my fiancee except for a younger age and somewhat thinner frame opened the door to her hotel breathily. “Come in, quick!”

“What’s going on?” I inquired as I stepped inside. I glanced around her deluxe suite, and I didn’t see anything unusual, but I kept searching in case I was incorrect. If Damon had gotten any insight into my arrival, he would have most likely stashed himself in the shadows somewhere…

Mara told me, “Nothing right now, but knowing that you’re close makes me feel so much better!” I halted my examination of potential hiding spots because she had lost the terrified timbre in her tone, and when I peered at her, it was the first instance I noticed that she was wearing a towel on her hair and her body. The interaction was beginning to strike me as peculiar, and that sensation only got heightened when she pleasantly invited me, “Have a seat while I get ready.”

I hesitantly parked myself on a small couch. “Okay…” I felt as though her proposition would have been understandable under the anxiety-inducing circumstances I thought I had walked into, but her current behavior didn’t fit that mold!

“Which one would I look better in- this or that?” Mara held up two skimpy dresses to her chest.

“They both seem kinda inappropriate to go shopping with your family,” I bluntly opined.

She very coyly cackled, “You’re so funny, Connor!”

I remarked, “I wasn’t trying to be funny! When I’m trying to tell a joke, I typically go for a pun or…” I trailed off as I beheld her taking the towel off of her scalp and flipping her mane in a manner I’ve only seen in shampoo commercials. It suddenly dawned on me what her true goal in getting me over there had been, and I immediately bolted up, “I gotta go!”

“Hold on!” She pushed me back onto the sofa and caressed my chest. “I heard you’re into weird things… Well, so am I!”

“I’m not into weird things, weird things like to annoy me!” I moved her arms out of my periphery and attempted to sidestep her.

She blocked my path and silkily purred, “I can convince you to get into it! Ask the dozens of men I’ve worked with in this film so far, they can verify this as a fact!”

My eyes grew large upon this reveal. “You’re a porn actress?”

“Now, you’re getting into the spirit!” She started to remove her torso’s cover.

“No, I’m not!” I roared as I shielded my vision from her sight. “If I wanted to interact with nude individuals I’m not in love with, I would’ve stayed in medical school!” I maintained my concealed perception as I traveled towards the exit, and in so doing, I tripped over a table leg and tumbled to the floor!

Mara queried, “Are you alright?”

I vociferated, “No, I’m not alright! Phoebe is the most important person in the world to me, and her relative just stabbed her in the back ‘cause… I don’t know why! You don’t get laid enough on the set?”

“I get plenty of suitors on the set, but I get lonely offstage,” Mara spelled out. “My boyfriend dumped me for his younger mistress, and while I got revenge on his ass by doing this movie, I’m not as fulfilled as I was when I have a nice guy with me in real life.”

“You don’t have me! Instead of seducing someone else’s ‘nice guy,’ try writing a personal ad, you psychopath!” I yelld as I stormed out.

As I stomped through the lobby in a huff, a man called after me, “Hey, you!” I swiveled my neck to face him, and he petitioned me, “Have you ever considered becoming an actor?”

I bellowed, “I don’t wanna sleep with Mara!”

He didn’t seem daunted by my volume. “I totally get it! I wouldn’t sned a rookie to go with Mara Kinkplease! I’m-!” I marched out of the building prior to him completing his sentence.

The entire evening steamed me up! I despised all of the effort I put into assisting someone in need after it resulted in such a fiasco, and I scornfully resented that this drama wasn’t even over yet! I knew I had to disclose this disaster to Phoebe, and her response would likely become fierce! Justifiably so, but still, I hated seeing her in that sort of state! It crushed me to contemplate having to ruin her fun escapade, but as I traversed the courtyard, I espied a silhouette hovering over me that posed an even greater threat to our wellbeing…

The Terra-Belle Demon, Chapter 4

After I put the last poster on the wall, I proudly proclaimed, “There!” I stood at my desk and scoped out my decor with appreciative satisfaction. Last two semesters, I took over the classroom of a teacher who transferred to a middle school, and my lessons were simply experimental in order to test out a new business program, but now that it had been fully accepted into Rosemary King’s curriculum, this space was officially mine! I chose to adorn it with motivational posters to mimic my office at my old marketing firm since it helped me achieve success in that industry, but I included a quote with an eighties rockstar too just for fun! Okay, it wasn’t just for fun- classic rock relaxes me! Its nostalgia puts me at ease, and I had a hunch I’d need as much assistance as possible in mitigating my nerves this term!

I sat down and spoke to myself, “Who will I see this year? Will I recognize anyone?”

“Mister Fenmore, are you alive?” a familiar voice woke me up.

“Huh?” I groggily opened my eyes and glanced up. I beheld a pale girl with short, very stylized, black hair and purple, medieval-inspired clothing standing in front of me with a curious stare, and in my torpor, I concluded, “Oh, you’re here! So, I’m dreaming! Alright, do whatever oddball thing you intend for me, and let’s get this over with!”

Ismeray craned her neck backward and reported to someone, “His body isn’t dead, but his brain is! That’s too bad- I was really looking forward to taking this course!”

The reality of the situation finally washed over me, and I felt mortified to have begun the semester humiliating myself in front of my students! Thankfully, the only ones who had shown up so far were Ismeray and her gothic friend, Yurei. These two attended my class previously, so I didn’t have to concern myself with tarnishing anyone’s first impression of me! However, my familiarity with these pupils raised a puzzlement for me. “You weren’t looking forward to taking this class last year when you were here! Why would you sign up for it twice?”

“Last year, I was too preoccupied with that cult to truly soak in any of the wisdom,” Ismeray explained. “This time, I wanna pay attention to help out with the coven!”

“You joined a coven?” A surge of disquiet flooded through my veins! When she inadvertently joined an effort organized by that undead stepfather of Phoebe, she eventually saw the light of its dark ambitions. I got the impression that she grasped the concept of how to avoid falling into that trap again, but from the sounds of it, she had gotten by the same ruse from someone else! I didn’t have proof that this establishment possessed any evil motivations, but it seemed like the exact sort of harebrained scheme that Damon would pull off to gain an unscrupulous access to the kids he wanted to use as pawns in his vengeful plot…

As more teens started trickling in, Yurei corrected me, “She didn’t join it, she created it!”

Ismeray supplemented that, “Yeah! After all of the misuse of spells that occurred, I thought I’d offer some tutoring in white magic so that people would use it properly and keep everyone safe.”

“Oh, that doesn’t sound so bad.” I exhaled in alleviation, but somehow, I didn’t feel totally settled. Her goal of leading others to do jinxes from a place of kindness appeared authentic, but something still didn’t sit right with me about this group…

“What’s it called?” one of her peers asked her. “Is it like the FAUK club?”

Ismeray indignantly answered, “No! It’s not the same as the F-A-U-K! I decided to dub it the Society Under Considerate Kindness!”

The young man surmised, “So, it’s the SUCK coven? Cool! Need any volunteers?” He gawked at her in a racy manner.

“Great Scot! You need to change the name immediately!” I advised Ismeray.

“Woah! Who’s the hot chick?” Peter wondered as he stared at the rocker’s poster with interest.

I bellowed, “That’s not a chick! That’s David Lee Roth!”

Comprehension dawned on Peter, which relieved me until he articulated, “Oh! I think I’ve heard of him! Wasn’t he on that show with all those lifeguards?”

