Carlita Harmell: Loathed

College student, Carlita Harmell, is pulled from her life to the past to fight back an evil that threatens her and everything she has ever known. Accompanied by a friend, Svana, and a mystical being who protects her, Carlita is shoved down the past to face odds of magic and evil and lots of untold secrets.

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2. Chapter One

For one moment, Carlita peeked through the hole in the door. They should have stopped pursuing her by now. She glanced at her watch and slunk back in the corner. It had only been three minutes and twenty-seven seconds; she would have to make sure they stayed away for, at least, a solid five-minute period. That would mean she is safe. If she went out now, they would pounce on her any moment.

She panted, impatiently waiting for the time to tick by. The seconds on her wristwatch seemed to be moving too slow.

Only eleven seconds had passed till now.

“Oh, come on!” Carlita groaned to herself, half-fearful and half-irritated.

She hated being bullied. There was always this group of snobby girls who really, really liked to tease her rather rudely. Carlita had tried to block her ears out, but then they threatened physical violence – and now Carlita could only avoid their malicious picking by hiding herself in the janitor’s closet.

As she thought, she passed another glance at her watch. Only thirteen seconds were remaining for her fourth minute to be over. She could make it. She was going to brave it out; she could handle it.

As she waited, she recalled the face of the girls who teased her. There were the two leaders of that beastly gang – Sophie and Manda. They had five or six girls who followed them around as minions, but it was those two who tormented Carlita the most. Manda was the vice-principal’s darling niece so no one liked to mess with them either. And that meant they could go on being offensive any student on school grounds. She remembered confronting them twice – maybe thrice – but Carlita was aware that most of the time she preferred to hide.

Only six seconds were left for the fifth minute to start now.

But, unfortunately for Carlita, there was an unwanted yell outside.

“Harmell! Come on, where are you?” It was Manda shouting. They had found her, after all. Carlita forced herself not to break in a cold sweat but she was aware that not coming out would end up worse than otherwise. Praying that she would make it out through another day of bullying, she stood up with some vitality and stepped out of the closet fearlessly.

The group of girls were standing right outside, hands on hips and smirks on their Barbie faces.

“Well, hello. Lookie who is here, girls,” Manda sniggered, flinging her silky ponytail as she pointed at Carlita.

“I have to go home,” Carlita started, gathering up what audacity was still in her, “B-Best if you leave me alone.”

“Leave you alone? Look at yourself, snot-nose. You don’t deserve anything except a slap. Maybe two,” Sophie spat cattily.

That is so evil, she thought to herself. Carlita’s imagination was what might have kept her tough enough to keep her sane. Her heart, her brain, they would keep pushing her to go on. This time, once again, she realized it was her own self, trying to strengthen her.

“I have to go,” Carlita spoke again, in a meeker tone.

One of the minion girls broke into a pathetic laugh while others exchanged smirks.

“Don’t you always? Little rat,” Sophie smirked.

“Little rat? How dare you!?” Carlita stormed, clasping her fists crossly.

Sophie’s eye-shadowed eyes narrowed and Manda had her arms akimbo. Carlita nearly wished she hadn’t said that, but she knew she had to stay brave.

“How dare I?” Sophie hissed, menacingly stepping ahead.

“I… I…” there was no apology Carlita could offer. Her mind had gone blank at the wrong minute. She drifted her eyes at the angry girls, trying to keep her legs from shaking. It was going to turn out bad; nothing could save her now.

You better run, her conscious mind advised her at just the perfect time.

Carlita could not bear the thought of what would happen to her and she did exactly that. She sprinted off towards the school gates, ignoring the heated screams of the girls who immediately chased her. The summer wind hit her face, her short hair flapping about, but she did not stop. The guard at the gate gave her a confused look and she paused just long enough for him to recognize her and let her out.

“What’s the hurry?” he frowned, his manner quizzical and utterly confused.

“I am- I am feeling a little sick,” Carlita answered quickly. Over her shoulder, she could see the girls racing to her, waving their hands and screeching in anger. It was apparent that those bullies were not used to a victim’s quick-thinking and, for a shallow moment, she allowed herself to exhale in relief.

“Oh!” said the guard, spontaneously discarding the latch for her to go.

 

Exhausted and breathing heavily, Carlita knocked on the front timber door of the house. There was a short shuffle at the other end and Carlita’s much-despised stepmother, Agatha, opened the door.

“Carlita!” Agatha exclaimed in a moment of carelessness but covered it up with a small smile. “It’s lovely to see you.”

