People say darkness is the absence of light; some might even ensure that the night is the same thing. But if they knew what darkness really is and the wickedness it contains, they could realize they don’t need to see the sun to be surrounded by this evil power. I know that what I will tell next may be seen as a desperate attempt by a writer to sell a book, but after the strange and supernatural events began to haunt me so regularly, I guess I have nothing to lose, except of course, that I could lose my life at any moment.
I would see a quick movement behind me, or some shadow coming from nowhere and boom! A car could run me over at my own house, or even worse, any of my relatives might try to kill me. It is not my intention to scare anyone from this story; I just want to make it more than clear that the events I will be narrating are completely real and that the powers beyond the supernatural do exists.
My name is Steven Scalisi, and the first thing you should know about me is that I'm a writer, but I had already mentioned that. Second, and perhaps more importantly, when I was born the Earth was in the eleventh section of the band that encircles the celestial sphere, known as the zodiac circle, meaning I was to be from the Aquarius sign. I know this seems like a common feature and you may be wondering why my zodiac sign is important, but we'll get to that part later. I’ll begin with the day that started it all, the day I saw the first shadow in the sky.
February 9, 2007
That morning I woke up with a headache that made me look in all directions as if I had a bomb in my brain, I also had a strange tingling in my left arm, the type that makes you rend your skin from scratching so hard. The sun shone dimly through the window, highlighting the mess contained in my room. I got off the bed in a bad mood and waited, the bomb in my head did not explode, and that was a good sign. Then, I took my cellphone and read one of the many messages I had received that morning, the only one I cared. That day was no ordinary day for more than I wanted it to be, it was February 9, the day I turned eighteen years old. My birthday to date was no ordinary celebration either, in previous years I had liked the style of parties at which you lose total control and wake up the next day remembering nothing. But this year was different; I felt different than before and definitely did not want a big celebration.
In fact, all I could get interested in that day was the possibility my mother had bought me a car. She had been talking about it for weeks, so I thought of the chances she could give it to me as a surprise. Maybe I wouldn’t receive a luxury car like a Bugatti Veyron, but I could settle for a vehicle with at least four wheels, so I wouldn’t have to keep riding my old bike.
I dressed like any other day, then quickly went down the stairs, and looked out the window of the main room to the front of the house. But instead of seeing an unfamiliar car that could be mine, I spotted the unmistakable pink BMW convertible of my best friend, Adriana Vita.
“STEVEN!” she shouted, jumping on me right then. “Happy Birthday!”
I smiled and returned the hug. She looked at me with those eyes you cannot distinguish between green and yellow, while fixing her long brown hair. Adriana was very pretty, and always dressed fancy, even to go to school. She was my friend since fourth grade, and one of those people you can count on at any time, flirtatious, and although not apparent at first glance, very persuasive.
“Thank you little girl,” I said without emotion, partly disappointed because there wasn’t a new car for me outside “you could have told me you had arrived.”
“But that wouldn’t have been a surprise, right?” She said with a coquettish giggle. Come, I have something for you.
“Happy Birthday!” Cried my mother calling from the kitchen, just where Adriana was taking me.
I watched my mother walk toward me while winking an eye. Everyone said we looked a lot alike physically, because I had inherited her eyes and her smile, but we were complete opposites in personality, in which I related more to my father. She hugged me and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. On the kitchen table laid a chocolate cake with a candle in the center. Adriana pointed at it with enthusiasm and said:
“It's your favorite.”
“The same one you buy me every year” I said without taking my eyes off the cake.
“Yes, and we can take it to school and sing you happy birthday” she said with an enthusiasm that became skeptical while seeing my lively little reaction.
“We can sing the birthday song here, so my family can be present” I said, trying to fix the situation.
“But what about Alberto?” She exclaimed indignantly.
“I’m sure he won’t mind, he surely is on a diet or something, as always. You know he’s into fitness.”
Adriana nearly replied again, but then turned to my mom and said:
“Can you get Marjorie, Coco?”
Coco was my mother’s nickname, her real name was Cinthia, but nobody called her that since she was a little girl, and the origin of the nickname was so ancient she no longer remembered why she was called that way. And Marjorie is my aunt, who joined us in that moment. Even our dogs, Tommy, a Dalmatian the size of a Labrador, and Dana, a dachshund so fat we no longer called her a wiener dog, but rather a salami dog, entered the room raucously.
They began to sing the birthday song. It was strange to be singing it so early but I preferred that to celebrating at school. I blew out the candle without making a wish and Adriana embraced me again with enthusiasm, everyone clapped with delight and then I took my schoolbag and hurried saying goodbye, as we were arriving late to class.