“No, he…!” The bell rang, and the helpful occurrence reminded me that, for a moment, I had forgotten my purpose of being there! I didn’t want to take up valuable minutes explaining my music to him, so instead, I directed him, “Look it up online later. Take a seat, please!”

“Oof!” As soon as Peter turned away from the poster, Roxy entered into the premises. He collided with her, and he landed on the floor as she backed into the door!

The children laughed, but I didn’t! I didn’t want to begin this inaugural lesson with two injured people! I felt at home in this school, and I didn’t want to get kicked out because I featured a distracting image in my classroom! “Are you hurt?” I petitioned Peter.

Peter assured me, “Nah! Do you know how many times I crashed into stuff at my summer job? Once, I banged into this box, and it gushed open and buried me in handcuffs! Hey, that movie must be some kind of action flick! I did see some sweaty actors who-.”

“No! I don’t need your assistance!” Roxy snapped as I tried to get her red veil out of the hinges.

“Listen, we gotta get going! So, if you’re gonna distract everyone, I’ll send you to Principal Palillo’s office!” I warned her.

Roxy shot back, “How? I can’t move!”

Drats! I hate it when the juveniles out-clever me! I recommended to her, “You could take off the headgear and slip out.”

“Absolutely not!” Roxy refused. “I need as much lucky power as possible to get my Damon back to me!”

“Didn’t he die?” Ismeray bluntly queried.

Roxy took offense to her characterization. “He isn’t gone! His physical body may have expired, but his soul will live on for an eternity! He-!”

I cut her off, “Yeah, he croaked!’ I didn’t want Roxy to divulge details on the actuality of the afterlife- it’d cause too much excitement for these individuals to discover that there is a realm between life and death that sends out non-living agents to cause chaos with the objective of keeping the natural balance of the planet aligned! That’s if they believed her though. She also would have likely manufactured a furor of disbelief, and I’d never get to teach anything! I glimpsed at the clock, and upon seeing how much of the period was already wasted, I had to take action! I grabbed an extra notepad and pencil from the desk, marched over to her, and instructed, “If you don’t wanna take the necessary steps to sit, then fine! Take notes standing there!”

“Do you know why I took this class? I’m keeping an eye on you!” Roxy seethed. “Damon’s gonna return, and when he does, I wanna make sure that you don’t interfere with his plans for-!”

“Everyone who can reach their textbooks, grab them and open them up to page three. Page one is the title, and page two is some dedication you can read on your own if you’d like, but I wouldn’t!” I carried on with my lesson as though everything was normal, but inwardly, I was fairly spooked! Not that I gave Roxy’s logic any credence, but her certainty was palpable! It fed into my fears about his reappearance, and I grew more and more paranoid about his reappearance as the day went on…

At lunch, I dashed towards the teachers’ lounge. I had so much to discuss with my friends that I didn’t want to delay our encounter by the slightest! Of course, that was unavoidable! As I was about to put my hand on the knob, I saw some rustling in the bushes! I paused my pursuit and checked the area out. Popping out of the shrubbery seemed like the ideal methodology to ambush someone, so I wanted to ensure I wasn’t in danger! I knocked on wood that I’d observe evidence of a squirrel or bird in there, but when the plant’s shaking came with an audible groan, it was obvious that I wasn’t dealing with an animal! Not the usual type of animal anyways! I tiptoed towards the spot, and my heart pounded as I anticipated a battle with Damon or one of his minions! I hovered over the hedge, took a deep breath, moved the branches, and…

Mrithan, who was hunched over on the far side of the greenery, pathetically requested, “Do you think you can help me without asking too many questions?”

“Oh, I’ll help you, but I’ll be damned if I don’t delve into how you got into this predicament!” I responded as I untangled his garments from the twigs. “How…?”

“Some paperwork flew out of my hand and into the bushes!” Mrithan recounted.

I affirmed, “That’s not so bad! I can understand getting yourself stuck trying to get an important document back.”

Mrithan admitted, “It wasn’t even important! I just didn’t wanna get in trouble for littering!” After I freed him from his ensnarement, he abashedly stated, “It wound up flying out of the bush, so I guess I wasted a huge chunk of my shift for nothing! I’m gonna get fired for sure!”

“Nah! Manuel is a nice guy, he’ll give you another chance!” I consoled him. “He hired you for a reason, and he’s not gonna dismiss the person he deemed best for the job over something so petty!”

“Wow, thanks, …” he trails off as he strove to remember my name.

I filled in the gap, “Connor!”

He extended his hand for me to shake. “I’m Mrithan.”

“Yeah, I know. I was at the retirement party,” I gently reminded him.

“Right, right, right! Well, see you around, Connor!” He gave me a grateful smile, and then he jogged towards the front office. Prior to me going into the teachers’ lounge, I heard a small crash in the distance. “I’m okay” Mrithan shouted. I shook my head and went inside fast to avoid witnessing another catastrophe.

Fletcher, Ginger, Aleck, Ellie, and Phoebe were all sitting and eating when I barged in and blurted out, “Twice!”

Ginger surmised, “You’re having a wonderful morning too, huh?”

“I had to disentangle two people who got a part of their outfit stuck in something!” I ranted as I pulled my leftover pasta from the fridge. “Once was Roxy, who got stuck in the door again, and the other was Mrithan. He got himself wedged into the shrubbery somehow! Did Manuel really decide that he was the finest candidate to take over Hazel’s position?” I ate the noodles cold since a significant portion of the meal break had elapsed, and it did not taste pleasant without a warm temperature! “Bleck!”

“That dolt was probably the only one to apply!” Fletcher opined. “No one wants to work here after all of the crap that happened last year!”

Ellie added, “None of the students wanna be here either! Apparently, a lot of the freshmen were lured to magnet high schools by advertising a non-haunted campus! They actually put that in the brochures!”

Phoebe put in, “And a lot of the children who did show up are a bit… I dunno! A girl in third period got, like, really pumped up when I told the class we’d study ‘The Crucible this semester! Like, really pumped up!”

“Yeah, you know what’s odd? When I promised the kids I was gonna make trigonometry less scary, some of them actually seemed disappointed! What’s up with that?” Ginger grimaced a little as she took a bite out of her wrap.

“I had to take down my diagram of the circulatory system again!” Aleck reported. “I thought I could leave it up after Damon left, but apparently not! It’s eerie, everything reminds me of when he was here before…”

Ellie chided him, “Don’t say that! He’s finished, and everything is back to usual! Everyone needs to stop acting like this school is occupied by spirits! We’re gonna have a totally regular year, and we’re not gonna deal with any more curses!”

As if on cue, the coffee pot darted off of its hot plate and crashed onto the floor! All o the faculty present became silent as they ogled the fallen object, and Fletcher broke the quiet by grumping, “That ruddy machine’s always been worthless!”

“Well, it definitely is now!” I kidded as I examined one of the shards. I wasn’t positive on what I expected to unearth, but I suppose I was seeking to distinguish evidence of what we were set to deal with. My colleagues would deny it, but I had a strong suspicion that it was more than a mere coincidence and that this was only the beginning…

The Terra-Belle Demon, Chapter 3

“You two look terrible!” a woman who bore a tremendous resemblance to how most individuals would picture a witch bluntly commented to Phoebe and me as we entered into the cafeteria.

“Thanks, Hazel! It’s been so peaceful in our neighborhood with all of the construction going on- we’ve gotten so much rest!” I dryly responded. Hazel had never been particularly pleasant, but she seemed especially bitter tonight! In an attempt to buoy her hardened spirit, I handed her a purple gift bag with a frilly bow and let her know, “This is for you!”

