I close my laptop, shove it onto the bed beside me, and massage my forehead.
“What’s the matter?”
I look up to see my little sister coming into my room. She looks concerned and I try not to take my annoyance out on her. “My laptop isn’t working.”
“Oh. I can go ask Mom if you can use hers.”
“Thanks, but I need my stories from my laptop.”
“Aren’t they on your phone too?”
“They are supposed to be, but it’s not working either. It’s so weird. Just the Notes app, and I’ve never had a problem with it before. I don’t know what’s going on.”
She doesn’t understand, but shrugs. “Well, I hope it works soon,” she says, then starts humming to herself as she goes back to her room.
I sit cross legged on my bed and frown at my laptop, sitting there so innocently. It isn’t the whole app that is malfunctioning, either. My overdramatic journal entries are still there, as are any number of things I had hastily jotted down.
It had started with little things; my story had random words misplaced. Those I fixed, thinking them to be typos. But it happened again a few days later. Now, after I had spent a good hour writing and upped my word count by almost a thousand, it disappears.
Needless to say, I am getting rather frustrated. I turn my laptop on, only to log out and power it down, hoping that will make a difference.
I open Instagram on my phone. Scrolling through the photos of my friends, I like each post, swipe through the stories, and browse on the global feed. I tap one with writing advice but only get to read the first few words before it slides away and another post appears, advertising neck pillows. This is happening more recently as well. I flick it away and find another post, but this time it is replaced with an eyeliner ad. “This is so weird,” I mutter.
My mom calls me from downstairs. I haul myself to my feet and go to ask what she wanted.
“Aren’t you going to the mall this afternoon?”
“Oh! Right! Thank you!” I grab my purse and keys, deciding my hoodie-and-jean outfit will have to do.
“You wouldn’t want to be late, now, would you?” she asks, teasingly.
“You know me,” I say, giving her a kiss and a grin. I hate being early (waste of time), but I am never late, either.
I get into my car and realize that it is still twelve minutes before we planned to meet. It only takes seven minutes to get there, which means I have time to cruise. During that time, I don’t turn on the radio, knowing that I won’t be able to hear myself think once I am with the girls. What could possibly be wrong with my laptop? Maybe it has a bug… I glance up and down the empty streets and make a three point turn.
“I’m back!” I give my signature holler when I burst through the doors. Philip replies with a theatrical cry of terror, as is custom, from the living room. I dash up the stairs and grab my laptop. Mom greets me at the foot of the stairs. I give her my most innocent smile, hoping she won’t notice that I didn’t take my shoes off.
“What are you doing with your laptop?”
“I’m gonna get it checked, to see if there are any viruses or anything.”
“Oh, okay. Just make sure you’re back by five—Dad’s grilling salmon tonight.”
I grin and agree, then bolt for the door, leaving the house echoing with my regular call of “Love ya’ll!”
Just before I start driving, my phone lights up with a call. I expect it to be Marian or Sara, but a different face pops up. I stare at it for a second. The girl looks about our age. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her before, but something about her looks familiar. I answer the call. “Hello?”
“Um, hi. Is this Keri?”
“Yes it is… who is this?”
“My name’s Selene. I found you on Instagram and thought I’d give you a call!”
“Sure… what can I do for you?”
“Oh, I was just wondering if we could chat?”
I tap SpeakerPhoneOn, then place my phone face down in the council and started driving. “Yeah, for a couple minutes. Did you have something in mind?”
“Yeah. I follow your writing account, see, and I love your posts. But you don’t post a lot about your actual story… what is it about?”
“Um… I’m not sure if I can give you the whole synopsis over the phone. But it’s about an island with almost no contact with the human world until a woman named Athalia discovers it. She plants cameras and turns them into a reality show for the mainland.”
“That sounds really cool!”
“Thanks. I want to post more about it during the editing process.”
“Then what happens? What’s your climax?”
“Well, there’s this girl named Katira, from the mainland, who figures out what is happening. She is forced to go live there so that she can’t tell the police. Then someone else, who had come from the mainland a long time ago, tells this old lady about God before she dies.”
“Wait— God? I didn’t know you were religious.”
“I’m not sure what you mean by religious, but God is in all my stories, directly or indirectly. Anyways, Athalia didn’t want her show to have any mention of God; she thought the people were fine without Him—“
“Of course they were. Who needs ancient superstitions?”
“History isn’t superstition. And the people had the right to know and make their own choice. Anyways, Athalia sends a whole bunch of soldiers—“
“Forget this. I’m not interested anymore.” She hangs up.
My phone flashes and goes white. I frown, perplexed at the oddity of that conversation. She had been rather forthright and rude.
I realize something else. My instagram doesn’t have my phone number. I glance up at the sky beyond my sunroof. “Well, God, that was strange. I pray that You’d please help her— she seemed like something was bothering her.” I pull into a driveway, then back out, turning around, and park in my designated spot beside the road. I grab my bag and join the girls in Marian’s car, deciding to dismiss the whole situation as unworthy to worry about since I couldn’t do anything about it.
The drive is not very long; between blasting music and shouting along and trying to fit as many words per minute all at the same time, we arrive at the mall in good time; almost as breathless as if we had run the whole way.
We shoulder our bags and head inside.
Ardene’s is closest to the door, so we step in there first. We’ve grown out of the sizes and styles here, but the cheap jewelry is always fun to browse. While admiring a pair of embellished hoops on for half price, I happen to glance up. There is Selene! Or— at least, I think it’s her. She looks my way, but turns back to the bracelets she is holding. No sign of recognition is on her face. She must just be a lookalike, I decide, and carry on. I end up buying four bottles of gel nail polish to add to my seldom used collection. We leave the store.
