Spirit Hunger – Chapter 4

Welcome to Spirit Hunger, a weekly supernatural romance story.

If you’d like to receive the finished product and updates on my next novel Spirit Elfen, fill in the form at the top of the page and you’re in!

 

spirit-hunger

Chapter 4

Adi was so engrossed in her “Manual of Germanic Mythology”, she was surprised when it became harder and harder to distinguish the letters in front of her eyes. The golden light streaming through her window was weakening and the university’s faux Victorian street lights were coming on, one by one, outside her hall.

She jumped up, remembering that the library was only open until 9 pm. She banged the door behind her, then stopped. Seriously, every time! With an impatient grumble, she rushed back in to get her jacket from the back of her chair.

When Adi finally left the dorms building, she shivered and pulled her jacket tightly around her chest. The breeze had freshened further and she felt, rather than saw, little drops of icy water settle on her face. She stuck out her tongue and enjoyed the feel of snowflakes melting. Smacking her lips, the metallic taste pulled her back to winters walking to and from the International School back in Germany.

For some reason, whenever she remembered Frankfurt, she thought of winter. Mostly overcast and dull, but equally often with the sun so low on the horizon that the city streets around her were silhouetted in stark black shadows.

As a child, she loved wearing her little pink sunglasses, holding on tight to the straps of her backpack. This was before all the visions started that made her doubt her own sanity and caused untold anxiety for her parents. She remembered overhearing her mother crying and her father assuring her that there was nothing wrong with their little daughter. And if there was, they’d fix it before his mother found out.

Even at such a young age, Adi understood that her father’s mother hated his wife and by extension, their daughter. The next day her father went out and set up a trust fund that would guarantee her education. Once again Adi silently thanked her parents for thinking ahead and not leaving her to the questionable mercies of Mrs. Worthington. That trust fund was her ticket to independence, to the life she wanted to live.

Of course the money was only available as long as Adi stayed sane. During the reading of the will, Adi was shocked to find that as soon as she showed sign of mental breakdown, the trust fund was no longer available for her education but only for her treatment. Mrs. Worthington tried for several years to contest the will and even have her declared mentally incompetent, but in the end, her father’s will prevailed.

Dammit, daddy. What the hell were you thinking? All Adi could guess at this stage was that Henry Worthington III. had tried to protect his daughter while not break all ties to his mother’s family.

With a bitter laugh, Adi shrugged off the unpleasant memories of years spent alone in boarding school, and walked faster. It was really getting ridiculously cold, given the time of year. Out of the corner of her eye, a shadow made her turn her head.

There was another student, trying to reach the library as well. His head was down, hands in pocket and she didn’t recognize him. What made her inhale sharply, was the fox perching on his head. It was a rather small fox and Adi looked again to make sure that it was in fact a little animal and not a hat. No, no doubt at all.

The young man walked on a converging path to hers and she met up with him right in front of the library door so she was able to look straight at him. The little fox was gorgeous, with a cute black button nose, twitching as its jaw rested on the boy’s head. When Adi came closer, it turned its head towards her. Adi looked into the greenest, most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. The animal looked so pretty and like the epitome of what a fox would look like in a child’s book. Adi had seen foxes in zoos before and they were bigger and rougher than this little creature. Their eyes met and Adi could have sworn that it smiled at her.

She slowed her pace a little and allowed the student to enter the library before her. Then she quickly caught up because she wanted to see the librarian’s reaction to the animal invading the sanctuary that was the Library. Entering the warm building after breathing in the icy air made her throat tickle and she had to suppress a cough. After she cleared her throat, she looked up and saw the boy with the fox walking past the front desk towards the back.

He politely greeted the elderly lady who ruled the library with frowns and stern glances. The corners of her mouth twitched and she nodded slightly to him as if she wasn’t surprised to see him here at this hour. A regular, it seemed. There was no way she could have overlooked the animal. Adi’s eyebrow rose as she watched him disappear into the back of the building without being challenged or even questioned. What just happened? There was no way Mrs. Wosniak wouldn’t have stopped a student bringing an animal into the building.

On impulse Adi approached the front desk. Mrs Wosniak glared at her. Okay, so she was in her normal mood. Then Adi startled. How had she never noticed this before? On the librarian’s desk sat a parrot. A rather large, magnificent bird. Its chest covered in bright mustard-colored feathers, its beak black and its face white with thin black stripes around its eyes. While Adi watched in fascination, it beat its large blue wings and screeched a challenge at her.