Hazel’s demeanor didn’t shift in the slightest. “Great. You can put it in the pile with everyone else’s!” She pointed to a table behind her full of various gifts and envelopes.

I was tempted to remark on her hostility, but I felt too weary to prolong this drama, so Phoebe and I scurried to the spot at the table furthest from her. I softly queried Phoebe, “Do you think she’s enjoying her retirement party?”

“Oh, yeah! I’m so glad we came!” Phoebe quietly kidded.

“Connor Fenmore! It’s a delight to see you again!” a man who had the appearance of an aged football player well past his prime pompously greeted me as he sauntered over to the gift table.

I tried to hide my dismay at his presence because I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing that he got under my skin, but it was extremely difficult with this obnoxious egotist! Sure, his constant endeavors to cast me in a negative light always backfired on him, but it was irritating to deal with this smarmy jerk during an already arduous ordeal, so the memory of our previous transactions filled me with tension! I did confront him about his behavior before we went on summer break, but based on the arrogant smirk on his face, I sincerely doubted that he adhered to his commitment to change his ways! “Hello, Casper! You’re certainly in a good mood! At least someone here is!”

Following that assertion, I glanced over to Hazel, who was telling the hall monitor, “No, don’t worry! There aren’t any balloons here! Heaven forbid this hole to appear at all festive!”

“There’s gonna be some changes this year!” Casper proclaimed.

“Oh, really?” I folded my arms and listened with an amused disbelief at his claim.

Casper very animatedly went into detail, “Yes! Your reign as the most beloved teacher on campus is over! I figured out who’s more admired than the one who pulls off a couple of heroic stunts, and that’s the person who’s always giving to others! I’ll surpass you by raising the most in fundraisers, donating the most to charity, and handing out the greatest presents! Can you guess which one here is mine? I’ll give you a hint: mine’s the biggest!”

A sharp retort brewed in my mind, but Phoebe beat me to the punch of voicing it out loud, “It must be nice for you to finally be able to say that about something, huh?”

Casper briefly grimaced at the salacious implication of her retort, but he chose to ignore it and went on, “There’s gonna be a new king this year!”

“Wonderful. Well, we’re gonna go worship you from afar! See you later, sire!” I grabbed Phoebe’s hand and walked away from him right as he opened his mouth to speak. If I had more energy at that juncture, I would’ve articulated how much I didn’t want the notoriety that he coveted! It was nice to get recognition for my efforts, but I didn’t defeat Damon and save our students simply for the acclaim- I only wanted to do the morally correct choice and save our community from eternal doom! Besides, I got what I desired most when Phoebe agreed to be mine and when Terra Belle returned to a peaceful state- though I wasn’t convinced that last part would endure for very long…

“Let’s get some punch,” Phoebe suggested.

An older lady who wore her gray mane in a tight, little bun and small glasses that rested halfway down her nose warned us, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you! Manuel mixed together a bunch of flavors, and it tastes like a weird… What?”

It was hard for me to not stare at her incredulously! She possessed the image of a vintage grandmother, and it continually flabbergasted me that she was the one who broke Damon’s heart and gave birth to his vengeful crusade against Rosemary King High School! And the entire region for that matter! She had no idea what she set off, and in order to keep that hidden from her and avoid giving her another heart attack (which Damon caused, not me!), I apologized, “Sorry! Go on!”

“Alright, folks!” a guy with a fatherly smile, round spectacles like a cartoon owl, and a checkered sweater-vest went onto the small stage at the far side of the room and addressed the crowd. I gazed at Martha guiltily since she wouldn’t get a chance to finish her sentence, and she stomped away indignantly. Even though I rarely chatted with her, I never got a contemptuous vibe from her until this instance! I wondered whether or not this had been another sign of her former lover’s possible return while the ceremony commenced. “I’m Principal Manuel Palillo, and if you don’t know that already, you’re in the wrong building!” He paused for laughs, but no one did, so he cleared his throat and continued, “I hope you’re all having fun tonight!”

“Are we getting paid for this meeting?” Fletcher hollered.

Manuel nervously tugged at his collar. “This isn’t a meeting- it’s a party… A party for our dear friend, Hazel Cromwell, who gave Rosemary King High School thirty-two years of dedicated service!” The staff wanted to applaud that accolade, but Hazel’s animosity perplexed everyone on how to act. “Alright, who’d like to share their fond memories of our esteemed secretary?” Nobody moved a single muscle in willing participation, so Manuel called on the person closest to him, “Mary, how about you?”

Mary, who clearly hadn’t mentally prepared herself for this circumstance, hesitantly expressed, “Uh… I supposed I’ll miss how Hazel would come into the kitchen and hover over my shoulder while I cooked. Now that she won’t be barging in to supervise me for whatever reason, it’ll be so… lonely?”

“How about you, Balam?” Manuel handed the microphone to the guy standing next to Mary.

“So… um… Me and Hazel had our fun…” Balam lied. “She constantly called me Barry, which was totally welcomed! And whenever she’d see me cleaning, she’d provide a list of all the stuff I missed, so I gave her the option to do it herself. She’d decline, and we’d laugh and laugh…”

I peered over at Hazel. I would’ve been shocked if she became enamored by either of those tributes, but I crossed my fingers that her demeanor lightened up a tiny bit. She let out an exasperated exhale, and a twinge of shame shot through me. She may not have been the most amicable coworker… What am I saying might for? She definitely wasn’t an amicable coworker, but she did lend us a hand with Damon a couple of times! Granted, her motivation stemmed from a hatred of a pupil so deep that even I found it disturbing, but still! She contributed to his downfall, so I would’ve berated myself for letting her leave without showing some gratitude. I put my arm up and volunteered, “I’m next!”

Manuel breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness! The floor is yours, Connor!”

“Hey, I got a question for you all… What kind of candy do senior citizens love the most? … It’s a retire-mint!” I chuckled at my own slice of humor, but only Aleck and a couple of other faculty members tittered. Eh, at least I got a better reception than Manuel! “Anyways, I haven’t been working here for long, but during my short stretch in this place, I gathered that this position isn’t easy during a normal semester, and obviously, we haven’t had any of those in ages!” Finally, I got some giggles! “But as tough as my new career became, I got through it by constantly getting assistance from my colleagues, including Hazel. I doubt that I could’ve survived without her, so I just wanted to verbalize my appreciation for her instrumental pragmatics! Happy retirement, Hazel!”

“My turn!” Casper stole the microphone from me as the crowd heartily applauded my oration. I sort of hankered to hit him in the back of his head for that violently rude gesture, but I had an inkling that whatever claptrap that would spew from his mouth would bestow far more pain on him than I could muster, so I allowed him to carry on. “You came here to say goodbye to us, and that’s too sad to think about! I’d prefer au revoir. It’s French for see you again! I met with the staff to ask what the next secretary could do to serve as well as you because, with many years of devotion and dedication, we-.”

Hazel interrupted him, “That’s a ripoff of Nixon’s farewell speech! And not even a good ripoff! Aren’ you the government teacher?”

Casper indignantly reacted to her criticism, “Government for Honors and AP classes! Some of us have earned this credit.” He glanced over to me, and I merely rolled my eyes at his attempt to rile me up.

“Okay… Hazel, why don’t you take the floor?” Manuel rushed over to her as if he expected Casper to persist in his antics and cause a meltdown of some sort.

