Rita sneezed. Her nose dripped and she was sure some gremlin was positioned behind her left eye. It was armed with a needle and was repeatedly stabbing the back of that eye. As much as her nose itched and snotted, her eye watered at each thrust of that demonic needle.
She squeezed her nostrils together with an ever wetter tissue as she searched the medicine cabinet. There, on the top shelf she found the bottle of decongesting, anti-sneezing, sore throat soothing bottle of noxious green syrup.
Sighing as she uncapped the brew and poured a dose, Rita swallowed the vile stuff with a grimace. Not only did it taste awful, it had the odd effect of creating particularly lucid dreams. She was just a little bit afraid of what the stuff might conjure up this time once she fell asleep.
Crawling into her bed, Rita wrapped herself in the comforter and opened the book she kept on her nightstand. After only a few paragraphs, her eyesight blurred and the words faded. She laid the book down and shut her eyes, for just a moment.
She was shopping, walking the aisles of an unfamiliar grocery.
“Rita!” the deep voice startled her. She turned to see who called.
He was dressed in tight jeans and form fitting polo. His wavy brown hair framed a pleasantly friendly face highlighted with deep blue eyes.
He stood very close; she could feel the warmth of his body. His bright smile elicited a gasp of recognition. Gently, he cupped her face in his hands.
“Rita, I’ve missed you. So, so much,” he breathed as he closed on her lips.
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
Rita shook her head, “I’m so sorry. It’s Rita.”
The young man behind the register at Three Bean Coffee gave her one more odd glance before handing her the receipt and her change. Coffee, a meeting, and a conference call. Those were her tasks today. Simple. Straightforward. Something she could normally do without thinking about it much at all.
Damn this cold and that noxious concoction.
Rita collected her coffee and set up shop at a table in the corner of the busy shop. As she flipped open her laptop, a flitting shadow caught her eye. Glancing up, her heart almost stopped. Then the man kept going. Jerking her attention back to her table, Rita knocked her coffee over. She snatched up her laptop cursing to herself.
“Let me help.”
“Laura. Thank the gods you’re here.”
“I can see this is not your morning.”
By this time Laura had the spilled java mopped up with several napkins, had rescued the paperwork from the doom of brown stain, and had her bag propped neatly in the spare chair across from Rita.
“That’s one way to put it,” Rita flopped back into her chair.
Laura returned in a few minutes with a new cup of coffee for Rita and a fancier drink Rita didn’t recognize for herself.
“Now, Rita. What’s got you so flustered? The conference call starts in ten minutes and we really need to be on this.”
“I know. Part of it is this stupid cold I just can’t seem to shake.”
“You dreamed again last night, didn’t you?”
“Rita! You know what happens!”
“Laura. I know. But what else could I do? That’s the only option I had to try to take care of this cold once and for all.”
“It didn’t work.”
The women were interrupted by Rita’s cell phone chirping. Their contact was calling. Time for business.
Rita hated public transportation. She hated the way she slid, ever so slightly on the cracked plastic seats as the bus took a slow wide turn. She grabbed the cold metal bar which served as an arm rest to steady herself. A thick film of other people’s grime covered the bar. Her slender fingers could feel the dirt of a thousand hands that touched the same place.
Instantly repulsed she withdrew her hand. The revulsion on her face was too evident as she stared at her open palm. She could not, and refused to hide her dismay. Still staring at her hand she touched her fingertips together, watching as they momentarily stuck together.
A successful meeting and a few celebratory drinks with Laura had started her day. Now, a simple bus ride across town threatened to destroy it. The stuffiness in her head made the ride even more traumatic. Dismayed and disgusted, she laid her head back on the faded blue seat and closed her eyes.
“What’s da matta dearie?” The scratchy voice broke her from her momentary peace.
“Little girl too damn good to ride da bus with us normal folk?” The old lady’s breath reeked of stale cigarettes and cheap wine.
Rita’s eyes flew open and her head popped up from where she was resting. Her wide eyes narrowed as she glared at the old woman. Her heart pounded and her head grew hot with fury.
“I cannot even close my eyes without someone ruining it,” she angrily said to herself.
The old woman mockingly grinned at her.
“Is it normal to not bathe daily?” Rita spat at the woman. “Is it normal to insult perfect strangers?” She suddenly felt powerful as the words came from a place inside her she keeps buried. A place that reminds her of her past.
The old woman drew back in shock. “I…”
“You nothing!” Rita interrupted. “I only wanted to rest for a few moments, but you just had to say something. You just had to accuse me of thinking I am better than you.”
