The Society of Imaginary FriendsBy: Kristen Pham
The Conjurors Series
It was a flash of dark red hair that yanked Valerie out of her daydream and had her on her feet in seconds. Before the realization of what it meant reached her consciousness, she was already out the front door and halfway to the pickup truck.
“Daniel, no!” she yelled.
It was too late. Her ten-year-old foster brother had pulled the truck out of park, and it was sliding backward down the driveway. Sitting next to him, her blood-red hair ghoulish against her pale skin, was Sanguina.
“Now put your foot on the pedal on the left,” Sanguina coached Daniel, flashing Valerie a knowing grin.
Valerie’s peripheral vision registered a blue van barreling down the street right before she wrenched open the passenger-side door to the truck and jumped inside. Sanguina had already vanished. She hit the emergency brake a second before the truck reached the road, but not before hitting the mailbox at the end of the driveway.
“Hey! Whatcha doing?” Daniel asked indignantly. “You messed me up.”
“Sorry, buddy,” she said, relief coursing through her body. This time, she’d been fast enough to prevent something awful from happening. “But you know you can’t be in here.”
“There was a grown up! That lady was helping me.” Daniel leaned forward, looking past her, but there was no one else in the cab of the truck. “Where’d she go?”
Valerie had no idea where Sanguina went, or where she ever came from, for that matter. She only knew that no matter how fast or how far she ran, Sanguina always eventually found her and tried to make her life hell. Last time, she’d found Valerie living beneath an overpass off the exit of a highway and had provoked a drug dealer into trying to shoot her. The time before that, she’d goaded a school bully into beating up a little freshman right in front of Valerie. That time, she hadn’t been fast enough to help him, and the boy wound up in a coma.
Sanguina was Valerie’s very own personal tormentor, one she couldn’t run from, and what her doctors considered proof that Valerie was certifiably crazy. Because she couldn’t be real.
“Uh oh,” Daniel’s voice suddenly sounded very young and scared.
The front door swung open, and the biological son of the couple she and Daniel were living with stormed outside. Adam, twenty-one, only did three things, as far as Valerie could tell: work out relentlessly, steal from his mother’s purse, and take out his bottled-up aggression on the two foster kids living in his house—when his parents weren’t around.
“Duck,” she commanded Daniel, and scrambled over the boy to get behind the wheel, shoving him to the passenger side. “I’ll handle this.”
Adam’s eyes narrowed as he barreled toward his truck. He jerked the driver-side door open and grabbed her arm, throwing her to the pavement. She winced when her elbow and knee hit the concrete, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of making any sign that she was in pain. She knew his type, and seeing her scared was exactly the thrill he was hoping for.
While she was down, he kicked her in the gut. She jumped to her feet before he got a second shot in.
Her first instinct was to fight back. He’d be in for a surprise, because she’d fought bigger, tougher men than this bully, but she stopped herself, remembering Mrs. Sims’ warning that morning.
“I won’t tolerate any fighting now, hear? Not if you want to stay in my house,” she had said gruffly.
Valerie had given her a small nod, keeping the polite smile she had been wearing for the past two weeks pasted on her face. This was the first time she’d had a real bed and three meals a day since she’d been in the hospital two years ago, and she didn’t want to mess things up. She’d just take a few hits from Adam and keep her mouth shut.
“You’re dead,” he said, a smile of grim satisfaction on his face. He’d probably explain her bruises to his parents as being the result of her careless accident.
“It was a mistake. Take it easy,” she said, automatically slipping into a defensive pose, her arms a little raised in front of her, and her feet anchored firmly beneath her.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Daniel sliding out of the truck, probably ready to come to her defense. He was a sweet kid, and the idea of him getting in the middle of this terrified her more than anything else. She tried to subtly nod her head to the side, indicating that he should run, but Adam saw her movement and turned.