Inner Demons



Chapter 1



"Getting a little excited, are we?" I couldn't keep the grin out of my voice as I kicked off my shoes and dug my toes into the carpet and stretched. Getting home in the evenings was one of the best perks of the day. Switching the phone to my other hand, I picked up the low heeled pumps and stepped into the bedroom.

"Yes. No? Mostly I'm totally stressing out! Richie is useless at this stuff. He's got no idea that Peach, Taffeta Peach, and Candy Peach aren't in any way the same color." Debbie sighed from the other end of the line. "Honestly, he could try a little harder. We'll only get married once."

I didn't have any idea what the differences of those colors were either, but figured it wasn't the time to say so. I tucked the shoes away in the closet and grabbed a pair of gray sweat pants and an old Beatles t-shirt, feeling the day slide off my shoulders as I changed. "You've known he's been color impaired for years, love won't change that. Or have you forgotten his color choices for the college mixer two years ago?" Drifting to the kitchen, I pulled down my favorite cup, chipped handle and all, and filled it with water and stuck it in the microwave to heat.

A stifled giggle came from the other end of the line. "What a disaster! That won't ever be happening again on my watch."

"I should hope not." Grinning, I brought out my tea colander and opened the cabinet to pick the flavor of the evening. Blueberry Cheesecake Tea seemed just the thing.

"We're still on for this weekend, right?" A slight note of insecurity bled through.

I worked hard not to smile. Though I normally wasn't much into fashion or agonizing over what cake flavoring would please most people, I'd do almost anything for Debbie. "Of course. Looking forward to it."

"I love you, Tam."

"I love you, too. But don't tell Richie, he'll get jealous."

Debbie laughed. "It's a secret. Pick you up at nine."

I hung up just as the microwave dinged. Pulling out the mug, I put it on a tray with everything else needed, and went to the living room, looking forward to stretching out on my gray couch and sipping my tea.

I'd just set the tray down when I noticed an odd smell...like rotten eggs. I half turned, then...

A pair of headlights was coming right for me.

I froze, my breath catching at my throat, my brain refusing to accept the impossible change.

The car swerved at the last moment, and time slowed around me as a flush of adrenaline hit my system. The blare of a pressed horn crashed into my ears. The dark blue Oldsmobile missed me by mere inches, the glow of streetlights reflecting from its sides. Humid wind whipped over me, trying to drag me along in the car's wake. The stench from the exhaust coiled about me, and I spun around to watch the trailing red tail lights.

"Lunatic!" An arm shot out the window, the middle finger held up as extra commentary on the near miss.

The car never even slowed.

This was real.

Other pairs of headlights bore down my way. Fear spiked through me, yelling at me to get the hell out of there. I tripped when I took my first panicked step, the shoes on my feet feeling strange and awkward. I glanced down and saw I was wearing white boots with six inch heels. Worse, I was also wearing a dark sequined dress that only covered a small part of my upper thighs.

I wasn't a prude, but I had taste, dammit, and this get up just wasn't me. I stumbled toward the sidewalk to my right, only too aware of the traffic heading toward me.

I almost collapsed once I made it, the high heels messing with my center of gravity. A Shell gas station and a combination KFC/Taco Bell sat in front of me. The location didn't look familiar, though at the moment, nothing did. How did I get here?

Panic nibbled at the back of my mind, confusion clouding everything.

I slowly turned where I stood and spotted a freeway with an overpass on my right. Across the blacktop street were a bank and several grassy lots set back from the curb. The street sign said Beechnut Street. That rang a bell - could I still be in Houston? Just thinking it gave me hope. At the moment, though, it wouldn't have surprised me to find out I was on another planet entirely.

Chilled, I rubbed my arms, even as a bead of sweat ran down my neck. A small purse on a long chain loop smacked against my thigh. I brought it close, never having seen it before, and opened it. Wads of loose cash lay inside, as well as a tube of lipstick and a set of keys hanging off a skull keychain. There was no driver's license or other type of ID. No cell phone, either. I couldn't tell if the purse was even actually mine. Yet the shape of one of the keys looked familiar. I was pretty sure it belonged to my apartment. I had cash, I had what I hoped was my key, and I thought I was in my city. It meant I could get back home to things I knew.

Home-yes, getting home sounded very good right now.

Taking a deep breath, I felt slightly more in control. Yes, home, get myself home. That was a plan, something to aim for. I half walked, half waddled toward the KFC/Taco Bell, hoping to find a pay phone or beg to borrow someone's cell. I'd never worn such tall heels and they tried to sink into the grass as I cut across the strip to the parking lot. As I neared the bank of glass windows advertising value meals and combo platters, I spotted my reflection and came to a complete stop.

The image that mirrored my movements was and wasn't me. I had screaming platinum blonde hair. Straight and startling in its color, it dropped down to my shoulders. It couldn't be real. No matter how many straighteners I used on my hair, it'd never been that cooperative. A shaking hand with platinum, luminescent nail polish rose up to touch the hair. After a quick inspection, I realized it was a wig. My own hair lay underneath it. I assumed the same could be said for the rest of me as well. Though I wasn't considered that dark-skinned, especially when compared to the rest of my family, out here, my face and eyes seemed to suck out the light, especially with my face being framed by the platinum wig, my eyes shaded with glittering eye shadow and lips with matching lipstick. The black and way too short sequined dress showed stripes of startling white and matched the tall-heeled white boots that rose up to my knees. I wasn't sure if I looked more like a hooker out of a cheap 60's cop show, an extra out of an old Soul Train rerun, or some exotic alien in a B-movie showing on the Syfy Channel. Either way, it wasn't me.

I swayed where I stood, the surreal feeling of it all making me dizzy. I leaned against the glass door, no longer trusting my legs. How did I come to be dressed like this or be at this place? I liked to have fun as much as anyone, but I wasn't a raving party girl. Some might even call me boring, since my idea of a good time normally consisted of staying at home dressed in my sweats, curled up on the couch with a good book. So why?

Darkness prickled at the edges of my vision, so I scrunched down and placed my head between my knees while trying to force my breathing to slow, sure I was close to hyperventilating. The accountant in me whispered that all numbers added up, even if you didn't have every bit of data. All you had to do was find them. What came in always had to balance what came out, even though it might not look like it. I just needed to hold it together long enough to find all the pieces - then everything would make sense. Everything.

But to do that, I needed to keep it together-I needed to stick to my plan of getting home. My breathing slowed, and that in turn brought down the hammering in my heart.

Feeling slightly calmer, I gingerly stood up.

The night air pressed in around me, hot and sticky with humidity, not the usual norm for April. But with Texas, you just never knew. The odd thought, however, helped ground me.

I reached out for the handle on the glass door and then went inside to try to borrow a phone and get to things I knew.


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