Carlita gave her a grimace. “Isn’t it just so?” she hissed sarcastically.

Agatha, with a heavy sigh, allowed her step-daughter’s backlash to completely strike her. Carlita’s wretched face wordlessly conveyed what she had just gone through and Agatha didn’t want to make her feel bad anymore.

“Was it the bullies?” she asked after some consideration. To her, it was only appropriate to make sure everything was alright. Even if she was just the step-mother, she had to care for Carlita nonetheless.

“Yeah,” Carlita whispered in a tuneless manner. The last thing she wanted was to be pitied by the woman she detested.

“Did… did they hurt you?”

“No, Agatha. I ran. I am alright,” Carlita mumbled, giving her a quick, forced hug before disappearing to her room.

Watching her go, Agatha sighed, this time, in grief. She didn’t know why Carlita hated her so much – she was always there to be a helping hand. But what could she expect from a teenager who was, miserably, both orphaned and bullied?

 

Up in her room, Carlita flopped on her bed, the memories of school fresh in her mind. Why did those girls have to pick on her so much? She was never a nerd or a geek. Heck, she never even talked to them. It had started slowly with one insult a day and it had grown more monstrous every time she saw them again. They had once pulled her hair but they were also masters at breaking a person down with words alone.

She hated them. She hated them so much.

Why did they have to make her life so desolate? So sorrowful?

Memories played back of how she had lost her parents and her little brother. Carlita fought back tears as hard as she could but, then, she never understood why she had to go through this. She didn’t have any family left, no one she truly loved, no one who truly loved her back. Agatha had entered her life when her father was still alive; at least, she could be slightly happy. But, after the death of her father, the last person she had any affection for, Carlita knew better than to be still happy. Isolation sounded reasonable but she also wanted to be brave enough to face her life. It was not only because she had a valiant nature, always ready to not surrender to dangers, but more because she felt like there was nothing important in life – so why not make bravery her goal?

Carlita pulled her phone as it vibrated in her trouser pocket. It had to be a message from Agatha, that is how they mostly preferred to communicate. The text message simply asked Carlita to come for lunch, but she was not in the mood to eat. Disregarding her grumbling stomach, she slumped back into the thoughts of the tortures she had to face at Benters’ College. Manda and Sophie, she decided, were monsters, devil’s spawn. All they did was torment, torment and torment some more. All without a real motive. If they were bored, they would pick on someone – and why that someone was usually Carlita, she couldn’t understand. Every girl in the school wanted to be their minion, every single girl adored them for it was the only way they could avoid being teased.

After envisioning her miseries for hours on end, Carlita decided that she needed to calm her mind. If she remained clasped with the same sorrows for another minute, Carlita thought, she might just burst into tears. Sluggishly she stood up and departed her room to go downstairs. The first thing on her mind was to grab some snack. She might have refused lunch but only because she was too dejected to eat.

As she opened the fridge to find something, Agatha appeared from the next room with her husband, Melvin, beside her.

“Carlita, are you going somewhere?” Agatha started, keeping her tone casual and unrestricted. She didn’t want to impose any strict, parental controls on Carlita, her step-daughter who already despised her enough as it was. Melvin looked much less concerned. It was quite an audible fact that, while he didn’t hate Carlita, he really didn’t care what happened to her.

Carlita paused to look at the pair and pulled out two apples. “I am going for a walk,” she stated, matching Agatha’s tone.

“It is a little cold outside,” Agatha remarked with superfluous caution, “Won’t you at least put on a jacket before leaving?”

“Are you stalling me, Agatha?” Carlita mumbled angrily, but grabbed her beige jacket from the coat-stand anyway.

“No, sweetheart, you can go,” her step-mother said quickly, “No one is stopping you.”

“Will you be going near the grocery store?” Melvin asked, checking his watch and looking back at Carlita’s face nonchalantly.

“No, I won’t be going anywhere at all. And I am not buying anything, Melvin,” she answered back, shoving one apple in her jacket, the other still in her hand.

“If you do,” he went on, ignoring her completely, “get me a dozen beetroots.”

“I said… I am not going anywhere!” Carlita spoke, trying not to scream the words out.

Melvin raised one eyebrow but Agatha held him back. “Let her be, honey. Let her be,” she said, putting her hand on his shoulder.

Carlita snarled and got out of the house at once. She couldn’t bear to be around them. She just couldn’t. It often occurred to her that they would be much happier if she didn’t have to stick with them. On multiple occasions, Melvin had remarked that it would be best if they just got Carlita to live elsewhere – a foster family was a good idea, he had added – but Agatha, probably feeling that she could not abandon her step-daughter, would not hear of it.

