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Guardians and Spirits
It was almost 2 in the morning as Maria drove down the road, the flashing headlights of her black convertible the only thing visible in the dark street. She’d been on her way to her sister’s house in the town over for their annual get together, along with just about every other absentee member of the family. Maria assured her sister over the phone that she had the route memorized to the dot, that she knew the way perfectly, down to the last turn on Orchid Street. In fact, she assured her she’d be there at 6 p.m. (early), enough time to help her set up.
Well, the last turn was actually on Orchard Street, and that conversation was about 7 hours ago.
Maria was currently punching numbers into her phone, her car parked at the side of the road. “Hello?” she asked into her phone.
“This call is currently out of range-”
Maria snorted and slammed down the end call button. “Ridiculous” she muttered, already punching in more numbers. She was long off the path she was supposed to follow, her unhelpful GPS already thrown far into the unforgiving realm of items she called her backseat. At this point she’d long abandoned the idea of reaching her sister’s party, which was really just her excuse to try and convince as many relatives as she could that she was the only grandchild that should be included on their wills.
Maria unfurled her recently bought map from the front seat, furrowing her eyes as she looked at the foreign object.
“What the hell…?” she whispered, turning the map over so it was upside down. She tried looking for her address, eyes narrowing more and more as she searched. “How am I expected to find my way with this? God!” she slapped down the paper in frustration, her nails ripping into the flimsy material.
“Need some help?” a voice said.
Maria gasped, hand going towards her chest. She turned her head slowly, letting out a sigh when she saw where the voice came from. It was an old woman dressed in a dirty yellow dress, color long worn out and in tatters. She was smiling a yellow toothed grin, holding a box of mutts in her hands.
“I can help you if ya wanna help them,” she said, grabbing one of the pups in her hands and holding him forward. He was as dirty as her, hair missing in random spots and sticking up in others. He looked at Maria and gave a tired yip.
Maria leaned back, pushing the dog away from her. “No thank you, Ma’am. I’m quite alright.”
The lady laughed, a dry, raspy sound. “Yes, I’m sure. Do you get lost on roads often, or is this a special occasion?”
Maria glared. “I’m quite alright, thank you very much,” she said, already walking away. She made sure to flip her silk scarf over her shoulder as she walked, an extra step in her stride.
The lady was still cackling behind her as she called out. “I got directions if you want them later, princess. Trust me, you’ll need them. This ain’t the city you in anymore.”
Maria huffed, ignoring the lady and shivering as the cold wind hit her. “Maybe there’s reception out here,” she whispered to herself, hugging her arms as she set a quick pace into the woods nearby.
She could hear the lady faintly behind her. “Watch out. There’s nothing too friendly up in there.”
Maria tossed her head back. “Whatever.”
The forest was dark, filled to the brim with pine tree and not much else. Maria walked quickly, holding her phone in the air like the Olympic torch, hope extinguishing faster than its flame does. With each step she took her bars went down, as did her battery level. She turned right to see if she’d have a better chance. More trees. She took to the left. An almost exact picture. Maria continued this way, weaving in and out of the rocks, getting farther away from her car then she anticipated.
In the dark of the night, the trees became menacing, inky black shadows against a dark background. It was quiet except for the sounds of a faraway owl, the familiar who-whooo now a menacing screech from a mysterious creature of the night. Maria quickened her pace even more as she walked, head turning from side to side suspiciously.
It was an ordinary night. It was the most menacing night she had seen.
Maria’s mother once told her sprits lived by every road, coming out every night. They came to take away the souls of anyone who got into a car accident, but they weren’t picky. They took away anyone they wanted, even naughty little girls who went through their mother’s things.
Maria remembered her mother’s words, how much they scared her as a kid. She begged and begged her mom to tell her how to escape the spirits. Her mother would chuckle, then explain that you needed someone pure, someone who had been good all their life, to guide you through. They had to give her the directions, and only then would the spirits leave her alone.
