Before I could move, Joey faded from view and in his place, was the slant-eyed devil from the diner. His face was scared now, like he’d been burned over and over, and the look of it made me take a step back. His eyes winked knowingly and my knees shook. Definitely not Cupid. Joey!
“Your death is minutes away, Allie. Sign here and I’ll not only stay your demise, I’ll give you back Joey. After you do something for me, of course.” He shook a paper that unrolled into an ancient parchment where dark words appeared and disappeared like someone was using an invisible pen and I didn’t have to ask what he wanted in exchange, knew it was either my soul or centuries of servitude for my family.
“No.” He nodded, and with a flick of his wrist, the contract as gone and I was awake, body under tons of snow, frozen. My lungs burned as I struggled to breath and my chest was like lead. The dark was complete, the cold simply indescribable, relentless, and I started screaming for him to come back.
I shouted that I’d changed my mind, panicked beyond any rational thought, just begging him not to let me die.
“Then the workers found you, right?” The voice startled me, reminded me of the curious faces listening. I nodded, pulled myself together.
“Yes.” I glanced at the group counselor, saw she was frowning at me. I squared my shoulders. I could do this.
“I’d been under the snow for 18 hours. The man from the diner was never found. The avalanche hit right about the time I saw him vanish into the snow. The police said he’d be found in a nearby creek come spring but he hasn’t been yet that I know of.”
“And your…dream?” The girl next to me was my own kind, I knew it just from looking at her pain-filled eyes, but I was careful with my words. They couldn’t lock me up again like they had after I’d been rescued from my captor. I had a job to do, a debt to pay off.
“Hallucinations brought on by being buried alive. In time of crisis, the mind invents comfort. Mine was an imaginary childhood friend.” I smiled convincingly. “It was all in my head.” That drew the laughter and the closing applause I’d intended and the counselor gave me an approving look as she stood up.
“Very good, Allie. That’s all for today, group. We’ll meet back here in one week. Enjoy the holiday.” I moved gradually toward the door, almost able to feel Joey’s arms around me. I had a quick package to deliver, a sort of smoking Christmas gun, and I couldn’t wait to get to Camp David and be done. After that, I could go home, to Joey, and leave the spirit of Chaos behind me.