 

The evening was quiet and the once-blazing sun was just dipping itself down in the sea of clouds. The neighbours’ daughter, Svana, was sitting outside with her mother on a hammock, talking quietly. Streaming bouquets of orange, blue and pink light ran in the sky at the reaction and birds twittered as they made their way back to home. Carlita smiled despite herself. She put the red apple to her mouth and relished every bite. She hadn’t realized how hungry she had been for the past hours and now she was pleased that she had decided to get some food. There was a warm tinge in the early spring air and, even though it was not as cold as Agatha had been stressing, there was still a wintery mix in the environment.

The further Carlita went from the house, the better she felt. She wanted to take off running into the wild and never come back but she reminded herself that she was still just a hopeless teenager, waiting to be a legal adult. And she promised herself that, once she was ready to lead her own life, she was never going to see Agatha or Melvin’s face ever again.

Oh, how she waited for the day when she would finally say bye-bye to the house, to her step-parents, to everything she hated!

Carlita didn’t realize that, in her raging mood, she was walking through lanes she hardly recognized. The evening was rapidly transforming into a starry night – not that Carlita paid much attention – and a half moon was making itself visible at the west horizon. She, Carlita, pulled out the second apple from her pocket and bit it with a renewed amount of resentment. The sweet juice filled her mouth as she masticated and forced it down her throat. She didn’t like apples so much, but she liked them when she didn’t feel like eating complex meals – or not eating at all. At least, the fibre in the apples managed to keep her from starving.

A dash of icy wind hit her arms and she pulled the jacket tightly to her body as to insulate her from the increasing cold. Just for a second, she paused. The wind was a little too cold for the weather. It had been alright a few minutes back, so why this sudden cold? It almost seemed… unnatural.

Then did Carlita finally pay attention to where she was. She was in the middle of an alley that she didn’t even recognize, old, elapsed and rather malodourous. The familiar buzz of spring warmth was nowhere to be felt and the cool of the evening had distorted into an arctic gust, making Carlita’s neck and arm hairs stand like stiff sticks. Something was wrong, awfully wrong. She could feel it. Very slowly, she turned around, checking to see if everything was alright.

There was no one.

Instead of calming her down, the knowledge only made her more panicky. She could hear someone, something approaching her. It was not uncommon for stray girls – like her – to be picked on by strangers, but it had never happened to her.

Her mind was racing. There was a gentle murmur behind her… saying a word… a strange word…

Carlita, aggressively looking here and there, turned again and, all of a sudden, the alley turned dark. The murmur had turned into something that resembled a disseminated chant, looming closer, getting louder… In her disoriented state, Carlita didn’t realize that she had broken into a feverish sweat and the sallow apple slipped out of her loose hands, landing with a thud on the unclean ground. The harsh wind whistled as it darted past, thrashing every living creature with its taciturnity.

“Afzal…” came the strange chant again, loud enough to make out the queer word, “Afzal…”

Eyes darting everywhere like insane, Carlita yearned to make out a shape, even the unstill darkness. The words meant nothing to her. All she wanted was to conquer the fear that rooted her feet to the ground, not letting her move. At the distance, Carlita made out bodiless shadows creeping towards her. She had to be dreaming. This was too illusory to be true.

“Afzal… Afzal…” they murmured.

Shadows? Talking?

Carlita couldn’t make half sense of what was going on. One thing she was aware of, she thought, was that her mind was playing tricks – and considering how much tension she had been under lately, Carlita didn’t doubt it for a second. It was all a trick for her ears and eyes; nothing such could exist. Science denied such odd knowledge, it was just not possible. Carlita took one step back and there was, all of a sudden, a screech, a battle cry.

Much to her incredulous revulsion, the intangible shadows swooped onto her rapaciously and she threw herself against the wall instinctively, arms shielding her face. The next instant there was a flash of light and Carlita could hear screams all around her. Peeking through her hands, she saw something that almost rendered her insane.

Each shadow was slowly taking on a corporeal form, eyes hollow, mouths void, and, one by one, they all dropped to the ground as the shaft of the sudden light hit them and set them ablaze. Their empty mouths stretched into a desperate scream and they raised black arms of smoke to the sky as they burst into ashes. It all happened so quickly, in a matter of seconds, and then there was nothing.

Nothing except that unforeseen, golden light.