She involuntarily took a step back and stopped when Mrs. Wosniak snapped,“Can I help you?” Her voice had an uncanny resemblance to the bird’s. The parrot inclined its head and its beady eyes were fixed on her.

Adi swallowed drily. “Yes,” she said slowly. She tried to quickly think of something else to say. “I wonder… could I bring my dog with me? He get’s kinda lonely…,” her voice trailed off.

Mrs. Wosniak’s eyebrows had been steadily climbing towards her hairline as Adi talked.

“A dog? Are you blind?” Adi tried to follow the non-sequitur.

“Ah, no?”

“Only guide dogs are allowed in here. Honestly, have you ever seen pets in a library?” Mrs. Wosniak’s expression hovered between enraged and genuinely puzzled.

Adi smiled engagingly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think…”.

The librarian interrupted her, “Clearly not,” and threw another stern glance at her.

Adi nodded her head and moved towards the book shelves. Okay, that was just weird. Not only had a student just walked past the librarian with a frigging fox on his shoulder, Mrs. Wosniack herself had a parrot, large as life, sitting on her desk.

Adi felt the first tendrils of fear rising within her chest and took a deep breath. The same questions that had haunted her throughout her childhood and teenage years started to come back to her, ‘am I insane? Is this reality or a figment of my imagination? How can I tell the difference?’

Adi swallowed down her panic and decided to bury herself in the paper that was due in a few days. If she worked hard, this would pass as it had before. But then she heard another squawk, and she glanced back involuntarily. The bird was still there, regarding her haughtily. Its eyes fixed on her, it seemed to grin as it followed her progress.

Adi turned her head forward just in time to smash her nose into a pillar. Behind her, she heard a dual snicker, bird and human. Her cheeks burning, she turned the corner to get out of their eye-line.

Dammit, that hurt! She rubbed her nose furiously and was relieved to find no blood on her fingers. Shielding her face with both hands, she bent over and leaned against a wall behind her. What a crappy day. Raising her head with a deep inhale, she wiped away the involuntary tears from the corners of her eyes and forced herself to smile. Come on, focus! Another deep breath and she was ready to come out of her hiding place. With her head held high, Adi resisted the temptation to glance at the odd couple and walked the few steps to the library’s mythology section.

She had always enjoyed fairytales. Her German grandmother, Oma-Adi, told her all of Grimm’s Tales when she was little. Not the sanitized Disney-versions either. How many American children knew that Cinderella’s sisters chopped their toes and heels off to fit the glass slipper? And that when the Prince kept his word and tried to wed them, one after the other, the innocent turtle doves who helped Cinderella throughout the story, whispered about “blood in the shoe” and then hacked their eyes out? Or that in one of the stories, the evil Queen was forced to dance in red-hot shoes until she died?

Adi shuddered in horrified delight. There was something cathartic about Evil being made to suffer and be vanquished from the world, even though it clashed with her modern sensitivities. It never bothered her as a child and she was determined that her children read the real stories that were still told in Germany today as well as the pretty modern versions.

Adi was so absorbed in her work, taking down notes, re-reading passages of mythology that she didn’t realize how late it was. When a shadow fell over her desk, she looked up and it took her a moment to orientate herself.

Mrs Wosniak stood over her and said rather gruffly, “We’re closing up. Please put the books back where they belong,” and shuffled off back towards her desk. Adi felt like a kid being told to clean up her room. She quickly gathered her materials and tidied her work area before leaving the library. On her way out, she glanced sideways at the front desk and noticed no sign of the parrot. Mrs Wosniak must have already taken the bird outside and with another shake of her head, Adi began her journey back towards her room.  

Link to Chapter 1

Link to Chapter 3 

Link to Chapter 5 

Spirit Hunger – Chapter 3

Welcome to Spirit Hunger, a weekly supernatural romance story.

If you’d like to receive the finished product and updates on my next novel Spirit Elfen, fill in the form at the top of the page and you’re in!

 

spirit-hunger

Chapter 3

There had been no monkey. The young man in front of her had humored her and Adi was grateful for that. He seemed genuinely concerned and tried to make sure sure she was okay. Whatever. Her heart was still beating fast and her hands felt sweaty. She just wanted to get out of there and think about what had happened.

So when the good-looking young man (she might have been shocked but she wasn’t blind, okay) asked her for coffee, she didn’t hesitate, “I’m sorry, I gotta go.”