“Fine!” She snatched the microphone from Manuel, and she dispassionately discoursed, “Thirty-two years ago, I quit my front desk job at a dental office ‘cause I wanted something less stressful, and that’s not what I got! I only stayed here since I liked the healthcare plan! It stopped being worth it recently though! After a school year full of dragons and demon children, I asked myself if I wanted to go through another year of that just to get complete vision coverage, and I answered myself no! I wouldn’t have agreed to do this retirement party at all if I wasn’t promised a swanky celebration at the Arioch, but apparently, some film production has taken over those premises! I’d like to end this evening before anything freaky happens! Good luck surviving another school year! May God have mercy on your souls!”

The quiet that followed her soapbox made the air feel heavy! Evidently, everyone had convinced themselves that the unearthly invasions had concluded, and her prediction of more of these chaotic conundrums ravaging our territory unnerved people. Manuel slowly took the microphone back, and once her grim foresight fully sank in for him, he swiftly changed his tune! He galloped onto the stage and then reassured us, “Don’t worry, folks! I’ve been in my office all summer, and-. Well, not all summer! I did take the wife and kids on a vacation! Let me tell you, you don’t wanna drive through an area with no cellphone signal when you have a preteen in the car! And then Junior threw up in… Anyways, everything is good! Moving on, I’d like to introduce the newest addition to our flock! Meet Hazel’s successor- Mrithan Ravana!”

A skinny and fairly young dude with amber skin, neatly parted hair, and business casual clothes climbed the staircase, but he tripped halfway through! I didn’t realize that it was even possible to stumble going up a set of steps! He recovered instantly, but when Manuel handed him the microphone, he lost his grip on it as if it suddenly got slippery. It dropped into the audience, and his sable irises darted around furiously in a bid to find it. Ellie handed it to him, and he meekly conveyed to her, “Thank you!” He swallowed a large gulp of air, and then he stammered, “I’m Secretary the new school Mrithan… No, I’m Mrithan the old… Anyways, I’m happy to be a part of the team! I never really cared for the pressure of working in a call center, so I can’t wait todo something more relaxing!”

“Ha!” Hazel disdainfully balked at his projection.

“Yeah, so… bye!” Mrithan plopped the microphone onto the platform’s ground and raced offstage.

Ginger sardonically stated, “Wow! This semester is off to a fantastic start already!”

Manuel seemingly chose to ignore her tone and commended her, “That’s the spirit!” He scanned over the collective’s visages, and he decided he couldn’t overlook our grave concerns any longer. “Listen, I concede that we’ve suffered some setbacks recently, but that’s over! No one has seen or heard anything odd during our break unless you count someone cleaning the classrooms in their underwear odd…”

“It was hot! The AC was broken!” Balam defended himself.

“Right… So, it was bad, but nothing bad lasts forever! It’s gonna be a magical school year, I promise!” Not one individual seemed to have bought that concept! I sincerely wished I could have, but I was already seeing eerie omens that begged to differ! Moreover, his use of the word magic didn’t comfort me at all- spells and potions wreaked havoc on us previously, and I hardly wanted enchantments to play a role here going forward…

The Terra-Belle Demon, Chapter 2

Aleck smacked himself on the forehead. “Oh, yeah! Duh! You guys are having a garage sale!”

Some of the neighbors who watched the implosion came to our driveway and browsed, so I told Phoebe, “See! Didn’t I say that people would start showing up once that hovel was gone?”

“Mostly. It’s still kinda there…” Ellie commented as she stared at the workers sifting through the debris and shuddered.

“Oh my gosh, this is so pretty!” Ginger admired a floral, stained-glass vase. “How much is it?”

Phoebe let Ginger know, “It’s forty bucks.”

Ginger’s face soured upon hearing that information. “Forty bucks? I thought we were friends!”

“We are! Did you see the price tag?” Phoebe pointed to the label on the bottom of the vase, and Ginger’s expression became even more bewildered.

“What does this picture frame cost?” a lady from down the street asked me.

I answered, “Seventy-five dollars.” She didn’t seem pleased by that revelation, so I added, “That’s pure silver there!”

A middle-school boy glanced at the amount marked on a small, plush dog and gasped, “A hundred? Really?”

“It’s a collectible!” Phoebe briefed him.

“Listen, everyone…!” I addressed an increasingly disappointed crowd. “I know it’s expensive, but we’re trying to raise enough money to pay for our wedding! We’re teachers, and we don’t earn a whole lot! Plus, every time we think we’ve saved up a bit of cash, we gotta fork out more for home repairs! We were-.”

A bird landed on our porch railing, and the entire set came crashing down! A black cat ran out from beneath it hissing, and Phoebe sighed, “Well, at least we don’t gotta pay for a vet bill!”

The attendees gazed at us more pleasantly, and Ginger offered, “In that case, how about I give you fifty for this?”

“I’ll take these earrings for my wife,” Aleck notified us. “Maybe this’ll make up for what I did last night!”

“What did you do?” I curiously inquired.

Aleck replied, “It’s more like what I didn’t do… You see, we were in bed, and-.”

I interrupted him, “Never mind! I don’t wanna know!”

“I’ll buy these TV guides.” Ellie indicated to a box of magazines from the eighties. “Victor will get a kick out of them! You have a VenPal account, right?”

“As for me, I’ll fix your stoop free of charge, but I can’t give you any dough,” Fletcher asserted as he grabbed some planks and tools out of his truck bed. “I’m a little on the poor side too ‘cause I gotta fund my girls’ drunk dance parties!” A few bypassers ogled at him judgmentally, so he clarified, “My twins went to college, and based on their ClassBook pictures, that’s all it seems like they’re doing! I assume they forgot their parents are on their page!”

As Fletcher began his repairs, Rowan remarked, “Roux and I got married in our backyard. It didn’t cost much at all! All we had to pay for was a few decorations and the food. You two could do something like that.”

A teen with dark, gothic clothing, jet black hair, and very pale skin brought up, “No offense, but fixing up their backyard doesn’t look like it’d be cheap either though!”

“Hey! We’ve done a lot of renovations to-!” I started to object to her characterization, but then I espied the numerous holes that still existed there, and I conceded, “Corvina’s correct- I forgot about the damn gophers!”

“Wow! I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve heard you swear, Mister Fenmore!” Corvina somewhat disconcertedly expressed. I shrugged, so she turned her attention to the flyer in her hand. “Anyways, my band is having a concert in a couple of weeks. You all should go! We’re trying to fill as many seats as possible!”

A young lady with platinum blonde hair, blue eyes, and red everything else literally jumped into the conversation, “I’ll do it! I’ll go to your show!”

Corvina crumpled the paper behind her back and fibbed, “Sorry, Roxy! It’s been canceled!” She scurried off prior to Roxy getting to press the subject any further.

“Roxy! You have a new favorite color, huh?” I chuckled even though I truly didn’t deem my quip as humorous. Actually, her strange presence was fairly disturbing considering she donned an odd frock! Not to mention her ceaseless devotion to that fiend who constantly wreaked havoc on this town! I convinced myself that Damon had no chance of returning regardless of her numerous efforts (I presumed), but I couldn’t pretend that the fact she had been trying hard to do that didn’t make me a tad nervous!

“Mom says red attracts love and power,” Roxy elucidated. “I hoped that if I wore enough of it, I could summon my beloved Damon back to me, but it didn’t work! The portal is gone, and so is my glorious dream!”

With as much pity as I could feign, I sympathized with her, “Awwwwww! I’m sorry!”

