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I coalesce onto the street outside of the video store. I feel the solid ground beneath my feet and gasp. I did it. I got home. It’s early morning, the sky a beautiful purple orange color that makes me think of my mother; purple is her favorite color.
I notice that the parking lot is empty, that Grandma’s car is gone. I’m sure that when Erasmus got here to pick me up and found me nowhere in sight, he rallied together the troops to try to rescue me. Grandma probably flew back from Oregon on a redeye to be her for me. Thankfully, it’s only a few blocks back home.
Despite having not eaten or drank in over two days, the only thing I want, the only thing I need in this moment is a bloody cigarette. I pat my pockets, hoping beyond hope that my pack has somehow survived the ordeal of the last two days. I can’t say I’m shocked when my ripped pockets turn up empty.
I do quick search of my person and find that my wallet is gone, too, and that my phone’s screen is cracked. In my reflection from the glass door by the drop box I can see that I am covered in soot and blood, my bangs are limp in my eyes, and the top of my hair is in disarray. I look like a cockatiel.
Okay, first things first, I need cigarettes.
Just around the corner is a gas station that is open 24 hours. I know I look like I have just survived the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I don’t care. I need some nicotine. I stroll into the store, squinting my eyes against the bright halogen lights. The lady behind the counter looks up from her fashion magazine and does a double take when she sees me stumbling toward her. My shoes are gone, and the skin on my feet is broken and bloody from running around barefoot in that treacherous place.
“Can I help you?” she asks, not disguising her alarm very well.
“Can I get a pack of the Camel Crush menthol, please,” I rasp.
“Uh, ID?” she stammers.
Oh, shit. I don’t have any ID because my wallet is missing.
“Listen, I’ve just been to Hell and back—literally—can’t you cut me some slack? I know I look young, but give me a break, okay?”
As if by magic, the woman’s demeanor instantly changes. She stand up ramrod straight and her worried countenance is replaced with a chipper smile. “Okay, I’ll give you a break this time.” She reaches up to the cigarette shelf above her and grabs a pack of Camel Crush.
“This, too,” I say, grabbing a purple Bic lighter and setting it on the counter next to the pack of cigarettes.
The lady rings them both up and fixes her eerie smile on me. “That’ll be $10, please.”
“$10, why so expensive?” I ask, confused. The cigarettes should be $6,50, the lighter $1. Plus tax, I should be around $8.
“That’s the cost of smoking,” she says, grin still glued in place.
I instinctively reach for my wallet and am once again reminded that I do not have it, nor any money. What am I going to do?
My face beams red with embarrassment as I meet her friendly gaze. “I, uh, lost my wallet,” I say. “I don’t have any money.” Shit!
“No money?” She asks this as though this idea is totally alien to her. Considering that she works at a gas station, being broke should be a relatable experience or her.
“All my cash is in my wallet. I don’t know where that is,” I reiterate. “I don’t suppose you could..you…know…cover me for now? I live a few blocks away. I can run the money over later.”
“Sure. Take it.” With that same creepy smile, she pushes the pack of cigarettes and the lighter toward me.
“Thanks…” I say, brow knit it confusion. What the hell is going on? I hope to Christ that I haven’t been returned to some crazy parallel universe or something. With my luck, anything is possible.
Before she can change her mind, I hurry out the door and take off down the street. My fingers peel the plastic wrap off of the pack and shove it in my shoddy pockets. I do not condone littering. I open the pack and fish out a white filtered cigarette. I quickly crush the menthol capsule in the butt and put in to my lips, flicking the lighter to life.
That first inhale is amazing, making my eyes roll back into my head with delight. Oh, God, I have been missing this! I take another deep lungful, holding the minty smoke in my lungs for as long as I can. Amazing!
I continue to puff on the cigarette as I make my way home. After everything that I’ve just been through, I don’t care who sees me smoking and what they may or may not have to say about it,
I finish the cigarette quicker than normal and grind it out on the sidewalk before tucking it into the palm of my hand. I’ll toss it in the trash when I get home.
The early spring morning chill hits me hard after the sweltering heat of Hell, and I hug my arms around myself, shivering slightly. Not too far to go now.
I cross a few streets, and come at last to mind. Before me, my grandmother’s beautiful home looms, comforting. A part of me had believed that I would never see it again, that I would cave in and be stuck in Hell forever. Guess again, sucker!
I go up the driveway and onto the front stoop. My hands freeze before the doorknob. No, I’m not ready to go in yet, I am not ready to discuss what has just happened to me, especially since I haven’t even had time to process it all myself. Well, no time like the present.
I sit down, light up another cigarette, and let my mind go. I killed a man. I killed an evil, but still innocent man possessed by a demon to save the life of an innocent woman. Is that justifiable? Murder is still murder, regardless of the proposed intent. How much have I tainted my soul in doing so? Am I a bad witch now?