When your life falls to pieces around you, who is it that’s holding you back, who is it that can set you free, and who will determine the path you will take into the future.
Grimoire Girl - Prologue
Nothing like closing up another uneventful day. Victoria thought, forcing her last smile of the day at the customer safely on the other side of the glass. The fact that she couldn’t even remember their face didn’t even bother her anymore, as long as she remembered their coffee order and got it right, everyone went home happy.
Turning the lock into place on the door, Victoria stepped back from her ghostly reflection. A sour expression, under messy dark hair, dressed in a vanilla colored apron with the name Kingsly’s Coffee embodied in big letters. After a quick glaring match, Victoria spun on her heels, grabbed the wet rag already filling with brown coffee stains from the counter, and hurriedly wiped off all the remaining tables.
The familiar sound of clicking heels from the office behind the kitchen proceeded the Manager, and owner, who pronounced her presence with the usual drum of fingernails on the counter.
“You’re drawer was $15 short, Victoria,” Beth announced through her fat prune lips.
Victoria straightened, the wet rag dripping between her clenched fingers onto the floor.
“It was there when I counted it,” Victoria explained tensely. Right, like her word meant anything against a manager's..
“It’s not there, I counted twice,” Beth deflected with finality. Then the waiting game, the part where Victoria was expect to come up with an explanation of where the money went off too. An answer they both knew all to well.
Beth had been dropping hints for weeks about her new daughter in law. How the poor girl needed a job, and “oh if only I could let her work here, but we can’t afford another cashier."
Apparently Beth decided hints weren’t enough, now she could simply fire Victoria for money that 'went missing'.
‘I hate this job anyway..’
Beth’s heels clipped their way back to the office and Victoria was allowed to finish her clean up in peace, though ‘peace’ was far from her mind.
Everyone has bad luck, but when does that bad luck run out?
First her parents, then her brother, Adam, lost his job and they lost the house, which landed them in a crappy trailer on the wrong side of town, and if that wasn’t enough - her boyfriend, Ben, had dumped her for another girl.
‘Losing her job now would just be the f***ing cherry on top..’
Beth closed the shop up, locking the metals bar gate from the outside.
“You know a lot of people would appreciate having a job like this,” Beth was saying, casting Victoria pointed glances that were all ignored.
‘Save it for someone who cares..’
The final lock clicking into place sounded her freedom, Victoria turned, shivering already from the damp autumn cold, and scurried around the side of the building where her bike waited. Pushing it towards the sidewalks, she watched Beth already pulling out onto the road in her Jeep Liberty.
Once, before, Beth had been so concerned about Victoria safety, riding home on her bike so late in the evenings. But that was before, when Beth used to care, before all the bad stuff started happening.
It's like people get so used to seeing someone roll down hill, that they preferred to watch and see just how far you’ll roll down before stopping.
Straddling the bike, Victoria peddled her way onto the sidewalk, bracing for the chilly twenty minute ride home. Stinging wind pried the hood of her jacket off, hissing its icy breath against her nose, ears, and lips. She stopped at a red light, cupping her numb fingers together and breathing warm air onto them. Across the street the Pizza Hut was still open. A brief glance through the few cars in it’s parking lot told her Ben wasn’t working tonight.
‘What were you going to ask him for a ride home?’
She didn’t want him anywhere near the hell hole she resided at. Anyway, he’s probably with Karen, enjoying the bliss of a girlfriend who can afford to buy him nice things and take him out to eat. Something Victoria hadn’t been able to do since Adam lost his job.
Kicking off, Victoria scooted across the road, bumped onto the next sidewalk and continued her trip home. Body and heart, cold and numb like a zombie.
Entering the trailer park was like entering a cemetery. No one wanted to be there, and the people who were there, were desperate to get out. Breaking in front of the disproportionate steps leading to the front door of her ‘home’ Victoria locked the bike to its usual place by the tree, threw the middle finger at the landlady next door - who was no where in sight - and walked inside.
“Vicki!” Adam barked, phone against one ear, beer can held in the other that he waved to her through the cloud of smoke. “There’s pizza,” he mumbled around the cigarette in his mouth.