Roxy’s nose crinkled into a snarl, and she seethed, “No, you’re not! You’ve never liked him! You always got in the way of everything he did! I don’t see how you could hold so much hatred towards one of your brightest students!”

“Hold on! I never hated him as a student! In class, he behaved! And he surprisingly got very high marks!” If a dozen people from my block weren’t within earshot, I would’ve thrown in that because he was over a century old, it would’ve been striking if he hadn’t possessed enough knowledge to excel in courses designed for juveniles! Instead, I queried, “So… Is there something I can assist you with, or…?”

“Is it alright if I sit on your lawn and say goodbye to my darling ‘til Mom comes to get me?” Roxy entreated me.

Honestly, I wanted to tell her no. I mean, she had just accused me of having a malicious attitude- why would I feel warmly towards her? A part of me itched to send her down the road in case she had something devious up her sleeves, but gazing into her dull but heartbroken eyes, I lost the urge to turn her down! I previously got accused of having too big of a heart, and this decision appeared to prove that argument as valid! “Go ahead!”

As Roxy sat criss-cross by our mailbox, Phoebe whispered, “Are you positive that’s a good idea?”

“Not at all! But as long as she doesn’t attempt any more spells, we should be alright!” I eyeballed the construction crew sorting through the remains of that old shack, I got a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach! Perhaps it was the hypothesis that, somehow, his spirit still lingered there and that a manner in which he could reappear had not vanished with the dwelling! Or perhaps it was those burritos I had for lunch! Whatever the cause may have been, I felt completely unsettled!

“Woah! Only seventy-five dollars for a silver frame?” a high-schooler with immaculate yellow hair and wildly expensive designer clothes surveyed over our ware in sheer delight. “And a collectible for a hundred? That’s amazing! Dad was spot on- garage sales are a complete treasure trove!”

Ginger gregariously greeted him, “Hello, Peter! How’s your summer going?”

Peter forlornly reported, “Awful! My dad made me get a job! And not even a cushy desk job! I had to do hard work at a warehouse! I thought it’d be cool ‘cause they were storing these movie props there, but it was so difficult! I had to endure endless exercising, lifting boxes, running across the place with heavy stuff, and their catering didn’t even take requests!”

“Gosh, you poor baby!’ Ellie stated without an ounce of sincerity.

“I know, right?” Peter obliviously concurred. “Thank the heavens school starts on Wednesday!”

Aleck questioned, “Oh, what movie’s getting filmed here?”

Peter blankly threw his hands up. “No clue!”

“You worked there all summer and you didn’t learn anything about the project you were helping with?” Fletcher exclaimed as he continued mending my stoop.

“I was too wiped out! I’m exhausted even  thinking about it!” Peter plopped onto a nearby rocking chair, and preceding any of us giving him a snappy reaction to his pathetic stunt, Peter blurted, “Holy smokes! This is comfy! I’ll take it!” He reached into his wallet and handed me a wad of bills, and then he laid an extra twenty on top of that. “That’s if you carry it to my car for me. I would, but I’m not about to do extra work during my time off!”

I kind of wanted to roll my eyes at his torpidness, but that extra money would inevitably come in handy for us, so I figured I may as well consent. As I lugged it to his vehicle, I noticed that Roxy was watching the deconstruction of the torn-down abode as though she were viewing an engrossing drama on television! I didn’t see anything over there that could muster up so much intrigue unless she found one or more of those crewmen attractive! I dearly wanted that to be the circumstance since it would keep her mind off of that villainous paramour, but somehow, I didn’t imagine that scenario as very likely. As I maneuvered that chair into Peter’s trunk, I prayed that she didn’t see something that the rest of us couldn’t detect!

Later on, Phoebe sat our small, circular dining room table that rested between the kitchen bar and the banister that ran alongside the slightly lower elevation of the living room while I pored over my teaching agenda. I played some classic rock during my final touches to the class schedule, and I could see Phoebe bobbing her head along to the beat. That had always been an enamoring trait of hers- she shared my passion for this righteous genre! I nearly commentated on her excellent taste for the umpteenth instance, but then her phone rang. “Hello? Oh hey, Mara! Hang on!” She put it on speaker and instructed me, “Say hi, Connor!”

“Hi, Connor!” I kidded.

“Every freakin’ time!” a voice very similar to Phoebe’s jocularly groaned. “Do you have a couple of minutes?”

That same black cat from earlier roosted herself on my book, so I shouted, “No! Get off!” I could distinguish an inflection of startlement on the other line, so I assured Mara, “I was talking to Jett! You two go on!”

Phoebe gabbed, “I’m counting what we earned from our garage sale. It looks like we have enough for a decent wedding dress!”

“Eh! I’m pretty certain I’d be better off with a tux!” I grinned as I gave up on trying to move the kitty and took a seat next to Phoebe. Phoebe rolled her eyes, and I couldn’t behold Mara, but I was convinced that she did too.

“Ooh! We should do the fitting while I’m in Terra Belle!” Mara urged her.

Phoebe responded, “You’re in my area? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Mara affirmed, “I’m telling you now! I’m a part of a movie that’s getting filmed at the Arioch!”

“Nice! That hotel’s fancy! What’s the movie about?” Phoebe wondered.

“I can’t really spill any secrets, but I wouldn’t recommend it- the main actors are terrible!” Mara opined.

Phoebe asked her, “Who stars in it?”

Mara answered, “Me! I’m awful! But the director picked me ‘cause I’m willing to do the things no one else is.”

“That’s great! I’m so glad you got something meaningful to keep you busy after you split with Andras!” Mara fell silent, so Phoebe apologized, “Sorry! Is it too soon to discuss it?”

“No! They want me back on set! Gotta go! Bye!” Mara speedily hung up.

I opened the front door and reached into the small, white-tiled mudroom. “I didn’t know that your sister was an actress!”

Phoebe filled me in, “She used to do modeling gigs when we were younger, but then she studied graphic design and became a freelance artist. She must have gotten low on funds to do a project like that!”

“Maybe she can get you a part too!” As I filled a cat bowl with food, I portrayed that suggestion as comical, but I was fairly serious! She was definitely beautiful enough to grace a stage, and we did need the supplemental financing…

“Pass!” Phoebe swiftly declined. “I wouldn’t wanna do a normal film, and this one sounds like a total mess! Besides, knowing our luck, I’d get myself involved in a commitment like that, and then that bastard Damon will manifest himself and make us fight him again!”

I glimpsed at the site where that portal to the Netherworld once stood. The locale was empty, but it still felt like something sinister still lurked there! “Do you think that’s possible?” I canvassed Phoebe, and she bit her lip in uncertainty.

