The steering wheel shuddered uncomfortably in her sweaty grip. Despite the cold weather and the icy conditions inside her car, Olly didn’t know why she was sweaty as a pig. And that was a lie. Olly knew exactly why she was nervous.
She could barely make out the bends coming fast towards her as the road snaked and glistened like wet tar in front of her. The rain hammered her little car, the wipers went as fast as they could, yet a curtain of water rendered visibility next to nothing. The high-beams barely pierced through the darkness and the rain. She needed to get home now. Get out of the rain. Get out of the woods. She shouldn’t have been in there so late.
‘It’s a new moon dear,’ she heard her grandma’s voice in her head. ‘Don’t stop for anyone and get home now.’
It’s not like Olly was scared of crashing the car. She was, a little, but she was more scared of the things that come out of the woods on her way to her grandmas. And being a new moon, the stronger some presence get. She knew that much; the darker the night, the wider the cracks in the veil.
The first time Olly had noted the strangeness of the woods was when she’d just turned into a young woman. Something about it opening her innocent eyes was what grandma has said. And that with age, her vision would clear and she’d be ready for her duty. A guardian of the world, wedged between the dark woods and the village. A village her family had been entrusted with for hundreds of years, whatever that meant. A village at one of hell’s gates.
Something made Olly’s skin crawl. She grabbed her phone from the passenger seat and checked it for reception. There was none. She was in the deep woods now. Reception always mysteriously disappeared in this patch. A patch that would take her a long time to cross with the current weather.
Lightning struck somewhere close by, the white blinding flash made her panic. She hit the breaks, skidding across the road as she did before the car came to a stop, mere inches from a tree. Then it stopped. The engine. Dead. She turned the key, and it wheezed, and died, again.
‘Great! That’s fudging great!’ Olly hit the steering wheel. She’d been trying to watch her ‘language’ lately, as she’d become quite the swearer these days, and her oldies never approved.
‘You’re a high born, Olivia! A high born. We do not cuss because it’s easy and liberating, or whatever. No. We do not cuss at all like blubbering, idiotic humans!’
Every time Grandma mentioned ‘humans’ in a comparative conversation it made Olly’s blood boil. Why did she always have to strike where it hurt? Olly liked being a human, or pretending to most days, when she could, out there in the village or beyond, blending in with the commoners, eating their bread and wine and listening to their exciting stories. No, Olly loved being a human, and as far as she was concerned she was human. She looked exactly like a human. So did her oldies. Exactly. And that made them human in her books. Weird humans but humans indeed.
She hated whatever she was, bound by too many rules. ‘We are humans, Gram. As human as they are!’
‘You will realize one day on your own why you are not.’
Olly tried the engine again. After a few wheezy sputter, it came back to life. ‘Oh, thank fudge!’ She put the car in reverse, edging slowly away from the slippery edge and back onto the road. She absently touched the talisman around her neck before putting the car on drive and on her way. ‘Get me there safely. Get me home safely and I’ll never tell Grams humans are just as good as we are.’
Her talisman, a small amber droplet felt hot around her next suddenly, a sign that it was working, protecting, which meant there were things out there in the dark she needed protection from.
Down the slope, on its way out of the woods, Olly saw a car on the side, stopped. A man stepped forth onto the road, waving at her to stop as soon as he saw her headlights. Olly didn’t want to.
‘You’re not real. You’re not real!’ She chanted as she got closer, but the image seemed as solid as a real human. No aura around it that indicated otherwise.
The closer she got, the clearer the man and his car looked, and it looked bad. There was smoke coming out of the hood. The man, young, waved more frantic as Olly showed no sign of slowing down.
‘You’re not real!’ Olly continued, though the closer she got to the scene, the less sure she got. She slowed down. She shouldn’t have. Not in the woods.
‘Please!’ He slammed his hands on her bonnet, making her slam the brakes. He was saying, ‘Please, I need help.’
Olly couldn’t very well drive over him. She opened her window a crack as he came around her side. ‘What happened to your car?’ She made sure she was asking as direct a question as she could. Things from the veil weren’t exactly known to tell you the truth, unless a direct question was asked, in which case, they were forced to answer truthfully.
‘I don’t know. I was just driving, and then next minute, my car gets hit by lightening.’ He replied. Young, handsome, and alluring. His attire looked out of place as did his vintage car. ‘It died on me. Please, will you give me a lift to the village?’
Olly touched her talisman, eyeing the car in consideration. ‘Where were you coming from?’
‘From a friend’s party. I go off tomorrow to join the army.’
‘Why don’t you phone for help? A tow truck?’
He narrowed his eyes. ‘Phones? Here?’
Touché. No phones worked in this area. Never had. ‘I’m not supposed I pick up strangers, mister. Frankly speaking, you could be dangerous.’
The man looked at her long and hand, holding onto her window, his thin fingers wedged in the crack. Was he trying to force the window down? She could just wind the window up and step on it. She wouldn’t kill him. And she could just send a tow truck in the morning. Yeah.
‘My name is Ben, and I’m from the village down there miss. I’m sure if I was dangerous or tried anything with you, you can take it up with my family and I’d be in big trouble. But please don’t abandon me in these woods. You don’t know what it’s filled with.’
‘And you do?’
He nodded slowly.
Olly took a moment to think. How would she feel if help was at hand but they were too scared to offer it?
‘Fine, get in, but you try anything, anything, and I will shoot you!’ She showed him the barrel of the pistol attached to her thigh under her dress hem.