Pizza. That one word put a spring in her step as she kicked off her wet shoes and darted into the kitchen where the warm smell of sauce, pepperoni, and cheese greeted her like an old friend. Grabbing a paper plate from the top of the microwave, Victoria deposited two large slices on top, selected a can of orange soda from the fridge and held her breath for the trip past Adam to her room.
Once in the privacy of her own domain, she quickly stuffed a towel between the door and the floor to block out her brother’s health hazards, then cracked open the back window. Changing into her pajamas as quickly as possible, Victoria wrapped herself in a blanket before sitting down at her desk. One slice of pizza already vanquished, and another well on the way, she opened the orange soda for a quick drink. The old laptop, which had belonged to her dad at one point, came to life and loaded up with the speed of a hospital receptionist.
The euphoria of the pizza wore off as Victoria contemplated the machine, knowing all to well what she would do next.
Open Facebook. Log in. Type in Ben’s name, and look at his page.
The internet was open and the words ‘facebo-’ already typed into the address bar.
What am I doing? Do I really want to see more pictures of Karen plastered all over his page?
Victoria closed out the internet page, pizza crust dangling from her mouth, as she sighed. Warm tears crept up from the corners of her eyes, the same searing numb pain in her chest that came every night when she remembered all the happiness she had two months ago.
Two years of dating, through the good times and bad, but always there for each other. Then like a UFO crashing into earth, they were broken up, and less then a month later he was dating Karen. What more do you need to realize he’s an asshole, bastard, and total loser? They deserve each other, be happy you’re free of him.
‘If only it was as easy as saying those words…’
No matter how she looked at it, it still hurt.
Fists tightening into the quilt around her, Victoria bounced from the chair to the bed, which were practically crammed next to each other in the small room. The tears broke free, growing cold under the breeze from the window before falling down her neck into her shirt.
Loneliness. Bitterness. Anger.
Rolling off the bed, Victoria grabbed her sneakers and decided to take a quick jog.
Legs burning again, arms moving rhythmically from side to side, visibility at zero when she wasn’t near a lamppost. The darkness taunted her with the unknown. Her mind told her this was stupid, all those letters of sexual offenders moving into the neighborhood each week were not to be taken as a sick joke. A car door closed and her heart skipped a beat as she ran past a tall burly man who stared after her.
I don’t care.
Pace quickened as she came to the bend in the road, railroad tracks that separated her side of the trailer park from the ’drug dealing’ side of the trailer park. The moon peeped out at her through bare branches. It’s chilling light outlining the cracking pavement. Victoria stopped, trying to steady her breathing as she gulped down deep breaths of cold air tainted with the wet smell of leaves and trash. A quick glance up ahead, where lights from the next patch of trailers was barely visible through the dark trees on either side of the tracks, and Victoria decided to turn around.
Back to the trailer where she had nothing to do but sleep and try to forget things she couldn’t run away from. Licking her dry chapped lips she breathed into her gloves.
The snap was muffled by a passing car, whose headlights blinded Victoria, she turned towards the sound startled. Nothing. Just the train tracks that wound through the trailer park, the forest, and onwards towards town. No one would be there. No one should be there, her brain taunted.
A hissing sound, somewhere between laughter and a sigh rose from the stillness and sent shivers down her spine. Time to head back. Already turning, Victoria prepared to sprint like mad should anything come out of the brush.
The weeping stopped her in her tracks. It sounded like a child, like someone in pain. She looked up and down the empty road. Suddenly remembering the lighter in her jacket she pulled it out and flicked the switch. The sound of crying emerged again and fear flickered away as Victoria felt the pain in those sobs.
Had someone’s child wondered outside and gotten lost in the dark? There were a few kids in the neighborhood, which again seemed insane considering most of the sex offenders in the area had hurt children. What if- The thought was too alarming, and empowered her legs to move swiftly down the train tracks towards the cries.
Wind blew her lighter out twice, but she flicked it back on quickly wincing as her thumb grazed against the hot metal. Cupping her free hand to shield the flame and stay warm she searched each side of the tracks.