“See you at lunch time, call me so I know where to go” I told them while Adri and I went out into the street through the house’s front door.
“Don’t worry, we have it all planned out!” said my mother.
At that time, I looked askance at Adriana and thought I saw a conspiratorial look, but I preferred to think those were just ideas and I said nothing. Adriana and I got into her car. I was going to ask her to let me drive, but I changed my mind at the last second. She drove by Loring Ranch, the residential area where we lived in the boring city of Riverside, California.
“Well? Did she text you?” Adriana asked me. I understood exactly whom she was referring to.
“Yes, but I haven’t responded to her yet, why?”
“What are you waiting for?” she asked indignantly. “Did you tell her about the party at my house tonight?”
“I thought only a few people were going to your house” I said with a shrug, her reaction was inscrutable for a few seconds.
“Yes, but so what? She’s the girl you like, tell her to go.”
“Okay, I'll tell her, though I don’t think she’d go, maybe she’ll feel a little uncomfortable because she doesn’t know anyone.
“She knows me and Alberto, right? You know what? I’ll tell her myself, you just answer her right away, it's rude to leave a girl waiting for a reply, I tell you from experience.”
“All right”, I said handing her a smile and getting my phone. I ignored the new messages received and looked up the name: Marieanne Radley. I replied instantly, and then I heard a cry of fear, something like out of a horror movie. Adriana accelerated the car but I turned around and saw a skinny guy wearing shorts and a yellow shirt. He was dark skinned, had short black hair and bulging eyes. He came running and shouting behind us.
“Calm down, it’s only Frank” I said so Adri stopped the car.
“Oh my god! I hate it when he does that.”
Adriana looked in the mirror and stopped the car. Frank kept running until he finally reached us and with a jump got on the back of the car. Adriana looked at him reproachfully but he just smiled and put his hand on my shoulder.
“Happy Birthday Steven!” He said with a voice that was not his, but an imitation of a host of a television show.
“Thanks bro” I said turning to shake his hand. Adriana started the car again and continued on our way to school.
“Don’t ever do that again Frank, next time I’ll leave without you!” Adriana complained moodily.
“I did it because you were already leaving without me”, said Frank with a shrug. “The two of you forgot about me.”
“Sorry, I was replying to a message from Marieanne and didn’t realize we had passed your house” I said, Frank opened his mouth in disbelief.
“Will she go to your party tonight?” He asked, curious.
“I'll handle that”, said Adriana after clearing her throat. I winced and she rolled her eyes. Frank laughed and patted me on the shoulder.
The streets were quiet that morning, there was not too much traffic, nor too much heat, I liked the season during which my birthday takes place, the spring, though in California we had no winter, nothing was as bright and flashy as in these months.
“Steven, I know it's your birthday, but the horoscope says something bad about your day” said Frank, his eyes on his phone. I frowned.
“Are you kidding, right? What does it say?” I asked with interest, Frank looked at me worried, then turned and read from his phone:
“Aquarius: Bad omens are coming for you, stay away from high buildings today.”
I laughed at once, but I noticed that Adriana looked serious too, just like Frank.
“You don’t believe what a crazy guy posts online, do you? He surely has invented it all.”
“Hey! He is a renowned astrologer!” Frank grumbled. “Well, not really, but he’s good.”
“I really don’t like reading such things”, Adriana said without looking away from the road. “Knowing the future makes me nervous.”
I sighed and my eyes went blank.
“Calm down. Everything is a lie. If it were true, all the Aquarian people could not go near a building today. And there are thousands of Aquarians living in buildings.”
“Okay, don’t pay attention to me, I just hope that nothing happens to you” said Frank in a mocking tone, which reassured me a little bit.
He and Adriana believing in such things was ridiculous. I mean, horoscopes seemed fun and entertaining to read from time to time, but that's a long way from believing in their veracity. We arrived at school at that very moment.
Adriana parked near the entrance and we all got out of the car. I prayed that nobody would remember my birthday when we started up the stairs to the front door, after all, most people usually only remembered the parties I had had in the past, not the celebration's reason. On our way to class we passed several groups of students, but no one said anything, which was a relief. When we got to the classroom, Frank kept going and said he’d reach us later, because at that time he had a different class. Adriana and I opened the classroom door, but the lights were off. I turned them on and then someone jumped on me. Adriana gave a cry of horror and I was about to throw myself down on the floor, until I saw who it was.
“Happy birthday big boy! You're getting old”, said Alberto, my best friend, squeezing my shoulders tightly, as if he was trying to break them. I pushed him and laughed, Adriana looked annoyed again.