Her abruptness was rude, she knew that. It made life easier, kept distractions away so she could concentrate on what was important. Her studies. Her independence. When she looked up, the slight smile had slipped off his face and left behind a mask of indifference. He stepped back and coldly said, “Sure, whatever”. Then he turned and walked away.

Adi watched him leave with an odd sense of disappointment. He was tall, with copper skin, long black hair tied at the back of his head. He looked like a young Keanu Reeves, except taller. Now that she thought of it, she was sure she’d seen him in class before. Usually dressed in wife-beaters and tight jeans.

She half-regretted her outburst. He had looked at her like she mattered and had been angry on her behalf. Adi straightened her shoulders and sniffed. She didn’t need a protector, she was absolutely fine by herself. Then she remembered the fear that had shot through her like a hand grabbing her throat when that – that thing – had looked back at her and grinned.

Adi swallowed. That hadn’t been a monkey. That she was sure of. She slowly made her way to the exit. The young man was gone and again she felt a clench of regret in her stomach. When she opened the door, a chill made her shiver. She looked around campus. Lectures were in full swing after lunch break and there were very few students around.

A slight wind, carrying promise of late snow, made her shiver a little and she wished she’d brought a jacket after all. The temperature had dropped considerably and Adi sped up to try to generate some body heat. She pulled her hoody tighter against the creeping cold and her shoulders rose as she clasped her arms around her. Jeez, one minute the sun shone and birds sang, the next Jack Frost made it very clear that he wasn’t done yet.

When Adi finally got to her building, she couldn’t feel her fingertips. Her nose started running in response to the welcoming warmth in her room. She was only glad that as a senior student, she was given a single. She really didn’t have the patience or inclination to share with another nosy person. And renting off-campus would have taken too much of a chunk of her monthly allowance.

She made a beeline to her electric tea kettle. It wasn’t cheap but worth every dollar. Her mom had always had one back in Germany and when Adi had to leave home, she tracked one down. It was pretty ridiculous how hard it was to find one because apparently Americans didn’t like to heat water fast. Or maybe you didn’t need a gadget for heating water if all you drank was coffee. Either way, today she really appreciated having hot water in a mug and a teabag within a few minutes.

Adi leaned back on the only chair in her sparsely furnished room and warmed her blue-tinged fingers on the hot porcelain. Heaven. Sipping the black brew always calmed her down and helped her think.

First of all, Doepker. The guy was such an ass. Adi knew she was right. Her German was fluent and what she didn’t know, she looked up. Maybe she was a little abrasive at times and she couldn’t remember why she felt the need to poke at the teacher the way she had. Still, his attitude was aggressive and threatening, and she didn’t like it.

And then the monkey or whatever that thing was. Adi’s brows rose on her forehead as she recalled the terror she felt at that moment. It seemed out of context for her. She was a calm, rational person, usually. Well, she was now.

When she was a child into her early teenage years, her psychiatrist had told her parents that what she saw every day, were ‘imaginary friends’. Even as a child she knew that couldn’t be right. They were supposed to be ‘friends’ and what she saw had frightened her. Friends don’t frighten friends, she knew that. Eventually the diagnosis had moved on to more serious conditions and the doctor had told her parents that she was suffering from ‘psychotic episodes’.

Adi had come home one day, distraught and frightened. She must have been 13. On a school trip to downtown Frankfurt, the class arrived at Taunusanlage, one of the stations in the business district. There was a lot of drug and alcohol abuse in those days, and it wasn’t uncommon to see people passed out in the stations where it was warm and sheltered.

The children were forced to step over a man who lay right across the middle of the stairs to street level. Just as Adi straddled the junkie mid-step, his dirty hand shot out and grabbed her ankle. His long fingernails dug into her skin. She muffled a scream with her fist and stared down at him.

She remembered his high-pitched giggle before he dropped back into a stupor. She could still smell the stench of unwashed body and something more sinister, like rotting onions. Her teacher pulled her away from him and made sure she was okay. But when she turned her head to give the guy one final glance, she saw a large cat peering out from underneath his jacket. It wasn’t a little domestic cat either. It looked like a skeletal, mangy puma. Its yellow eyes bore into hers and it hissed, showing broken teeth.

When Adi turned to her classmates and opened her mouth to warn them, she realized that no-one else seemed alarmed in the slightest. So she kept her mouth shut. Fitting in was important even then. And when she looked again, there was no sign of a big cat, just an emaciated smelly junkie sleeping his life away.