The Terra-Belle Demon, Chapter 1

Hey, you! I got a question… What does a demon do to stay fit? Did you say they exorcise daily? Well, that’s wrong! An exorcism involves expelling demons from their earthly targets, so why would they voluntarily do that each day? It wouldn’t involve much exertion on their part after they’ve been cast out of a body, although the holy figure involved in that ceremony may get a decent workout from their participation in that ordeal! The honest answer is that they’re dead, so they don’t have to worry about their physical form changing! Yes, I realize that gag involved a play on words, but with my experience in that realm, demons are no joke! I just wanted to break the ice with you, dear reader, but in all seriousness, demons aren’t a laughing matter! Well, maybe a little, but only because the one that plagued me wasn’t the brightest piece of brimstone burning in Hell! Let me tell you my story…

My name is Connor Fenmore, and I’m a forty-year-old teacher from the southern suburb of Philadelphia known as Terra Belle. I know, not exactly the profile of someone you’d expect to endeavor in a demon-slaying role, right? I certainly wouldn’t have predicted this fate when I was a boy! Actually, up until last year, I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d get divorced, move from Philly, and fight monsters after school, but that’s what happened! Last year, my wife of twelve years cheated on me and left because I spent more time at my prestigious marketing firm than with her, and in an effort to win her back, I gave up my entire life to become a teacher for her. I thought doing a position with that sort of schedule would allow me to accommodate hers so that I could be with her more often, but I wound up liking that job way more than I liked her! Fiends and all! I gained friends, purpose, a bit of weight, and independence! And something else that made my frequent, otherworldly chaos totally worthwhile…

Phoebe! She’s a plus-sized goddess that I met while subbing at Rosemary King High School! From the moment I saw her, I knew that she was the one! Well, technically, I couldn’t move, speak, or think as she walked towards me, but I knew that she was special! She ad golden-brown eyes that sparkled with extraordinary gentleness and a desire to get slightly rough! Her chestnut hair perfectly sculpted her beautiful face, and her soft-beige skin was a work of art! Her thick but curvy features were so… I don’t know how to make that poetic! She was hot! But she was also funny, sweet, and smart, and she made me feel like a million bucks, which is as close to a millionaire as I’ll get at the rate of our salary! She stuck by me through everything, even the vampires and ghosts!

About that… I moved across the street from a house that was rumored to be haunted, but it wasn’t. In reality, it merely contained a secret portal to the Netherworld where a nefarious entity cast out evil beings to spread mayhem throughout the region- big difference! Their main agent was Damon Karro, a vampire who wanted revenge against a woman who dumped him! She was the faculty member I was subbing for, so I got roped into his drama! I would’ve backed out from that nonsense completely if it wasn’t for the fact that innocent kids were disappearing! He was eventually vanquished, but he returned five months later as a ghost! He got defeated again, but he still harbored a penchant for vengeance. We all hoped that he would remain in his eternal punishment forever, but we later discovered that he may have found a way to do that! But more about that later…

I can’t take sole credit for his repeated downfalls- the people who aided me in that undertaking wouldn’t let me forget the vital role they played! Ellie conducted extensive research on our adversary’s background, and while I didn’t particularly enjoy the extra studying, her lore of history came in handy more than once. Aleck, the biology teacher, had scientific knowledge that, uh… Well, it didn’t help directly, but his deductive mindset assisted in tough jams quite often. Ginger, the math teacher, definitely possessed some useful logic and reasoning skills, but her toughness and determination prevailed for us very regularly. Fletcher may be the most unathletic P.E. teacher I’ve ever met, but he brought us a lot of advantageous tools. And I can’t forget Phoebe! She’s a very creative English teacher, not to mention sexy… Anyways, all five of them teamed up with me to take down the inept but persistent foe of the city, and I couldn’t have done it without them! Literally, I faced a vampire while suffering from a fear of blood- I would’ve died of fright in the beginning if it weren’t for them!

This summer was pretty suspenseful, and by that I mean we were in suspense nearly the entire duration! We defeated Damon in the Netherworld, and the Hellians brought Damon to Hell where he belongs, which would have been satisfying if their foreman, Kaaron, hadn’t referenced Damon potentially making a good demon! Why is that significant? We had no idea, but that’s what scared us! We had no clue if him reaching demon status meant he could terrorize us once more or not, so every strange occurrence made us suspicious! During an online summer school session, it was hard to tell if the kids’ screens were glitching or if something had been trying to take over them. The sky would suddenly get cloudy, and we were certain this was a sign that he was approaching! At every instance our pets would jump into our space unexpectedly, we readied ourselves for a supernatural attack! Ultimately, when nothing too spooky transpired, we felt foolish for our paranoia. However, despite all logical conclusions, we all possessed an inkling that he may resurface someday…

I stood in front of my asymmetrical home staring at the other side of the road in awe. My place had a garage larger than the house, a half-triangle roof on both sides, a rickety and old fence, and moss all along the surface, and yet it was far from the worst-looking joint in the neighborhood! First of all, most of the abodes in this area got built with this unique architecture, and secondly, the dwelling opposite from me was the greatest eyesore in the world! Seriously, if you glanced at the definition of an eyesore, you’d see its picture! Its wooden panels seemed as  though they were flimsy before they caught on fire, and the roof had giant holes from both flames and neglect! The paint chipped and faded into a sickly yellow hue, the driveway was covered in so many pine needles that passersby couldn’t see it, and the mailbox had gotten stuffed with a bunch of rotted newspapers! Yup, this was the location I referred to earlier where all of the mayhem was unleashed! There were a lot of domiciles on this cul-du-sac, but when citizens of this hamlet referred to “that house on Dusk Lily Lane,” this is what they meant. So many individuals feared this site, but so few knew the truth of its wickedness! And it appeared as if they never would find out…

A middle-aged man with a messy, strawberry blond mane, slightly reddened skin from healed sunburns, and an obtuse pot belly positioned himself next to me and commented, “So, the old codger finally did it, huh?”

“No, Fletcher, a bunch of construction workers are willing to get fired for this act of rebellion,” a tall female with a tawny complexion, curly hair tied into a neat ponytail, and clothes so girly that a Barbie doll would get jealous sarcastically responded to him as she joined the queue.

“Nice one, Ginger!” a man at least five inches shorter than her complimented her quip. He ran his fingers through his thin, tweed locks, rested his palm on his loose, messy clothing, and then went on, “It seemed like only yesterday we were in there to-.”

A lady who was old enough to be his mother ceased rubbing lotion onto her umber flesh, put her hands onto her large and colorfully-clad torso, and scolded him, “Aleck, shush! What are you trying to do? Put more gray hairs onto my scalp?” Aleck considered making a retort, but when he espied her soured expression, he clammed up.

Phoebe pleasantly regarded her, “Oh, come on, Ellie! No one is paying attention to us! They’re getting a final view of this monstrosity! Ooh, we should get a picture of it before it goes down!”

“With us in it?” I dashed to the luxury car I salvaged for myself in the divorce and glimpsed at my reflection in the glass. My clean-cut, black ‘do was messy, my green eyes were slightly bloodshot, and my outfit didn’t flatter me as I previously thought! I had forgotten how rarely I got to the gym recently, and I usually hid this status with garments that concealed my softened belly, but this set of duds was too tight to accomplish that task! I hurried to gussy up prior to that photo- I couldn’t get commemorated like this!

“It’s a casual picture, babe! Not a wedding photo!” Phoebe reminded me as she pulled me away from my poring over my image.

As we set ourselves up, I differed with her, “It’s a historic moment! It’s not like a selfie in a coffee shop… which I’ve never done! I want to savor this memory when I reminisce about it!”

Fletcher put in, “Don’t overthink it! Besides, it’s not like it’ll be our last dealing with this dump!” He mulled over that sentence, and then he amended it, “Wait, yes it is! Why did I just say that?”

“Don’t even put that energy into the universe!” Ginger warned him. “This closes that chapter, and we’ll never have to deal with a misadventure like that again! It’s over!” Her words hovered above us like a dark cloud. None of us voiced an argument to her statement, but inwardly, we all kind of wanted to! It made no factual sense because the edifice was set to get torn down, but in all sincerity, nobody subscribed to the notion that we were done with our paranormal problems!

“Richard!” Ellie caught the attention of a very old man with knobby fingers. With the clear tone of desperately wanting to change the subject, Ellie petitioned him, “Would you mind taking our picture?”