“God! Is Steven´s birthday, not Halloween” she said after Alberto approached to greet her with a kiss on the cheek.
“Frank did something similar”, I explained as he looked confused, and then turned angry as if Frank had stolen a million-dollar idea from him. “Don’t worry, yours was the most unexpected.”
Alberto smiled like a six-year-old kid and then gave me a hug. Alberto and I were best friends since we started high school, there was never a time when we weren’t together, we were shadows of each other, and people used to think we were brothers because supposedly we looked alike, but for me, the only similarity we had was the hair color, ash-blond. Alberto was tall, brawny and athletic; his eyes were deep blue whereas mine were brown and plain. My friend was not easy going, but I had learned to deal with it. Either way, he was still popular and always attracted attention. I, on the other hand was more reserved and got along with everyone, but Alberto was one of those people everyone wanted to be best friends with despite being imposing, and the bad thing about this was that sometimes I had to see him leaving with all the pretty girls.
However, Alberto was the best friend I could ever ask for and I knew he also thought the same of me. The bell rang just then and we both sat with Adriana at desks farther away from the classroom´s board.
The room began to fill in a blink of an eye and the physics professor came a few minutes later and everyone sat silently. I took a notebook out of my backpack to take notes; I wasn’t very good with reasoning exercises. I immersed myself copying formulates and notes, but I did not pay much attention to what the teacher said. At least I hoped Adriana was doing so, and I could tell by her typical expression that she was concentrating on something -she was biting her lower lip and touching her ear with her right hand-. But still, I hoped she was concentrating on the class and not thinking about some guy, which was very typical of her. As for Alberto, he had fallen asleep, even more typical of him. The teachers didn’t even bother to wake him up during class anymore; another interesting fact about Alberto was that his grades were impeccable. Everyone thought he used to cheat, but they couldn’t be more wrong, usually he studied half an hour before each exam, getting the best grades in the class. I didn’t even know how the hell he used to do it.
When the class ended and the bell rang, Alberto woke up as usual and the three of us went out into the hallway, where Frank was waiting for us. During breakfast I received a call from my father, who lived in Italy with his wife and my young sister. We were not very close, since he had lived in at least ten cities since his breakup with my mother, but I used to spend some holidays with him. We talked until the bell rang again and I had to hang up.
After that we had two more classes, math and earth science. Alberto slept through them all, and even snored a little. Frank and Adriana spoke to each other in whispers. When I asked what had happened, Frank came out with one of his jokes, imitating the voice of a futuristic and defective robot. I laughed so hard I didn’t even realize they had evaded my question. The morning passed like any other day, until classes ended and then we went to the parking lot and took off in Adriana’s car to have lunch with my family.
We went to my favorite restaurant in the city. We got there in ten minutes. As we got out of the car, Alberto and I started playing around, posing as boxers while we laughed and had fun, but Frank gave us a boost and told us his stomach was roaring more than a hungry dragon caged amid the Atlantis, so we stopped the games and kept going.
My favorite restaurant was a bit peculiar, its name was Marine Cave, and once you entered you had to go down to a sort of basement, because inside, it was like an underground cave. Their specialty was seafood. We were joined by my mom and aunt, in like a second.
I had a good time. Frank and Alberto made everyone laugh as usual and we all ate rice with seafood, garlic shrimp, croquettes and many more delights till we almost exploded.
“It frustrates me being allergic to shrimp”, Frank said sadly eating a cordon bleu, stuffed with potatoes, since he was the only one who couldn’t eat seafood. A couple of years back at that same place, he tried shrimp for the first time and turned red as a tomato, we had to take him immediately to the hospital. “They are so delicious.”
“No worries man, when they invent the cure to your allergy you’ll be able to eat them”, Alberto mocked giving him a pat on the shoulder.
Frank gave a fake laugh expressing sadness and kept seeing all that he could not eat. Adriana hit slightly in Alberto's arm.
“Do you want a croquette?”, Adriana ask him. “They’re made of crab. So they won’t make you anything.”
Frank smiled and nodded without even thinking. I claimed at his expression and drank a bit of the non-alcoholic piña colada I had ordered. I Finished eating my plate and looked at my watch, which was in my right hand.
“I must go”, I mumbled while drinking the last sip of piña colada. Everyone looked at me puzzled as if I didn’t had a good excuse to leave. “Exactly today is the last registration day for the course of English literature”, I remembered them.
“Why do you have to do everything at the last minute?”, reprimanded my mother.
“You know how I am”, I said shrugging.
After paying the bill, we left from the restaurant. I was about to head to Adriana’s car when my mom took me apart and told me:
“Steven in a couple of months you’ll be graduated from high school and probably you will be leaving home...”