It upset her deeply. She wasn’t sure what exactly, being grabbed by the addict, seeing the cat, not seeing the cat, whatever it was, it made her feel on edge. Pair that with teenage hormones and it was no wonder she was upset by the time she got home.

Her mom noticed of course and after much probing and cajoling, Adi told her. She also mentioned the cat and her mom’s reaction scared her even more. Her face showed a series of emotions, running from confused to upset to determined. The next day Adi met her second psychiatrist, Dr. Niederegger.

Dr. Niederegger was good. So good that Adi confessed seeing animals sitting and slouching on people all the time. When he asked her, what kind of animals, she explained, “All kinds, even frogs and insects.”

He wanted to know if they talked to her and she shook her head, her brown bob emphatically moving along. He kept scribbling furiously into a notebook, and the more she talked, the more he scribbled. Eventually her parents were asked into the bright, expensively furnished interrogation room and Adi was asked to wait outside.

What followed was a script for tablets that made her feel drowsy and spaced out as well as many many more meetings with Dr. Niederegger. He was a great listener and smiled at her encouragingly every time she hesitated. Adi didn’t mind speaking to him, but she learned to not talk about what she saw anymore. The drugs seemed to work and eventually, she stopped seeing what others couldn’t. Mind over matter, she thought at the time. Until now.   

She got up and with an impatient sigh, dropped her mug into the sink. She had no time for this nonsense. She had done it once and she could do it again. If she ignored her hallucinations, they would go away, just as before. Exams were coming up next month and she needed to pull herself together. She was so close to graduating, seeing animals that weren’t there, was not on her agenda! Then she thought of how concerned her mother had been and her chest clenched. That was the last year before everything changed.

Suddenly she had such a longing to connect with them, with her mom and dad, that she found herself on her knees, pulling a large box from underneath the bed. With shaking fingers, she pulled out a scrapbook that she had created after the accident, full of memories. Her eyes blurred when she saw herself held in her parents’ arms, only a few hours old.

She couldn’t remember of course, but she knew, just by looking at their faces, that she had been loved. And that her parents had loved each other. The next page showed her extended family at their wedding except for her father’s mother who hadn’t approved of the match. There was nothing she could do of course, given that Adi was on her way, but she made her new daughter-in-law’s life hell. Sighing, she wiped her eyes and decided to hit the books. There was no point dwelling on the past and every reason to look towards the future. All she had to do was pass her exams. No pressure then.

  

  

Link to Chapter 1

Link to Chapter 2

Link to Chapter 4

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Spirit Hunger – Chapter 2

Welcome to Spirit Hunger, a weekly supernatural romance story.

If you’d like to receive the finished product and updates on my next novel Spirit Elfen, fill in the form at the top of the page and you’re in!

 

spirit-hunger

Chapter 2

The comforting rumble of students’ conversations and occasional laughter wrapped around Honi like warm, richly-patterned fabric. He sat in his usual place in the small coffee place on campus, preparing questions for a meeting with his world mythology tutor.

Honi didn’t particularly like coffee but was very fond of the Triple Chocolate Frappe they offered here. He moaned as he savored the thick sweet milkshake. There was coffee in it, sure, but it didn’t taste bitter. It was more of a dessert than a caffeinated drink.

He wistfully rubbed his belly. This was his third frappe of the week. Pretty soon the sugar and fat would catch up with him, and even his tight training schedule wouldn’t stop the expansion of his midriff. Every male member of his family softened over the years. He sighed and mentally cursed genetics.

From the chubby little kid that was teased in school, he had grown into a tall lean Mekui’te warrior that turned girls’ heads wherever he went. And a Mekui’te warrior should not indulge in more than one cup of Triple Chocolate Frappe, no matter how good it tasted, he thought and took another sip. Too damn good. As if he knew that Honi’s resolution wavered already, his spirit wolf growled at him.

Honi smiled and shook his head minutely. I know, I know, he thought at the animal he was named after. Their eyes met and amusement radiated from the animal’s sapphire-blue gaze. Honi was used to it mostly but he still got a kick out of seeing his black wolf amongst all these people. Man, they would freak if they could see him. He smiled wider as he finally got up and made his way towards the glass door.