Richard obliged, “Not at all!” He held Phoebe’s cellphone as we posed, and after a minute or so of staring, he wondered, “How do you use this? I don’t see any rewind crank!”

A man with a medium-sized bun and tall, slender limbs held out his hand and offered, “Do you want me to do it?”

“No, Rowan! I wanna stand here lookin’ like a blockhead!” Richard huffed in a humorous fashion.

“Say vegan cheese!” Rowan instructed us. 

I raised an eyebrow at that. “Vegan cheese?” He snapped a photo at that precise juncture, so I grumped, “Oh, lovely!” I darted over to him, examined the result, and griped some more, “Yes! This is exactly how I wanted to remember this occasion!”

Rowan suggested, “I can take another one.”

“Are you ready, folks?” a construction worker passed quizzed us as he passed out M-95 masks to everyone.

“Sorry! I guess I can’t!” Roan apologized to me.

I sighed, and Phoebe put a supportive grip on my shoulder as she comforted me, “It’s okay! The important thing is that this shack is gonna be gone in a second, right?”

Her touch felt so soothingly warm! I placed mine on hers, and I agreed, “Yes, it-.” I got distracted by those gorgeous eyes! … And a couple of other gorgeous aspects of her body about a foot from there! I couldn’t resist getting distracted by her form-fitting blouse!

“Focus! You’re gonna miss it!” Ellie moved my head back to the main event. I shook myself out of my reverie as the crew lined up for the detonation.

“Three, two, one!” the crowd chanted. Nothing happened! For a brief instance, I worried that the same magic that created that portal interfered with this technology so that it could never get decimated…

The worker with the control pushed a button furiously, but it had no effect on the structure. A coworker grabbed it from him, and he pushed a different button. Finally, the shanty began to tremble! It shook more and more until… poof! The few sections of the framework that were still standing toppled over like a deck of cards! There wasn’t much dust or noise; the remains artlessly piled on top of each other, and no other indicators of action manifested in the aftermath. Everyone who had gathered gawked in silence as they absorbed this terse incident, and after a while, Fletcher broke this spell by gruffly reacting, “That’s it? Did you really need to do an implosion for that?”

A crewman shrugged. “Nope! But we were under strict orders from the head of FGA Realty, so what are you gonna do?”

“Yeah, what are we gonna do?” Aleck pondered.

“Seriously? Did you already forget the rest of our plans for today?” I shot back. Aleck ogled at me questioningly, so I apprised him, “Turn around!” He did just that, and his eyes widened…

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 15

“Oh, really?” Heathrow questioned in a level of skepticism unusual for his nature. “How in the world are you gonna change the straw in my head into a brain without magic?”

As Oswald printed something from his laptop, he chuckled, “My dear boy, you already have a brain! You couldn’t function without one! Even the tiniest of bugs have brains! What you have is low self-esteem; you don’t think very highly of yourself, do you?”

Heathrow admitted, “I guess not! But I’m just a dumb drifter, so I-!”

“That’s where you’re wrong!” Oswald interrupted him while opening up the other curtain and digging through some old crates. “Your kindness helpd a lost person find direction, and your bubbly spirit never got tarnished regardless of what negativity came your way! That alone sets you apart from the average citizen, but when it was important, you set your mind to the task and persevered!”

“That’s true!” Nick concurred. “He was the one who came up with the plan to rescue Daphne! The rest of us were clueless!”

Heathrow smiled gratefully, but he didn’t seem convinced. “Goh, that’s awfully nice of ya! But that wouldn’t help me figure out how to get out of poverty and stuff!”

Oswald put the paper he printed into an ornate frame, and he asserted, “What you need is a jolt of confidence! That’s why, due to your quick wits under extraordinary pressure, I am bestowing upon you an honorary degree in thinkology!”

“Is that a real-?” Lionel began to enquire. Daphne elbowed his side, and he clammed up.

“Wow! I have a degree!” Heathrow rejoiced. “Now, I can find myself a wonderful job!”

Oswald assured him, “You always could! You just needed to believe it!” Heathrow grinned, and then Oswald turned his attention to Nick. “Now, you wanted to gain some evidence to put Whitney behind bars, but I believe you’ve already accomplished that.”

Nick nonverbally acknowledged the truth behind that, and when he saw Oswald rummaging through his belongings, he warned him, “Don’t you dare to drum up some kind of a heart for me! I don’t care what you heard- I don’t need emotions!”

“You’ve already got emotions!” Oswald disputed. “You’ve proven that in bits and pieces during your journey!” Heathrow and Lionel nodded vigorously in agreement, and Nick pouted from getting proven incorrect. Oswald went on, “Young man, you’re not an unfeeling robot- you’re depressed. You’ve numbed your feelings in order to protect yourself, but if you’re trying to be productive, that’s not the route to take! If you didn’t possess a strong desire tosave Daphne, you wouldn’t have had the nerve to break into Pumperdink Gulch! You didn’t fare well the first time you faced the Ochre Angel, but you sure bested her with the right motivation guiding you!”

“That’s true,” Nick thoughtfully conceded.

With a twinkle in his eyes, Oswald added, “Besides, I don’t need to give you a heart, you need to give your heart to that beautiful lady behind you!” Nick whipped his neck around and gazed at Daphne. Daphne began to furiously blush, and he followed suit. Oswald handed him a watch and instructed, “If you ever feel guilty for your emotional state, simply read the inscription.”

Nick read out loud, “It’s okay to not be okay! That’s… accurate!” He wiped a tear off of his cheek.

“I doubt you’ve got anything back there to make me into less of a coward!” Lionel morosely expressed.

“You’re under the false impression that having a lot of fear makes you unable to be brave, but it’s quite the opposite!” Oswald resumed sifting through his property once more. “Having no misgivings aout participating in dangerous activities doesn’t make you courageous, it makes you dumb! It’s only human to feel a certain level of apprehension in those situations, and your courage is born when you do the thing that scares you despite your fright! You suffer from anxiety since you’ve been through more horror than most people, but you push past more terror than anyone else! Why, you’re  the bravest guy I know!” Lionel beamed with pride, and Oswald went on, “In case you need a reminder of this, I’m presenting you with a championship belt in honor of the heroic feats you pulled off in your quest!”

Lionel put on the ornate belt with glee. “Wow! This outta get the respect of all the other boxers at Suntop!” As he admired his newly acquired gift, he spotted Daphne out of the corner of his eye, and he asked Oswald, “Hey! What about Daphne?”

Daphne bashfully responded, “Oh, it’s okay! I don’t even know what I want!”

“She wants a purpose and the feeling of truly being at home,” Oswald answered Lionel.

“Huh! That is what I want! How did you know that and I didn’t?” Daphne questioned.

Oswald laughed, “I wasn’t lying when I said I know everything!” Proceeding his moment of mirth, he more seriously explained, “You spent many years trying to survive, but you never really considered how you might thrive! You strove to appease society’s standards, but you never truly looked inward and acted on a path that woul please yourself! Clearly, you are passionate about solving mysteries, so why not choose a career in that realm?”

Daphne animatedly chattered, “Jeez, that’s always been a secret dream of mine! But, I never thought I could do it! I don’t have the stamina to pass the police academy, so I couldn’t become a detective!”

“Actually, there are multiple methods of assisting with investigations!” Nick interjected. “You could get certified as a private eye and get hired to work on personal matters, but if you have your heart seriously set on murder cases, there are always crime scene investigators and federal analysts. I’m not positive on what their certification process is like, but based on some of my colleagues’ behavior, they wouldn’t have passed any sort of physical!”

