The words ‘nothing good can come of this’ rattled around in my brain as I watched Deryl’s feeble attempts to erect the tent. We’d been in the god forsaken place for thirty minutes already and I was more than ready to go. I’d be the first to admit I was out of my element here in the so called ‘great outdoors’. Camping to me was something little kids did in their backyards, knowing the safety net of the house was only a quick sprint away.

That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Not the way it was, with me standing, okay cowering, in the woods with only the trees and bushes for company. At least I wanted to believe the trees and bushes were my only worry. But this child of the city couldn’t. I knew creatures of the night were out there lurking, waiting for me to drop my guard. It was going to be one of the longest nights of my life. And for what? Friendship and all the ties that bind.

Something in the trees behind me stirred and I turned around, fully prepared to be eaten by a wild animal or fall to the hands of a psycho killer. Somehow the winds had picked up without me noticing and it was whipping through the branches, rustling the leaves, but you couldn’t tell that to my pounding heart. I hated nature. I really did. I’d take the comforts of a climate controlled environment any day.

An expletive had me turning back to find Deryl beating poles against the ground. If I had to guess, I’d say it was the two she’d been trying to fit together for the last twenty minutes. “We could go back,” I dared to suggest. Her snarl brought the image of a werewolf to my overactive imagination. Not a good thing when you’re in the woods under a stormy looking sky.

“Damn her, she said it was easy,” Deryl said. “Said it only took ten minutes.”

“Of course Sue thinks it’s easy. She goes camping as often as you change your underwear. That would be every other week by my account.” I expected her to laugh or comeback with a smartass remark. Instead she dropped to the ground, the very picture of dejection.

“I’m a failure, Clarry. I suck at putting together tents as much as I suck at love.”

There was plenty of truth to that. Deryl was quick to give her heart to the undeserving and they were just as quick to give it back with a crimp in it. But now was not the time for honesty. Now was the time to be a best friend.

I dropped down beside her and slung an arm over her shoulder. “Hey, you’re not a failure. Can’t be. You’ve got me as your best friend.” This time I got a glimmer of a smile. “I’m sorry Chloe dumped you, but think of the good side.”

“What good side?”

“You won’t have to pretend to be a vegetarian anymore. And you can stop ironing your t-shirts and combing your hair.” There was more, but I didn’t want her to think her time with Chloe had been a complete waste. “In fact, we passed a steak place on the way here. When’s the last time you ate meat without feeling guilty?”

“Too long,” she admitted, seeming to perk up. “But that can wait because we have a tent to put up.”

So close, I thought and scrambled to my feet. I’d been sure the lure of meat would make her forget this ‘communing with nature to get over a broken heart’ deal. Not so. I sighed as Deryl went back to trying to force the poles to mate.

There was a boom and the sky lit up with the jagged edge of lightening. I could smell the coming rain, feel the electricity in the air and knew we were not in the best of places to stay dry and alive. “You know we can go back.” It never hurt to try again to be the voice of reason.

“I can do this,” Deryl said almost fervently. “Once I get these poles together we’ll be almost there.”

Almost there? Really? Two poles weren’t going to do much to keep up from getting wet, let alone, shelter us from the wind. I started to open my mouth to say just that and didn’t. One look at the determination in her eyes and I knew Deryl had equated getting the tent put up with having success in her love life. We were in serious trouble.

Another loud boom was followed by cackling and I confess I almost wet my pants. “Uh Deryl, I think we should get in the car, wait till the storm passes, then put the tent together.”

“No! I can do this.”

But obviously she couldn’t, so when the sky lit up like fireworks I grabbed the damn poles, jammed them together and suddenly they fit. “Can we go now?” I screamed over the howling wind. As if caught in slow motion I saw the bolt come out of the sky, hit the top of the pole and travel downward until it reached my hand.