The story ran through her head in the dark of that night. The whoos sounded like a ghost’s moan, the rustling of leaves like the spirits rushing through the air. Did she do something wrong lately? She hadn’t wished her brother happy birthday, but then again, she never had. Maybe she should have attended her aunt’s funeral last week instead of the salon, but Aunt May wouldn’t have wanted her niece to look like a train wreck, would she? She was fine, there were no spirits to take her away, she was fine fine fine-
Maria yelled out, dropping her ringing phone onto the ground and running. She tore through the branches, ignoring the sharp wood catching at her clothes and scratching at her legs. Maria can hear the wind rushing past her, the faint beeping of her phone behind her, but ignored it all in favor of running.
A branch catches at her scarf, but she’s too busy running to notice this or the gnarled root that lay at her feet. Maria feels her feet fumble over the root and she falls to the ground with a groan. A rock jabs into her stomach, a branch into her leg, her forgotten scarf falling slowly on top of her pathetic figure, the pink silk completing the sad portrait.
“Would you like some help?”
Maria’s breath hitches.
She stills her body and holds her breath as she hears the leaves rustling beside her. She’s never been a religious person, but at the moment, all she could do is pray under her breath. In fact, she’s too busy doing this to notice that the rustling has stopped, but not too far gone to notice the heavy breathing near her or the rough voice by her ear.
The voice lets out a husky laugh. “I’m not that scary, honey. Trust me, there’s far worse.”
Maria holds back another scream and in a last ditch effort, her hand shoots out and hits the spirit.
There’s a groan, then something falls. She doesn’t stop long enough to look. Before she’s even fully up, she’s sprinting.
Maria runs as fast as she can, faster than she’d ever run before. She’d had been lost before, but now her feet seemed to lead her in the right direction. She ran left, right, each and every way until she finally burst through the trees, dropping to her knees immediately in the road.
Maria panted, chest rising up and down rapidly.
“Need some help?” There’s that voice again. The old lady from before stands above her, eyes concerned.
Maria was still panting, but she had enough energy to shake her head.
“N-no” she said, getting up unsteadily. She tried to pat down her hair as best as she could, standing up straight and trying not to resemble the beggar in front of her. “No, I’m quite alright.”
The lady starts to smirk. “Are you sure?” she teased. She reached towards the box of pups near her, pushing that same mutt from before in front of her nose. “The offer from before still stands, you know?”
Maria stares. Then she reaches forward and in a swift move, she hugs the dirty, flea ridden skeleton of a dog to her chest and buries her face into its fur, sobbing.
The old lady stands back with her eyebrows raised, surprise apparent on her face as she watches the two.
Marie lifts her face from the dog, gray mascara streaks and snot running down her face.
“If I take this one, can you get me home, please?”
“Where have you been?” Maria’s mother stood in front of her, pacing back and forth as she ranted. “Do you know how worried I was when you didn’t show up at Edna’s? Look at you, you’re a mess! And you’re jacket! That jacket cost more than that couch you’re lying on! Are you listening, young lady?”
Maria sat on the window sill, a pink silk bathrobe wrapped around her as she petted the dog sitting in her lap. She inhaled from her cigarette, letting a gray cloud of smoke escape into the open window.
She let out a sigh. “I realize this Mother, but really, what did you expect me to do?”
Her mother huffed. “And not only that, but you brought along a mutt with you too.” Her eyes narrowed. “You know better than to trust random street beggars. That dog may have rabies for all you know. Look at it, it looks disease ridden.”
Maria glared at her mother, holding the dog towards her defensively. “He’s perfectly fine,” she said,giving her dog a loving gaze.
“Besides, I got him from a friend.”
Maria’s mother shoots her eyebrows up in surprise. “Oh? I thought you said you got it from a beggar?”
Maria shakes her head. “No, no,” she said, thinking back to the lady. “She’s much more than a beggar.”