“Hello? Who’s there? Are you alright?” So cold, so cold. “Hello?” The sweat from her jog ran like cold rain down her neck and back. Her nose and lips had gone cold, but she ignored it reminding herself there was a child out there in the dark more cold and afraid then she was.
“Help.” The sound was faint and feeble, but increased the urgency in Victoria’s stride. She could see small lights up ahead along the tracks as well as hear the familiar horn of an oncoming train. S***. Running along as fast as she could, Victoria drew closer to the lights and the voice.
The lights were candles, arranged around the train tracks in the form of a star, and at their center, tied to the tracks like some old western, was a woman dressed in black.
“Oh my god-” Victoria skid to a halt, the lighter going out in the wind again, as another figure moved from the trees towards the woman. A man knelt over her, muttering words Victoria couldn’t understand. He drew away and the woman’s voice was muffled beneath a gag. Backing slowly towards the trees, Victoria crouched low, afraid of being seen.
What was going on here? The approaching train horn echoed above them, louder then before, it would pass through the trailer park in the matter of minutes. The man drew something from his pocket and jabbed it towards the woman’s body at his feet. He continued to speak, low guttural words that made no sense.
Hands fumbled through her pockets even as Victoria remembered she’d left her cell phone at home. Stiff with fear and at a loss what to do, she watched the man stretch his arms out wide and utter an ear piercing screech. Shrinking and wanting to run away, Victoria pressed a hand over her mouth trying to silence her breathing.
She should run back, try to get help. But what if the man saw her? Would anyone get to the woman in time? The train horn came again, she could even detect the sound of its fast approaching wheels speeding up the tracks. She had to try, she couldn’t just stay here and watch the woman be murdered. Hands pressed into the ground while feet adjusted, ready to sprint off down the tracks towards the trailer park.
But the man turned in her direction then, and he sniffed. Victoria stared horrified at the glowing gold eyes that seemed to pierce like beacons in the night in her direction. Please God, tell me he didn’t see me. The inhumane eyes looked away towards the suddenly visible train light. He seemed to sigh, the same eerie sound she had heard by the road. Sick to her stomach, but to afraid to move or look away Victoria prayed for a miracle.
He stepped off the tracks, eyes on the woman struggling below. Then he pulled a book from inside his jacket and waved it towards his victim.
“Justice is served,” he hissed placing the book on her chest resting on top of the track. The woman jerked her head from side to side, frantically screaming against the gag. But the man turned away and walked off into the forest away from the train, the woman, the book, and a terrified Victoria.
She had to save her. Victoria sprinted up the tracks towards the woman, fumbling for the pocket knife she carried. The woman’s eyes widened in surprise, begging and pleading to be rescued. Kneeling on the tracks beside her Victoria removed the gag.
“Save the book,” the woman croaked.
“What-” Victoria mumbled eyes staring at the chains that bound the woman there. A pocket knife wasn’t going to help.
“You have too save the book,” the woman pleaded. The train was coming, its light growing larger and closer as the horn blew another warning that made Victoria’s heart want to jump off the track and run.
“I’m sorry, I can’t cut you free,” Victoria gasped yanking at the chains.
“I am free,” the woman smiled sadly. “Take the book. I place it in your care.”
“The book-” Victoria stared at the black object resting on the woman’s chest. Was this person crazy? Here she was about to die and all she seemed to care about was a book?
“Take it. Keep it safe,” the woman’s odd dark eyes seemed to grow larger. The train sound muffled and died away, Victoria couldn’t look any where but at those strange dark eyes. “It’s your responsibility now,” the woman explained with strange serenity. “Take it.”
Hands moved of their own accord, picking up the thick book. A painful jolt ran through her body as Victoria was freed from the woman’s gaze and suddenly aware of the train barreling down on her.
She rolled into the stones, leaves, and brush as the train screamed past, the book crushed against her side. Unable to move she laid there, trying not to think of the woman, crushed to death by a train. Ages seemed to grate by filled with the endless sounds of wheels grinding the tracks until the train finally passed through leaving the forest in still silence again. Climbing shakily to her feet, Victoria forced herself to look back.
The track lay empty, except for broken chains and tattered remains of black fabric from the woman’s dress.