Gasping for breath, Carlita slumped down against the wall and looked around, almost ambiguous that any of the previous endeavours actually did happen. The bubble of light, she noticed, was still there, lingering in mid-air and approaching her with a hint of apprehensiveness. It was almost undetectable but the contrast against the dark alley made it stand out enough for Carlita to see.

Her lips moved and, hoping that this all was just imagination, she whispered, to no one in particular:

“Is… Is this real?”

The light, now hovering just in front of her face, stopped. Carlita blinked, expecting it was just a play of light.

“Of course it is!” a voice, a male voice, cried out of nowhere and Carlita had to put in all her strength to not faint.

“W-What…? What is this? Who are you?” she asked, looking around with unconscious caution.

“I am right here,” the voice, the light, answered, “Don’t worry, the trouble is gone. For now, though.”

“What do you mean? Who are you?” Carlita asked, allowing herself to sit up straight and trying to make sure that the light was real.

“Danger. Danger is gone. And, as for me… I have come from the Seelie Court. The chief of the Seelie Court, if you are being precise, I say.”

“The what court?”

“Seelie Court. It is something humans would assume to be… magic creatures. Totally different from the Unseelie Court, I say… those little devils…”

“I am imagining stuff, right? You can’t exist!” Carlita stood up, dusting her jeans which had made rather harsh contact with the filthy floor of the alley and the small bubble of light rose with her.

“No. I do exist, Princess. How else would I be talking?” the voice answered with a tone of forbearance.

“I hear lots of voices in my head all day,” Carlita countered, “And there is no evidence you aren’t one. Just a figment of my imagination.” She started walking back home, some part of her mind thinking that it was better to talk to a self-created ghost than to be bored and stressed and ready to die.

“You are just a disembodied voice – created my own imaginings,” she continued, much unconcerned with whatever was happening.

“I wouldn’t go as far as saying that you created me, Princess. You should listen to me, though. You won’t be so ill-informed, will you?”

Carlita shook her head. “This can’t be happening.”

“Oh, but it is. And all very real too,” the voice prodded, and after a pause, said, “But, listen, you are in great danger, Princess. You must run, you have to!”

“Danger?” Carlita snickered unfeelingly, “Really?”

“Danger. Horrible, horrible danger,” the voice confirmed.

“I don’t believe it. I am dreaming… Voices don’t talk. Bodiless voices coming out of nowhere… this is unreal. Science doesn’t sanction such activity, it is impossible!”

“But you damn well believed it when those Unseelies crept up to you, eh?” the voice retorted.

“I didn’t believe it,” Carlita defended.

“Yet you tried to protect yourself?”

“It was instinctive. I don’t believe in creepy shadows - and I don’t plan to anytime soon.”

“But you must, Princess! And they were not mere shadows – they were Unseelies!”

“Rubbish,” Carlita snorted.

“You still don’t believe me?” there was an offended tone to the voice, but Carlita knew better than to be sympathetic.

“No,” she said simply, “No, I don’t.”

“Well! Pity,” the voice sighed with derisible exasperation, “That is not good. Not good at all, I will say! But, Princess, you are not trying to understand. You are in grave danger. You must flee. You must run from here. Those Unseelies, those devilish sycophants, will be back with reinforcements. If you don’t, you will regret it… you will so regret it.”

“Run?” Carlita laughed all but amusingly, “And where do you expect me to run, might I ask?”

“I will take you somewhere. But you can run anywhere… anywhere that is away from here…”

Carlita stopped short. She was beginning to get a very good idea of what exactly was the game, she thought. This voice, this fragment of her mind, was persuading her to abandon her step-parents, telling her to run away – just as she had been thinking minutes ago. While it was incredibly tempting to not do just that, Carlita promised herself, to the last bit of sanity left within her, that she would not simply run away. She was still sane – but this voice was trying to lure her.

“No! I am not running anywhere!” she snapped.

“But you have to! You can die!” the voice urged yet again.

“I have had enough of this nonsense,” Carlita snarled, “You can’t be! I bet you don’t even have a name. Stop telling me to run. I am not going to leave Agatha and Melvin right now and you can’t make me!”

“I have no honest idea of whom you speak of…,” the voice carried on bluntly, “But I do have a name now that you mention it.”

“Oh yes?” Carlita asked, more unconcerned than annoyed, “What is it then? Your name?”

“Kian. Noble, proud, mighty and absolutely grand!”

“Now I am definitely sure you don’t exist,” Carlita sneered, totally unmindful of what was going on.

“You don’t? That’s damn ignorant, I will say.”

“Why should I?”

“Why should you?” Kian repeated, “Because I just saved you from a horrible ol’ league of Unseelies, that’s why!”