Rita was standing now. Others on the bus were turning to look at her. In this moment she didn’t care. She was the center of attention. No one would walk on her today. Too many times have too many people taken advantage of her. Not today. Not ever again.
A fire burned in Rita’s stomach. It burned with such ferocity that her hands shook and her head tingled. All moisture left her throat as it became parched from the fires within. She clenched both hands tight enough for her knuckles to turn white.
All eyes in the bus were now staring at her as she stood defiantly against the crowd. They provoked her and she was standing against it. The accusing eyes continued to judge her. They made assumptions about her because of her expensive business suit. They didn’t know it was the only one she owned. They didn’t know she couldn’t even afford to have it cleaned properly.
As she returned their spiteful stares an image flashed before her. A dirt floor room. Dark. Damp. A man staring at her. A familiar man.
“Stop,” she muttered more to herself than to the gawking passengers.
The old lady who started this sneered at her in disgust. Rita saw the lady’s face morph into the dirty face of the man in the room. “You shouldn’t talk like that.” Her voice was deeper than before. A man’s voice.
The burning in her stomach began to boil over. She clenched her fists harder to stop them from shaking. She felt her manicured nails dig into her soft palms.
Another memory flashed before her. Women in brown robes chanted behind the leering man in the dark, damp room. They looked excited and anxious. They stared at her.
Reality returned and the dirty people of the bus stared at her just as the robed women did. They were all staring. They were all judging. They wanted to stop her.
“Why don’t you just sit down girly-girl,” said a 20-something Hispanic kid.
“Yeah,” another passenger seconded.
“Why don’t you just relax and let it happen,” said a voice from another time. “It’s our way of controlling your power.”
“Stop…” The burning inside her grew unbearable. “Staring…” She began to claw the flesh of her own hands to stop the shaking. “At…” Her head tingled. “Me!”
As the last word left her mouth one of her manicured nails pierced her flesh. A drop of blood rolled off her palm and struck the cold steel deck of the bus. Memories long locked away flooded over her mind as the fires inside her took control.
Glass exploded inwardly as the drop struck. Shards of glass flew towards the eyes of every passenger. The bus screeched to a halt as every passenger except Rita was screaming in pain. None were staring at her now.
The release shocked her. Rita stumbled where she stood, the lurching of the bus and its passengers finally taking its toll on her mind and body.
The power hadn’t overtaken her since…Walter.
The noise of the destruction travelled to Rita’s ears and brain, snapping her back to reality. She stood from where she was sprawled on the floor. Broken glass shards littered the ground and the smell of the brakes’ screeching dominated the wreck.
She was surrounded by shouts of pain. Looking around, Rita suddenly noticed the blood that covered the many glass shards, the bodies that hadn’t moved and the driver who was slumped forward.
All of the anger and fury she had felt at these people vanished like a flashlight dead of battery. One moment she wanted to see these passengers cowering beneath her glare and now Rita wished that she was back under the old woman’s taunts and insults.
Becoming dimly aware that she hadn’t moved, Rita walked around, helping the other passengers. She received some odd and accusatory looks, but Rita stared back defiantly. There wasn’t any way they could pull this on her.
Moving towards a body on the ground, she froze.
It was the old woman. The one who’s sneering had started the loss of control, the involuntary burst of power that for years had been clenched deep inside her mind.
The woman’s face which once snarled was instead drenched with crimson. Her eyes were torn, covered in pieces of glass like so many other victims.
Rita backed away. She ran past the people screaming in agony, the bodies that lied still, the driver whose head now rested on the wheel’s horn.
The ear-wrenching and startling deep honk made people jump, but not Rita.
She escaped from the damage and the one she cared most about.
Walter is gone, Rita reminded herself forcefully, and bringing back this power will do more bad than good.
Rita was through with the horrific dreams and memories that haunted her being.
The chants and sacrifices.
It was too much…
No one noticed her departure in the commotion but later on they would mutter to themselves in their homes:
What happened to that crazy business girl? The one whose eyes glinted scarlet, whose growl pierced everyone’s ears before the crash and whose nails grew into long talons as sharp as a razor.
They would never know.
Afteword: This story is the property of the authors listed above. I made some formatting changes and typo corrections. Thanks to everyone who participated in the contest – looking forward to future stories! Be sure to tell the authors they’re awesome and keep a look-out for future prompts.
As always, think happy thoughts!