“Mom, what’s going on? You know I won’t be walking away for good, right?”
“I know, it's just that if you study at a nearby college I’d like you to always be able to come visit. That's why I talked to your dad and we decided to give you this.”
We stopped in front of a black car that looked familiar. It was a CrossFox, a European car form the Volkswagen. It wasn’t a van, but it wasn’t a small car either, it looked comfortable, although it lacked a touch of brilliance to the painting. I frowned blankly, that line of cars wasn’t commonly found in the country, and my father had one just like that in Italy, unless...
“Is this my dad's car?” I inquired gaping, my mother nodded.
“I paid him the half to make it a gift from both, what do you think? It cost us a bit to bring it but we worked it out, and is almost as new.
I stood speechless so I jumped on my mother for a hug. Maybe this car was not a Bugatti, but it was a very good car and it surely would serve me to get around, as I had wanted.
“Thanks Mom, this couldn’t be better”, I said smiling.
“It’s great, isn’t it?”, said my aunt who had appeared behind us with the others. “Here are the keys, be prudent.”
I hugged my aunt and then Adriana started taking photos. We got in the car and inspected it; it was spacious and had built-in sound equipment. When I started it and I heard the roar of the engine I felt the adrenaline through my left arm. I noticed that the rear seats had a kind of advertising on a rectangular piece of paper. I took one, but as soon as I found out what it was, I turned to see my friends with anger.
“Surprise!” The three exclaimed in unison.
“I said I didn’t want a party this year”, I snorted, turning my eyes to the paper and reading what actually was an invitation. “This has already been delivered? How didn’t I notice these around?”
“Through web”, Frank replied guiltily.
“Come on Sven, it'll be fun!”, Adriana exclaimed, calling me by her favorite nickname. “It’ll be at my house, as we had planned, only that some more people are going.”
“But...”, I started to complain, but Alberto hit me in the left arm, which hurt more than I could remember.
“Stop complaining, we won’t torture you or anything like that, we’ll spend a good time bro, I can see you dancing all night.”
I winced, but then looked at my watch again. I was so late, so knowing that I couldn’t do anything, I nodded in resignation. I expressed my haste and I said goodbye to everyone, thanking my mother and family for the CrossFox again, I only had to call my dad to thank him too.
“Remember Sven, don’t go too fast”, said Adriana. I smiled but I didn’t say anything so she could understand my hurry. “See you tonight!”
I started driving my new car and left the parking lot, feeling an extreme freedom at the wheel. However, I could not help but feel concern, I was in a battle against the clock at that time, since the literature course enrollments closed in less than an hour.
Until then, I had only read some interesting books in addition to those the English professor sent us to read in class. But some of those writings had fascinated me. I won’t deny that by then, I hadn’t understood some at all, such as Miguel de Cervantes, but I could grasp its essence and power of narrative. I also had my writings, although they weren’t anything special. That was why I needed to enroll in the literature course. If I wanted to improve, what better than to use the old adage "practice makes perfect"?
Luckily, I made it to my destination in ten minutes. The course was taking place in the Rivers complex, a group of buildings also known for having the highest tower in the city. It was completely covered in mirror glass windows and from afar it looked like a crystal skyscraper. I stopped at the traffic light at the corner of the building, and saw the traffic chained to enter the underground parking. I’d lose all day only by parking the car.
The traffic lights changed to green and I turned left. I passed two streets, until finally, I found a spot near the east building. I parked as fast as I could and got off the car. The east area was full of construction workers. This part of the complex was going through a remodeling. I looked up and saw a huge tower crane move the pen carriage, as the workers were preparing to lift a heavy load to the top of the east building. I ran up to toward the entrance of the main tower.
Once inside, I could almost see, since there were too many people transiting. I headed to the elevators; one was open and I got in quickly, but similarly, entered seven people more. I stood completely trapped, but at least the fifth floor button (where was the course) was already pressed. An eternity, or half a minute later, I came out breathing deep and looking in all directions. I found the literature course down the hall, and rushed inside but then happened the typical thing that usually happens when someone is in a hurry: I stumbled upon someone. It was a girl, and she had dropped a lot of papers on the floor.
“I'm so sorry”, I mumble as leaning over to help her pick up her things.
“No, It was my fault, I wasn’t paying attention”, she said with parsimony.