Honi threw his cup into the garbage on his way out. He swung his grey canvas messenger bag over his left shoulder, taking care not to catch his long black hair. A pretty blond girl that he recognized from class stepped aside and let him pass. He didn’t miss her eyes sweeping him up and down and lingering on his wide shoulders and narrow hips. He grinned at her and moved on before she had a chance to say anything. He wasn’t here to have fun. He was here to study and make his people proud when he gave them a stronger voice. He still enjoyed the attention though. Nothing wrong with that.

Outside, light-green clouds of new spring buds emerged all over the campus. He loved this time of year. Winter was on its way out and some days, the sun warmed up the earth enough that mist curled out of the damp cold ground. It seemed to beckon bulbs that were planted by the horticulture club last fall and while the tide of white snowdrops already receded, the next wave of red, yellow and pink tulips gently invaded the bare banks all over the college grounds.

Honi inhaled deeply without slowing his long-legged march to the red-bricked building that was now coming within view. Everywhere he looked, students were moving from class to class or chatting with others. He felt a little wistful because even after three years, he had no close friends. Sure he knew a lot of people, but between traveling back to the reservation to see his family and his studies, he didn’t have much time to socialize.

The trill of a bird calling to its mate distracted him from his maudlin thoughts and he soon smiled again, following the birds’ flight against the clear blue sky. This day was too damn beautiful to feel down for any length of time.

When he arrived at his destination, he pulled open the front door and entered a different world. Where it had been bright and loud outside, inside the building it was dark, quiet and smelled of plastic and laminate. The sharp unpleasant odor invaded his nostrils and made him sneeze. Honi bent over and the hall echoed with the sudden eruption of noise. His nose was still itchy. He pinched his nostrils and walked towards his teacher’s office, only to see him talking to another student in the hallway. Honi was about to open his mouth to greet Diepger when something made him stop and look closer.

The professor leaned into a student’s personal space. Honi knew the girl. He had seen her in his mythology class and knew that she was very bright, but also strident and a little bit aggressive. She seemed to have a chip on her shoulder and had to be right all the time. He didn’t like the teacher’s body language. It was threatening and the girl seemed to shrink under his attention.

Honi tried to think of her name, Ali, Anni, no – Adi. That was it. Unusual but then so was his name. Adi looked very shaken up and Diepger was obviously furious. Then Honi noticed the teacher’s spirit animal. He reared back a little. Oh crap, he’d never seen it before in class and he was sure he would have noticed.

The animal was gross, monkey-shaped and twisted. In Honi’s experience, spirit animals represented the character of their owners so that would explain why Diepger always seemed to be such an asshole in class. The animal hissed at Adi and Honi’s eyes widened when Adi flinched back. What the hell? Had she just reacted to the monkey?

Honi had seen spirit animals since he was fourteen. He had never met anybody else who had the gift. Then he shook his head. It was probably something the teacher had said to her. She seemed fearful and cringed away while Diepger whispered something to her and Honi’s eyebrows drew together.

He hadn’t forgotten when he was bullied and he didn’t like seeing a teacher do that to a student. He was just about to walk over and interrupt, Diepger pulled back and walked towards his office. His spirit animal dug its claws into his forehead and the teacher winced. It was rare that a spirit animal attacked its owner but it happened.

He watched as Adi looked at her shaking hands. She still looked scared, her auburn hair falling over her brown luminous eyes. Was she crying? His throat felt dry and he swallowed sharply. She was cute in an unassuming way and he felt like he should do something, say something to make her feel better. Just as he opened his mouth, she turned around and nearly ran into him.

“Oh,” she gasped, her pale face looking up at him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there”. He had grabbed both her upper arms to prevent her from bouncing off his chest. She was such a small thing under his hands, he felt strangely protective of her.

“Not your fault, I should have announced myself,” he smiled.

“Yes, you should have”. Her eyes narrowed and her usual cockiness covered the glimpse of vulnerability he had witnessed.

He tried again, “I saw you arguing with Diepger. I know he can be a total ass so I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” she replied quickly. Too quickly. Then she raised her head and looked right at him. “Did you see anything weird when you saw us? A pet maybe? On his shoulder?”

So she had seen the monkey. Wow. But apparently she didn’t know WHAT she’d seen.

“I saw something,” he replied slowly. “What do you think it was?”

“There was a monkey on Diepger’s shoulder. It was hideous and aggressive. Do you think we should inform admin? Surely he can’t keep a dangerous animal in his office?”

Honi thought quickly. She had no idea what she’d seen. Maybe it would be better to let her believe it was just a pet. But why was she able to see it at all? He needed to find out. Only Native Americans could see spirit animals and even among them, the gift was rare.

