Misery was her middle name, figuratively speaking. It was Gemma really, but she was rarely called by it. At just over five foot tall her diminutive frame allowed her to curl into small spaces and mope for hours without moving, leaving her isolated amongst groups of friends.
Gemma was fun to be with and always included in groups, be it male or female. Her pretty looks and fun-loving ways appealed to all. Not though, when she was miserable. Then she was left to herself.
Mostly, they all had great fun, music, dancing; picnics. Sometimes things got a bit out of hand, edgy, bordering on dark and sinister, occasionally troublesome. When this occurred Gemma would withdraw to a corner and watch as her friends continued to participate in whatever activity they had dreamt up. No amount of cajoling would get her to join in.
Sometimes Gemma would sit looking into the distance. At other times she would fixate on an individual and follow them with her eyes all night. Some called her Spooky, others just laughed, “Hey! Don't worry, it’s just Misery.”
Nobody knew why she was like it. She would go from being normal one minute, to miserable and dejected the next; and it was never just one thing to set her off, sometimes it was an incident, a conversation, a chance comment, or just meeting someone new could do it - someone like Michael.
It all changed one night when everyone was barbequing on the beach. She was introduced to Michael, just down from the city visiting friends for a week, he was sandy haired, blue eyed, devilishly handsome; Michael, the boy with a winning smile.
She remembered what it was like when her hand brushed his, the shock of his fleeting contact sent her body rigid, her thoughts caught like a rabbit in a searchlight, frozen in amber for everyone to see. Of course nobody did, they just thought she was being shy.
When he grabbed her hand in greeting she almost fainted, such was the intensity of her connection to him. Shivers shot from her groin up her spine, but not feelings of sexual anticipation or mutual attraction. No, the feelings she sensed scared her half to death. She yanked her hand away as one would from a burning flame and nursed it to her as if it would make the pain go away. It didn't.
Michael looked on, smiling enigmatically as if he understood what she was feeling, but kept his distance, leaving a confused Gemma to come to terms with what had just happened to her. She didn't. Not then anyway.
She never saw him again. However, the pervasive sense of impending doom from then onwards was so intense she began to ostracise herself from friends she had carefully nurtured. They seemed to change, or perhaps it was her that was changing.
Her increasing concerns of wrongness continued to grow. She began seeing things, just grey wisps at first, smoky auras surrounding her friends appearing to feed off them, nourishing their growth. They grew more visible to her daily. Her friends seemingly didn't notice.
It didn't help matters when she confided to one friend that she could,
“see people’s auras and they seemed alive.”
“Of course they are alive, Silly!” Her girlfriend responded.
Gemma decided not to tell her that not only were they alive, but they had horns and long tails and rode the backs of people as if at a rodeo. Her friends would just laugh at her, she could well understand why.
This was the trouble; she observed what nobody else could. When she saw what these auras riding on their backs forced her friends to do, Gemma continued to mope causing her private misery to border on melancholy.
Then one day she snapped. Leaping from her chair in frustration she grabbed at the nearest aura taunting her from the back of Peter, a boy in the class beneath her, fully expecting her hand to travel ineffectively through the semi transparent antagonist.
Amazingly, what she gripped had substance and in her fury she yanked the aura off Peter's back. Finding it was lightweight, Gemma threw it vigorously out the open window where it rolled over in the air and landed sprightly on its feet like a cat.
It turned to her with a look of alarmed surprise as it realised what she had done. Its faint colour, previously a dull brown tint, reddened and grew deeper. Now no longer an aura, instead a solid entity stood on the downstairs patio glaring at her fiercely. She sensed its fury as it launched itself into the air.
Leaping up to the window, its cleft feet gaining purchase on the ledge, the long spindly arms, previously wispy and insubstantial now radiated strength as the creature clawed at the frame, pulling itself into the room where it balanced itself on the sill.
Spiny elongated fingers reached out for her, the creature’s red horned head thrust itself forward, sharp pointed chin accentuated a manic grin which sneered at her, its black eyes glowed while it hissed like a snake poised to strike.
Gemma, reeling at the sudden transformation of the wispy aura she had thrown out the window, nervously stepped backwards attempting to put distance between it and her. The creature laughed like a hyena, smacked its lips as if preparing to feast on her soul and launched itself through the air.
She raised both hands expecting to be mauled by the menacing entity flying at her, both palms faced outward in a defensive action hoping to grab it and hold it at bay, as she did the creature suddenly disintegrated in a cloud of streaky grey smoke. Her ears popped as the local air pressure dropped. In a split second the creature attacking her was no more.
Astounded, Gemma looked at her hands as though expecting to see smoking barrels protruding from her palms, what had she just done? What precisely had just occurred with her and the beast on the ledge? Putting her hand up in a seemingly futile act of self defence, she remembered only wanting the horror gone, whereupon it vanished.
The growing sound of excited chatter drew her attention back into the room as the other creatures became agitated. She sensed something... FEAR! She felt it, tasted it on her tongue as she breathed in. Gleefully realising it was theirs, Gemma turned and began walking back towards her friends; a wickedly defiant smile on her face.
As the creatures watched her she saw their growing terror as they cowered behind their human steeds attempting to look small and harmless. Her friends, surprised at her sudden erratic behaviour, neither saw nor understood any of what had just transpired. Except for Peter, who looking at her strangely, as if she had materialised out of thin air stepped back against a wall, remaining quiet and pensive.
She now understood things more clearly. She saw these beings because they were more material to her than they were to her friends who had no idea of the malignant monkeys they carried around on their backs.
Her sensitivity to them had been growing for months, since that night with Michael, she realised. He must have somehow sensed her passive awareness of the disturbing auras and changed, or awoken something within her to enable the ability to see clearly.
Determined, Gemma strode towards her nearest friend, Michelle, who, looking wild-eyed, either in reaction to Gemma's strange behaviour, or because the creature on her back transmitted its fear, began to retreat from her.
Not fast enough fortunately, as Michelle came abruptly up against a chair, Gemma caught up. Michelle instinctively ducked as Gemma grabbed her friend's hitch-hiker by the scruff of its scrawny neck and threw it with all her strength against the wall.
Watching its body smack hard against the mustard coloured plaster, Gemma grinned as it winked out of existence, leaving behind a wisp of dissipating grey smoke. The instant satisfaction coming from understanding what she was capable of galvanised her into enthusiastic action.
On a roll now, Gemma went from friend to friend catching and removing their offensive riders, crushing them against walls; throwing them from their victim then raising her hand against them where some mysterious force within her de-materialised them.
Within minutes the room was clear, and her friends, suddenly without their jockeys, stood looking bewildered. Their immediate reactions to each other changed as if suddenly awakened. Peter, the first she had separated from his rider had subsequently seen her do the same with the others continued to watch as Gemma scanned the room, seeking evidence of the creatures returning. They were gone, for now.
Returning to her seat she resumed her Misery persona, but knowing what she was capable of, she smiled inwardly, watching as her friends sat down, still a little bemused, but talking animatedly and smiling.
Peter walked up, she looked up at him wondering what he intended. Without saying a word he smiled warmly and settled into a quiet relaxed position beside her. A warm feeling enveloped her, realising he had understood, Gemma was inexplicably happy.
Gemma chuckled as she realised that despite its downside, Misery loved company.