“That makes a lot of sense! I’d love to go that avenue, but I can’t afford the schooling it’d take…” Daphne gave Oswald a wry look. “Hold on, were you planning on offering me some sort of scholarship?”

Oswald’s expression grew pleasantly prideful. “Great deduction! See, you’ll be fantastic in this vocation!”

Daphne cried out, “Yay!” 

She did a merry jig, and when Heathrow joined in, she danced with him. Lionel and Nick mimicked that move, and Oswald fondly tittered at their celebratory antics. Once their fervor ebbed slightly genially stated, “I’ll have Henry sned over the necessary forms. I would recommend an online course so you can continue your studies while you return to Vegoz for a visit.”

“Visit? Oh, right! I’ve got to go home! But Aunt Mae’s home blew here! Where are we gonna go? And my friends- Jack, Ray, and Bert! I gotta see if they’re alright! What if we’ve all lost our home?” Daphne fretted.

“Darling, home isn’t a place- it’s a feeling!” Oswald sagely articulated. “As long as you’ve got your loved ones around, you’re home! Whether you choose to reside in Kansas, California or you wind up roosting here, you’ll be surrounded by love and support, and you’ll be home!” Everyone appreciatively drank in his words, and then Oswald offered, “If you’d like to leave, I’ll take you back myself! I’ve been meaning to return Morgan’s balloon anyhow!”

Heathrow puzzled, “If you can’t do real spells, how did you get a balloon to last so long?”

Lionel relayed to him, “I’m assuming he means a hot-air balloon.” He paused and then wondered, “Don’t you?”

Oswald confirmed, “Indeed! That’s where the inspiration for the Emerald Angel stemmed from- everyone was amazed that I flew in!” They all guffawed at that, and Tater let out a happy meow. “What is your wish? A yummy fish?” He opened up a mini fridge and tossed the cat a piece of salmon. As Tater devoured that morsel, Oswald remarked, “And all is well! Nothing else shall go wrong!”

In the courtyard of  Emerald City’s Center, Daphne held Tater inside of a basket below a large, green, inflated structure. She stood beside Oswald, who spoke to all of his employees whom had gathered, “Don’t worry yourselves too much! I shall return one day soon! During my absence, I decree that these three will rule in my stead: Heathrow for his superior brain, Lionel for his outstanding bravery, and Nick for his extensive legal background.” Some of the staff politely clapped, but many began to murmur in confusion. The three named men awkwardly stood before them, and Oswald, seemingly oblivious to all of this, carried on, “Treat them as you would myself! Now, I bid you adieu!”

Tater espied another cricket, so he hopped out of Daphne’s grasp and pursued the insect. “Tater, no!” Daphne hopped out of the basket and swiftly retrieved her animal. When she turned back to the balloon, she was horrified to see it ascending into the air! “Come back! Come back!” Daphne beseeched him.

“I can’t! I don’t know how it works!” Oswald shouted.

“What? Then how on Earth were you gonna get me home?” Daphne challenged him. He merely shrugged ash he drifted away, and Daphne commented, “Wow! I’m really glad I missed that opportunity! Oh, but how will I get home now? I don’t have the money to take a plane!”

Nick proposed, “I’ll get you back to California! … Eventually! Apparently, I’m partially in charge of this joint going forward! How’s that gonna work? I gotta go back to my job tomorrow…”

Henry inquired, “How are you three gonna fulfill the Emerald Angel’s duties? You don’t even have any powers!”

“Yeah, that’s not gonna be an issue…” Lionel replied.

“How’s that possible?” Henry shot back.

Lionel didn’t know what to say, but luckily for him, he didn’t have to create any sort of excuse! Heathrow pointed to a speck in the sky, and he announced, “Look! There’s someone who can help us!”

The blue speck gently floated down to the ground, and Sapphire appeared! Charlie gasped, “Lawksamercy me! Is that the Blue Angel?”

“Yes! And she’s the only Angel of Vegoz right now!” Daphne conveyed to him.

“For a short period, I am. I’ve seen plenty of angels come and go from here- trust me, I won’t be alone for long!” Sapphire addressed the crowd. “Anyways, Oswald may be gone, in every sense of the term, for a lengthy stretch, so I’m gonna take over this operation. Unless you fellas would rather do it…?” Nick, Heathrow, and Lionel all vehemently shook their heads. “Sweet! I can finally stay in Summerland without all that hassle! Okay, so what’s the first order of business?”

Nick requested, “Can you get me some transportation so I can take her home?”

Sapphire declined, “I don’t need to. She has the means to travel right there!” She indicated to the Carmine Clogs on Daphne’s feet.

“WHAT?” Daphne roared. “You mean this whole time I could have magicked myself out of here?”

“Technically. But if you had done that, you would’ve missed out on all you’ve gained this city,” Sapphire countered.

Daphne mulld that notion over, and she concluded, “Yeah, I suppose so! I wouldn’t have met my new best friends, and I wouldn’t have found my found my true purpose! I could’ve done without the whole getting kidnapped thing though!”

Nick reckoned, “I guess this is goodbye then!”

“Only for now! I’ll be back! And I can take down your number to…” She pulled out her busted cellphone and instantly changed her tune, “I’ll get a not-broken one in Kansas, and…”

“Here’s my number.” Nick handed her a business card. “Call me as soon as you can!” After Daphne stowed away his info, they gave each other a kiss.

Heathrow let her know, “We’ll miss ya, Daphne!”

Lionel concurred, “We will! Thanks for everything!”

“I love you guys!” She embraced them all, and once they parted, she notified Sapphire, “I’m ready!”

“Tap the Carmine Clogs together three times and say, ‘There’s no place like home!’” Sapphire instructed.

Daphne heeded her advice, and sooner than she anticipated, she and Tater were drifting through a swirling vortex. Flashes of her stint in this town played back to her, and suddenly, it all disappeared!

Quite alleviated, Aunt Mae proclaimed, “She’s awake!”

“How did the house get back from Vegoz?” Daphne pondered. “Did your insurance have it towed?”

“Boy! You can hardly tell you got hit in the skull!” Aunt Mae kidded. Daphne still seemed addled, so she clarified, “You were dreaming, kiddo!”

Daphne disagreed, “It wasn’t a dream! I got captured by pigeons and battled a fallen angel! … I can see what you were saying! Maybe I was dreaming!”

Jack canvassed her, “Was I in your dream?”

Ray echoed, “How about me?”

“Or me?” Bert tacked onto that chain.

“No…” Daphne glanced behind her, and Professor Frank poked his head in. “You were there though!”

Professor Frank blinked in surprise. “I was where? Sorry, I just came to see if you were alright after walking home in that storm!”

Daphne reported, “I’m fine! I had this really strange vision though! Your cousin was gonna take me home in a green balloon!”

“Oh no! He better not have! That’s how he wound up getting lost!” Professor Frank darted off.

“Wait, was that really a hallucination then…?” Daphne pensively glimpsed at the ceiling.

Aunt Mae comfortingly pat her purple footwear. “Get some rest! You’ve been through a lot!” The maintenance men vacated the room, and Aunt Mae paused prior to her departure. “Ooh! Where did you get those new shoes?”

Daphne sat up and was shocked to discover, sitting in her closet, the Carmine Clogs! With a wide smirk, Daphne affirmed, “Over the rainbow…”

The End