I looked her in askance. Her hair was blond in different shades, rippled and was covering her face. She was thin and was wearing a navy blue sweater and a pair of worn sneakers; I also noticed that the painting in her nails was corroded. We got up once collected all the papers and then I saw her face, a face that could not be more than angelical. She had thin and soft features, her eyes were hazel and in some inexplicable way, I felt they reflected honesty and humility. The girl was beautiful; there wasn’t a better way to describe her. I, obviously, stood speechless in front of her, so I handed her the documents before she could think a bad thing about me.
“Thank you, there aren’t much friendly people these days” she said suddenly with a melodious voice.
I was about to say something, but then she smiled and I remained silent. I could not help thinking that now she looked even more beautiful. The girl said nothing else, and me neither, so she left. I stayed there, petrified, unable to stop imagining her smile. So perfect, so emotional... But I was in a hurry; I had to enroll in the course, right! I headed to the receptionist, still stunned and said:
“Good afternoon, I’m here to enroll in the course of English literature.”
“Sorry, sweetie. The places are already taken. I gave the last one to the girl who just left, sorry. But if you are interested in other courses I can help you.”
I was left bewildered, astonishment, disappointed, but this time I didn’t stay paralyzed, I thanked the receptionist without asking anything else, because I didn’t need any other courses and retired with an inscrutable pale face. I didn’t understand why I was surprised with these turns of events. I mean, how could I expect to get a place if I had left everything, not just until the last day, but also to the last minute?
I kept going like a zombie to the exit, still trying to absorb what just happened. I remembered the beautiful blonde girl. It would never occurred to me that she would have taken the last place, in fact she didn’t even fit within this whole place, she looked taken out of an agency of supermodels. Yeah, maybe she was a bit untidy, but with such a beautiful face who needs to be well dressed? She wasn’t even wearing makeup and looked stunning. I smiled like a fool, because at least she had taken my place on the course. I would have the opportunity to take it on another occasion.
I went out to the street, leaving the busy crowd that moved in all directions inside the tower and went down the way to the east building; I already wanted to get in my car, no doubt it would cheer me up, or so I thought, because I had no idea of what was about to happen.
I was looking forward, without paying much attention to what was happening on the street. However, in a strange and sudden way, the sounds around me became distant, as if I had been dipped into water. I realized I was walking next to an in love couple, but I couldn’t even understand what kind of conversation they were having. They were holding hands and laughing... but that didn’t matter. Actually, nothing that was happening in the street mattered, but up in the sky. A sound like a gust of wind began to rise among the whispers I was hearing. I started looking around in frustration, until I finally looked up.
A black shadow, much like a chimney smoke furrowed the sky, moving like a bird that kept the track of his acrobatics. I looked down again; incredibly no one could see it. I closed and rubbed my eyes, trying to reassure me, but when I returned my gaze to the sky, I found that strange shadow again, dark and thick, fluttering around the remodeling building. It even looked like it was coming more and more close to the tower crane. I made my assumption too late.
“Watch out!”, I exclaimed when the shadow crashed against the load carried by the crane’s hook, causing it to drop it.
The load fell right on the hood of one of the cars that came down the street, causing havoc around. Everyone started running and screaming, and the cars began to collide with each other. Everything happened so fast. I had been still and I didn’t even know exactly what I was seeing. I felt a pain strangle my left arm and suddenly, as if I had planned it, I throw myself nimbly to the ground.
That movement so brief seemed like an eternity, I heard the engine of one of the cars that had lost control, so close to me I could feel the heat it provided.
A moment later, I fell on the pavement, banging my knee. I noticed how the car had crashed against the wall behind me, where I had been just seconds before. I looked back into the sky. There, still was the shadow, and then, as if it had it planned, I heard a strange laughter. It was macabre, sinister, and it burst my eardrums. It gave me goose bumps, but what really made me feel afraid was that I had heard it before... That same frightening, maliciously and mocking laughter. I couldn’t remember when and much less where, but I knew it, and I was sure.
Someone approached to me and tried to help me, but I ignored him. I got up and passed near the in love couple who looked with horror the disaster caused in the front street. I ran and entered the remodeling building of the complex while everyone was going out. I headed to the elevators, that place wasn’t crowded compared to the main tower.
I got to the last floor and once there, took the stairs to the roof, where there was no one, all workers had been gone.
I approached the side facing the tower crane, looking for the shadow, but it was gone. It had vanished, as had appeared. My left arm started to burn again and everything was spinning. I felt I was losing control of my feet and everything looked blurry. I grasped my left arm with my right hand when an unsurpassed pain burned me like a blazing fire. Then, I saw the black shadow in the sky again and listened to the macabre laugh that blocked everything. I could feel in horror as it made fun of me. But the pain in my arm was unstoppable so I shouted while I lost control of my legs and fell to my knees. Everything went even more blurred and I lost consciousness.