Denial of the Enemy
A bang on her window jolted Riyel from sleep. What was that? Her eyes darted in the direction of the noise. It was too dark to see shadows and too early for crows to caw. Must be a branch. I hope I don’t have that nightmare again. Riyel knew her nightmare could never happen in real life, but it felt so real. But under the influence of Lunesta, her sleep returned and so did the dream.
“You’re mine!” The giant weeping willow tree seized Riyel, wrapping dozens of its branches around her thin waist. Two mammoth emerald eyes shot open from within its trunk, their stare burning through her heart’s wall to reveal her childish fear. She ran, but the branches seized her and stuffed her through its carved mouth into the trunk’s dark chasm. Desperate to exit, Riyel’s flailing arms morphed into branches. The daunting eyes became hers. A hideous bawl echoed through the darkness.
Trembling, Riyel opened her mouth to scream, but always in this moment of her dream, Reveille blasted from her phone’s alarm. The willow faded as Riyel jerked into consciousness. She lay in bed sweating, her heavy breathing interspersed with thoughts of being trapped and alone.
Her cell phone buzzed on the bedside table. She pushed the duvet away from her face and snatched it. The text was from Wil. His name jolted her. The fuzz on her neck rose.
Please come to work five minutes early to chat.
Chat? We’re cordial because we work together. Back in high school, Mr. Quarterback had always been way too cool for Miss Math Club Secretary. To make sure he knew she wasn’t interested, she put her head back on her pillow and waited a few minutes to type.
Nothing Wil said could be important. His words in high school were hurtful. This was a set up for a bad experience.
I’ll try, but I’m busy. Riyel lied and instantly regretted it. She grabbed a pillow to cover her head. Her whole life was a bad experience. Tears flooded her eyes. “Reveille” sounded again. She turned her cell off and pounded it into the mattress coils.
Blindly pushing up from bed, her room still dark from the early hour, Riyel’s feet plunged into her water-soaked beige rug. She retracted them so fast, she slid off the bed into cold water. “Mom!” She screamed as she stood. “Something’s leaking.” She jumped onto her bed and knelt, staring at the mess in disbelief. Tears rolled from her eyes. She fell into fetal position. God, help me. So much for studying this morning.
Outside Riyel’s window, the bushes stirred. A man nodded to a parked SUV barely visible before dawn, and it pulled away. He took ear buds from his gym shorts and jogged down the street, his thick curls wafting in the breeze. He left the neighborhood, turned right for two blocks, and turned the corner to a dirt path behind a cluster of trees. The man slipped into the passenger side of his onyx Volvo XC90. He would’ve preferred being chauffeured in a sportier car, but his driver was too tall to fit in one. This minor annoyance was small because in public his driver drew stares but no one dared approach them.
As the man removed his earbuds, one side of his face crunched into a nervous tic. Applying pressure with his hands stopped it after a few occurrences. “I tripped over a low branch on a hedge and fell against Riyel’s window,” he said to his driver. “Luckily, she didn’t wake up. An hour later I discovered it was her room when she yelled for her mom. She never mentioned living with her parents and looks about twenty-five, so I presumed she lived alone. Taking her from home is too dangerous. It will happen soon, though. Soon, very soon, she’s mine!”