Later I would think it was fate or meant to be, like when Arthur pulled the stone out of the rock, but in the now my thoughts were on fighting off an attack by ants or maybe bees. That’s what it felt like as electricity flowed through my body and lit me up like a Christmas tree. My limbs jerked and I found myself doing some kind of robotic dance. Faster and faster I went until silence. The kind that was so loud you wanted to cover your ears. Only I couldn’t because my bones had turned to liquid. I felt myself slither to the ground before everything went blank.

When I returned to consciousness, bag pipes were playing a dirge. I had time to wonder at the devil’s humor, then my nerves came to as well and all I could wonder about was the incredible pain. Obviously my fall to hell had been without a parachute. Damn that devil!

I don’t know how long it took, but eventually the pain subsided enough for me to realize the sound was coming from Deryl, not bag pipes. There was some relief in knowing I hadn’t made it to hell just yet. I dared to open an eye and there was Deryl in quadruplicate. I quickly shut it. One of her is enough; four, too many.

“Please, stop crying,” I begged. God, was that my voice—that gravelly pitch associated with movie demons? Say it’s not so.

“You’re alive!” With those heartfelt words, Deryl dropped her head on my shoulder and sobbed quietly.

The last time I remember Deryl crying was the first day of kindergarten. Maybe I didn’t know I was dead. But that couldn’t be because she said I was alive. “It’s okay,” I said, again with the gravelly voice from hell. I would have patted her back, but my arms still weren’t under my control.

I cleared my throat and tried again. “I’m okay.” Slight exaggeration. Okay, big exaggeration. I was probably three hundred and fifty degrees from being okay, but that wasn’t important because this time she heard me.

“Thank the Goddess.” She let out a shuddering breath, then sat up and wiped at tears and, I’m afraid to say, snot. “I’m so sorry for bringing you out here, Clarry. We should go and never come back.”

Hallelujah and praise the saints, was my first thought. My second, was ‘how’? I was more Jell-O than woman. Maybe she could roll me.

It took forever, but we managed to get me on my feet, across the camp site and into the minivan, she’d borrowed from her folks. Sure I threw up more times than I care to remember on the way, but we got there. Once installed in a climate controlled environment, I drifted off while Deryl gathered our belongings.

Deryl jostled me out of my cocoon much too soon with talk of electrolytes and my need for them. I obediently swallowed the concoction thrust upon me in order to return to that blissful state of un-being. “Uh oh.” I managed to open the door before the sports drink made its way back up with considerable force. Had I not felt so miserable, I would have taken pride in the distance I managed to cover. As it was, I could only clutch my stomach and pray for a quick death.

“Okay, tell me now if your head’s going to do that full circle deal,” Deryl demanded, clearly rattled. “Projectile vomiting I get, but come on, that was a good thirty feet. Please tell me you didn’t get possessed.”

Possession? I couldn’t help but shudder as the thought took hold. I had been out in the woods and things, unspeakable things, did live out there. But no, that was crazy talk, right? Of course it was. “Possession only exists in books and movies.” I said it for Deryl as much as for me. “Not possessed,” I reiterated. “What I am is stuck out in the sticks feeling as if every cell in my body is trying to split. I need lights, I need noises that come from machines, I need the city.”

“Fine, but if you’re going to do more weird stuff give me some notice.”

Being a good friend, I didn’t point out that if I did do something weird it would be her fault for bringing me to these god forsaken woods in the first place. Friendship came with such a high cost. Instead I closed my eyes to rest, but all that talk of possession had gotten to me, filling my imagination with horribly deformed demon creatures that bore a remarkable resemblance to me. “Shit!” I didn’t realize I’d spoken aloud until Clarry swerved, almost putting us in a ditch.

“What is it?” she demanded.

The look on her face said she was clearly expecting the worst. “Nightmares.” I put a hand to my chest and calmed to feel my beating heart. Not possessed, I thought. Demons don’t have hearts. To be on the safe side, I pulled down the visor and was relieved to see my demon-free face peering back at me. Then to be super safe, I prayed for help to the Goddess in charge of possessions.