“Unseelies?”

“Evil beings. Immoral creatures. Enemies of the Seelie Court.”

“Seelie Court?”

“Yes, Seelie Court! Have you been listening to anything I was saying?” Kian asked with some crossness.

A gleam of recollection passed through Carlita’s eyes but she shrugged. “Not really,” she replied, shaking her head again.

“Unwitting, blasted fruitcakes…” Kian grumbled, apparently cross that most, if not all, of his words went to waste. Ignoring him, Carlita paused her walk and looked up to see the large figure of her step-mother’s house. She sighed, not really wishing to go inside again. She didn’t want to set her eyes on Melvin or Agatha’s face again.

Her eyes drifted to the neighbours’ house. Svana, the neighbours’ daughter, was sitting in her garden. Seeing the beads and scissors lying around, it was obvious that she was trying her hand at a handcraft. Being the only friend she had had for a long time, Carlita promised herself never to let Svana go. Seeing her made Carlita’s mind brighten up just a little and she allowed a small smile to pass on her lips.

“Svana!” Carlita called, forgetting all about Kian and walking to the fence that joined their gardens, leaning an arm on it.

For a moment, Svana gasped in shock, nearly dropping her beads, but then she looked up through her beautiful hair, which had lots of multi-coloured threads sticking out from it, and smiled at the sight of Carlita.

“Carly!” she exclaimed, running to her side of the fence, “Hi!!”

Carlita mentally gagged at the sound of her nickname but let it pass over. “What did you do to your hair?” she grinned, suppressing a laugh as she waved a finger at Svana’s strawberry blonde locks.

“I am working,” Svana laughed back, not even bothering to clean her hair.

“Working on what?”

“Eh, just stuff. Nothing important.”

“Oh, well…” Carlita nodded and then added with a giggle, “When is our next sleepover?”

“My place? Your place?”

“Yours.”

“Thursday…? Will that be okay?”

For a moment, Carlita wished it would be earlier but she just smiled. “Thursday sounds perfect. What time do I come over?”

“Hmm… Right after you are done with college, I guess? I mean, you can come at any time. Just let me know in advance,” Svana winked.

“Why not?” Carlita agreed.

There was a long pause during which Svana smiled uncertainly and Carlita looked at her hands rather miserably. The meaning became clear to Svana and she sighed piteously.

“Oh, Carlita… You were picked on again, weren’t you?”

Carlita nodded, not considering it applicable to actually talk. She never liked talking openly about her oppression, not with Svana, not with anyone.

“Poor you. I wish I could help you, Carlita. I am so sorry,” Svana solaced her, “What did they do to you?”

“Just… just the usual. Name-calling and threats… Except next time, it is going to be so much worse.”

“Why? Why will it be worse? Carlita, is everything okay?”

“Sophie Hans called me a little rat. I- I…”

“You what? Come on, tell me. It will be fine. It’s okay, just speak.”

“I asked her how she dared to call me that… It was not so much of asking as it was of screaming, but now they are going to kill me when I go there again. They are, I know they will!” Carlita whispered, trying not to cry over the frights that swung upon her head.

Concern rooted deep into Svana’s eyes and the look on her face was so paining that it looked like she had been bullied too. Silently, she lifted a hand and pressed Carlita’s shoulder, trying to smile.

“Carlita… it all will be fine one day… it’ll be fine…”

The words, just above a mere whisper, hit Carlita like a thunderbolt – and not for the best, either. Svana was not going to help her, no matter what was said. She was the kind of pacifist that likes to stay away from fights as long as they didn’t involve her. All she could do was tell Carlita how things will be passable, but she would never indulge herself in true defence. That was not saying that Svana didn’t feel bad for Carlita; she felt very sorry and sad that this was happening, but there was nothing she could do about it. Despite her parents’ common remonstrations about Svana being a rebellious teen, Carlita knew Svana was nothing like that.  She was the quietest soul Carlita knew – not that it was a bad thing to be quiet. It was just that Svana was added to the list of people who Carlita wouldn’t be able to count on for help.

“Carlita?”

Carlita looked up, shaken from all the thoughts that had been racing in her mind. “I am fine,” she answered quickly, choking out the last word and Svana raised her perfect eyebrows in doubt.

“I should get going,” Carlita continued, turning around to get in the house.

Svana smiled with a glint of sympathy. “See you Thursday! Stay strong for me, hmm?”

Carlita smiled back without really wanting to. “See you,” she called back and whispered, “I will try.”

 

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