There was not a single person in the reservation that could do it and most of the younger Mekui’te didn’t believe it was even possible. Honi had become the butt of jokes when he came back from his vision quest and told everyone he met what his spirit animal looked like. He’d quickly learned to not talk about what he saw every day. Honi found the girl’s eyes and when he looked into their brown liquid depth, he found himself saying, “Hey, let’s have coffee and talk about it.”

Link to Chapter 1

Link to Chapter 3

Spirit Hunger – Chapter 1

Welcome to Spirit Hunger, a weekly supernatural romance story. Once the story is done and professionally edited, it’ll be available as a free download for your Kindle or any other e-reader.

If you’d like to receive the finished product and updates on my next novel Spirit Elfen, fill in the form at the top of the page and you’re in!

 

spirit-hunger

Chapter 1

Adi wasn’t happy. Hands on her hips, she stood in front of Professor Diepger and glared. For the last few minutes, she’d been trying to get him to re-grade her paper. He stared back, his irritation obvious in the way he raised his eyebrow.

“I’m sorry, Professor Diepger. I still don’t understand why you felt you had to correct this sentence.” The appellation stuck in her throat. He was the only tutor that insisted on being addressed with his full title. Most teachers were on first name terms with their students, many of whom weren’t that much younger than the staff.

Diepger pulled himself up to his full height, towering over Adi’s diminutive figure. She rolled her eyes internally. She hadn’t been intimidated by posturing for a long time, especially not by some dude who barely knew his subject.

“Miss Gutseel, I corrected the sentence because it is wrong. Do you really think badgering me is going to make a difference to your grade?”

Adi ignored the last part. She knew she was a good student but it wasn’t enough. The grade wasn’t the issue. She was upset because she knew she was right. Adi had been raised bilingually and spent her youth in Germany. She was completely fluent and her teacher was being unfair to her because she was better at the language than he was.

She took a deep breath and tried again. Maybe she’d get through to him if she was a little more conciliatory.

“Look, surely we can agree that there are various interpretations of the text. ‘Innerer Frieden’ und ’Seelenfrieden’ are both expressions of the same state of mind.”

Diepger stared at her. It was obvious he wasn’t used to anybody challenging him. His eyes narrowed.

“Miss Gutseel, you seem to think you know everything about the language.” Adi had a sinking feeling that his icy expression veiled his temper. She wasn’t surprised when he suddenly hissed, “Let me tell you something. You’re the student and I’m the teacher. I grade you the way I see fit.” He seemed to want to say more but then turned towards his office. His contempt was dripping off when he said, “If you’ll excuse me now….”

Adi was speechless for all of two seconds. This had gone beyond an academic argument about language. Heat was rising in her cheeks and her pulse was hammering in her temple. Damn it, shut up, shut up, don’t take his bait. She knew she’d better be quiet and walk away. But before she could do that, her temper took over.

“Excuse me again, Professor Diepger,” she shouted at his receding back. Adi hesitated for a split-second before continuing, “I DO know everything about German, given that I grew up speaking it. That’s more that can be said about you, isn’t it? I doubt you’ve ever even left the U.S., judging by your accent.” As the words left her mouth, she knew she should have tried harder to keep them inside.

Diepger stopped walking and just stood there. His whole body tensed, then slowly turned towards her. Adi shrank into herself. Holy crap, what had she just said? Where had that come from? She paled and waited for Diepger to explode. She couldn’t believe she’d spoken to him like that. It was completely out of line and there was no taking it back.

She stammered, “I’m…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…,” before she was interrupted by an icy reply.

“You meant it alright.” Diepger had turned around and was walking back towards her.

Light falling in from an overhead window threw his face into shadows while streaking into Adi’s eyes. She frowned. For a second she thought she saw movement on the teacher’s shoulder. She shook her head. Only a trick of the light surely. But then it moved again and this time, Adi remembered when she had first experienced this.

When she was four years old, an old woman had been sitting outside the local supermarket in Frankfurt, begging. It had been late winter, the sky a thunderous dark gray, the sun struggling to push watery beams through the dense cloud cover. The poplar trees shivered in a gust blowing straight down from the Taunus forest, north of the city.

It was a miserable time of year to be sitting on the ice-cold ground and Adi didn’t understand why the old woman didn’t just go home and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate. She’d asked once why some people were out in the cold, and her mom had tried to explain that they were less fortunate.