“You okay?” Clarry asked.

Who knew? “As okay as can be expected.”

We were both silent as the van ate up the miles between nowhere and civilization. I don’t know about Deryl, but the closer we got to the trappings of civilization the better I felt. It started with a little warmth in the pit of my misused stomach, grew, then spread throughout my body.  I closed my eyes and welcomed the warmth as it suffused me with an intense sense of wellbeing and power mixed up into something close to orgasmic. The sensation was incredible. I was incredible.

When the minivan came to an abrupt stop, I opened my eyes to find the van filled with bright light. Light that was pouring out of my skin! Light with a shimmer of color woven through and over and between. It was mesmerizing.

“Clarry? Is that you?”

I turned to see Deryl staring at me, her eyes as big as flying saucers. I couldn’t blame her lit up as I was like a ray of shinning sun. “Yes,” I said faintly, and then again with more surety. She obviously didn’t believe me. “Really it’s me.”

After a long drawn out moment, Deryl closed one eye before slowly reaching out to touch me.

I held my breath, afraid of what the power, the pulsing warmth within me would do. I deflated like a balloon when nothing happened. No singing of her finger, no vaporizing of her body. Just the touch of her finger against my skin. It was strange. Something so normal when I didn’t think I was normal anymore. I had to ask. “What does it feel like?”

“Like skin and…” Deryl’s brow furrowed as it did when she was thinking deep thoughts. “Hope, innocence, purity.” She shook her head. “That doesn’t make any sense, does it?”

It made as much sense as my inner glow. As the power inside me continued to grow I wondered about what Deryl had said earlier. Maybe I was possessed. Maybe the door opened to the other side when the lightning struck me. Maybe I wasn’t alone in this skin of mine.

But possession? Possession was always by the bad guys and this wasn’t bad. Would Satan be able to cause something this bright, something so filled with purity and goodness? I think not. I know not. Whatever this was, it was good. It was. I would have said it another time, but Deryl spoke.

“Can you turn it off? The light I mean.”

I hadn’t thought of that.  And why would I when it felt so good? But I could see her point. If I couldn’t, I’d have every crackpot in the world camping on my doorstep. “I can try.” I took deep breaths and focused my thoughts inward, to the center of my being. I could see a ball of power with a golden glow, and so beautiful it almost made me cry to think of diminishing it. But I had a job, so I imagined myself waving my arms like a maestro does when she want the musicians to tone it down a notch.

It worked! I could see the light in the ball diming. But to my relief, the feelings of goodness, of wellbeing, of power did not. Whatever this was, it was part of me. And that it was under my control brought scads of relief.

“Well, okay. That’s a good start.” Deryl blinked her eyes as if adjusting to the darkness. “I know this sounds weird, but ah, are you like uh, still just Clarry?”

I could tell she was afraid of the answer. I couldn’t blame her. The golden ball and whatever it represented was a part of me, so I could never be just the old me. But there was enough of me in me to want to reassure her—my best friend, who’d gone with me through hell and high water over the years. “You know, I hope so because I’m wearing her underwear,” I said, and that got a laugh out of her. We both needed it.

“Good enough for me.” Deryl put her foot on the gas and the van once again ate up miles, the lights of the city in clear view. “You want a beer? I could use one.”

“I do. Maybe a fat juicy burger to go with it.” I was suddenly ravenous. Not surprising considering all the rejecting my stomach had done earlier.

“And fries,” Deryl added. “A ton of fries.”

We made it to the bar near her house without any more incidents. Every so often I caught her looking at me, questions swirling behind her eyes that she didn’t voice. That was okay with me. I had the questions too, and the same reluctance to say them out loud. Saying them out loud would mean we were ready to deal with what was inside of me and we weren’t. At least not without a pitcher or two in our systems.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I checked my appearance in the visor mirror to be on the safe side. I looked presentable if you didn’t know my eyes used to be blue or that my skin never had a pronounced golden tint.

The End?


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