The Cinnabon place smells amazing, so of course we stop in. I get cinnamon sticks and a cream cheese dipping sauce. I take a bite but almost inhale it when I see the girl sitting two booths over. This time it is definitely Selene, only with red lipstick and vicious eyeliner. I grab Sara’s water bottle and gulp some to help the cinnamon stick down, then give them a brief explanation and get up.
“Is this seat taken?” I ask.
She looks up, and she is not surprised, but she recognizes me. “Keri. No, its not.”
I sit down.
“That doesn’t mean it needs to be filled.”
“You don’t mind, do you?”
She rolled her eyes. “What do you want, anyways?”
I remember the eyeliner advertisement. That is why she looks familiar. “I seen a couple of your ads, and just figured I’d congratulate you on your gig. I’m told the world of models is pretty tough.”
“Only the best make it,” she says.
“I can imagine. Well, it was nice to see you, face to face,” I get up to leave.
“Wait— that’s it?”
“You’re not going to try to talk to me about your God again?”
I can’t help a grin. “Why? Would you listen?”
She looks taken back. “No.”
“Alright. I guess I’ll go then.”
She doesn’t say anything more, and I leave. We visit a few more stores. I see a girl with purple hair who looks like Selene, then one with dark straight hair and perfect eyebrows; one wearing a blouse tucked into suit pants, and another in overall shorts. I don’t know what is wrong with me, why I keep seeing her face, but I think I might be going crazy.
I mention it to the girls, and they say they noticed the same thing. Okay, so I’m not crazy. Or all of our cinnamon sticks were laced with something. That is also a possibility.
Our last stop is Chapters: a place all three of us could spend hours in. We separate, each drifting towards our own genres, and browse. I see a girl with strawberry-blonde wavy hair ahead of me. I make my way around a bookshelf and catch her by surprise when she puts down the book she was pretending to look at. Her smile surprises me.
“You really think you stand a chance?”
She motions to the books all around her, the rows of towering shelves that surround us. “There are so many stories. We don’t really need yours.”
I nod. “Maybe not. But there could be even one person who might, so pardon me, but I’m going to keep writing.”
“Why do you need to be so persistent?”
I notice for the first time that she looks tired as she says the last statement, her smile gone.
“Because God is persistent,” I say simply. “People need to hear about Him.”
Her gaze hardens, though I can still see the exhaustion in her eyes. She brushes a hand at the corner of her jean jacket, pulling it away for just a second. I see the glint of metal in her belt. “You’d better come with me.”
“Why? You won’t shoot me here, not with people around.”
“You’re nor that difficult to follow. It’ll be now or later.”
“Alright.” I follow her. She leads me out the building and around a corner into an alley. I can’t help asking her, “Why are you doing this?”
She doesn’t answer, slipped the gun out of her belt and motioning me against a wall. A shadow looms from a nearby corner, but the one casting it doesn’t reveal itself.
“We’re rather like your Athalia… we don’t think the people need to be indoctrinated.” His voice is irritatingly calm and soothing. It grates under my skin.
“Yet you would indoctrinate them your way?”
“We are open minded!”
“And here I am with a gun to my head.”
A noise escapes him; something like a growling hiss. “You believe there is only one way.”
“Yes, I do.” Since I can’t see him, I turn back to Selene. “And killing me won’t change that.”
He chortles. Selene pulls the trigger.
Nothing happens. I open my eyes. Selene’ finger flexes again, but the sound of an empty click echoes along the brick and cement walls. She looks at the gun in disbelief.
“What is the matter?” He demands.
“I— I don’t know.” She checks the gun, then points it at me again.
“You know,” I said, “Maybe God isn’t finished with his servant yet.”
Selene stares at me, but I turn to go.
A shadow swoops into my path: a tangible darkness, the absence of all light in a human form. I stumble backwards in momentary surprise.
“God is not worthy of your service!” He hisses. The words slip around me like tendrils of smoke.
I shake them off. “You have already been defeated,” I say. “When God’s Son, Jesus, rose from the dead—“
He shrieks. I have to cover my ears. The sound hurts like a punch to the gut. The air becomes thick and gets stuck in my lungs; the rough concrete greets my knees. I force my head up, then peel my hands away from my ears and push myself back to my feet. I stare him straight in the eyes.
“In Jesus’ name, get away from me.”
His shrieking gets louder, but I stand my ground.
“And you can tell your master. He has no chance. He is already defeated.”
Suddenly light blinds me. It is just the empty sunshine, but after the black void the demon had been, it stings my eyes. I lean against the wall, catching my breath.
Selene stares at me. “How did you do that?” she whispers.
“It… it wasn’t me,” I say, still gasping down free air, trying to relax the throbbing in my skull. “It was Jesus… in me.”
Her gun arm hangs limp by her side, but she says nothing else.
“You… you can have Him, too,” I say, extending a hand.
She shies away, then reaches for it, but before our fingers can touch, I see a shadow pass over her eyes. She retracts her hand and tucks the gun back into her belt. “I made my choice.”
“It’s not too late!” I call to her retreating form, but she rounds the corner and disappears. I feel tears spill down my cheeks, and I watch her shadow vanish after her. I slump to the ground and pull my knees in, thinking, praying. That’s were the girls find me.
“Are you all right? What happened?”
“It’s past five already!”
I stand up, a bit shaky. “Lets just say I’d like to get home, have a good dinner, and get some writing done,” I say.