“Mom,” she said, tugging on her mother’s dark-red wool coat. “Mom, can we give her some money so she can buy a hot drink? She looks so cold.”

“You’re a good girl,” her mom said, smiling at her. Adi liked being called a good girl. She happily skipped towards the beggar woman to put some Deutsch Marks into her paper cup. But when she got closer, she saw a snake wound around the beggar’s neck.

Adi stopped and stared. She’d never seen anything like this before. She remembered a large snake in one of her fairytale books. She was of course a cursed princess and even as a snake, very beautiful. She had a crown on her head and her scales shimmered gold and green. Adi loved that story and her mom had read the book to her from cover to cover several times now.

The beggar’s snake was nothing like the snake princess. Green and brown, its mottled skin hanging off in flakes. Adi hid behind her mother’s legs but the animal looked straight at her and its forked tongue seemed to taste her in the air. There was something malevolent about the snake, its eyes black and lifeless.

When the old woman smiled and thanked Adi’s mom, the snake suddenly tightened its coils around her neck. Her face turned red and she gasped for breath.

Adi’s mom asked, “Are you okay? Can I help you?”

The woman replied after a flurry of coughs, “I’m fine, this comes and goes.”

Adi knew the beggar was not aware of the vicious animal around her neck. As they walked on, Adi felt the snake’s stare between her shoulder blades and she shivered, clinging onto her mother’s hand.

Adi didn’t know why the play of shadow and light aroused those memories in her. She nervously watched Mr. Diepger stalk towards her with an air of anger, maybe even fury. Adi stepped back in the face of his cold expression until her back hit a wall and she couldn’t retreat any further. The man stood close enough to her that she smelled his strong after-shave, cloying and pungent. Like wet dog mixed with eau de cologne. Yuck.

He knew he was intimidating her and he liked it. Towering over her in his curry-colored tweed jacket, his eyes flashing with anger and yes, triumph, knowing she couldn’t get away.

“MISS Gutseel, how dare you. Don’t you challenge me like that again. I don’t care if you are right and I am wrong. You’re the student and I’m the teacher. I can have you expelled from my class and I won’t hesitate to do so if you ever fall out of line again.”

He smirked as he made it clear who held the power. Some movement drew Adi’s eyes to his left ear and this time, she saw it clearly. There was something on his shoulder. It looked like a small twisted monkey, the hatred in its eyes as it glared at her mirroring that of the teacher’s.

“Look at me when I speak to you,” Mr. Diepger snarled at her. Adi’s head snapped back but her eyes kept darting to the side to take in the creature. Its fur looked like it had fallen out in patches, its paws twisted and bent, topped with sharp nails. Adi’s eyes widened when the monkey opened its mouth to hiss at her, showing sharp stained teeth in the process.

“Are you on drugs, Miss Gutseel? Is that the excuse for your behavior?” she heard the teacher ask quietly. When she looked at him again, his mock-concern barely covered his disdain. He clearly thought he was onto something. Good thing then that Adi didn’t do drugs. Not illegal ones anyway. She had been forced to take anti-depressants as a child but not for many years now.

“I’m sorry, professor Diepger. I shouldn’t have said that,” she mumbled, her head bowed. Maybe this display of her fake submission might calm him down.

“Damn right you shouldn’t have. And don’t think I’ll forget this in a hurry either,” he replied. Then he turned around and walked towards his office.

Adi felt compelled to look after him. The creature had turned its head all the way around, staring back at her. In the dark hallway, it looked just like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. Adi shuddered and her hand flew to her neck, rubbing her wolf medallion.

The monkey’s claws were digging painfully into Diepger’s forehead, and he groaned in pain and rubbed his head. The animal’s eyes were still fixed on her, shining sickly yellow. It cackled, then turned around to resume its ride on the teacher’s shoulders.

When the door banged shut behind Diepger, Adi exhaled a breath she felt she’d held for an eternity. Her eyes still wide with shock, her hands shaking with delayed shock. She tugged on her necklace the way she had done ever since she was little.

This was real. She had seen the monkey with her own two eyes. Or had she? When she was a child in Frankfurt, she had seen animals and monsters clinging onto people. She had been sure then as well. But she’d learned with professional help that they were in her head, that those creatures weren’t real and never had been. So why was she seeing them now? She took another deep breath, then turned around and found herself face to face with a man.

Link to Chapter 2