She would never give up on her friend. Never. Armed with her stapler and her glue, Juny walked in the streets of the city days and nights for her crusade. Even though two months already passed, Juny strove to keep the same tremendous energy she had on the first day since her friend's disappearance. That Sunday night was no different. So, on her way to home after another great effort, she walked in a desert street not far from her house under the light of the full moon and stapled one last poster of her vanished friend on a decrepit wall.
"Amanda. The only thing you wanted is to be like Stacy, and now you're nowhere to be seen." she said quietly with tears in her eyes. She slid her fingers on the picture of her smiling friend. Remembering the classes she had to attend the day after, Juny then hastened in the street as it was getting very late. The cold wind lifted up the papers and the trashes on the floor while the barking of a dog resounded from afar in the silence of the night. The teenage girl placed her hand under her nose to avoid smelling the usual and strong urine odor that perfumed the streets she used to play in with Amanda when she was a child. Her friend on her mind, Juny reflected on the things that led to the current circumstances.
Juny, Amanda, and Stacy went to the same high school. The latter was the most popular girl of the institution and possessed all the things every teenage girl could dream of. Beauty, fancy clothes, friends, the cutest boys around her, all the trendy things on the internet and many more good things were part of her daily life. Most of the girls envied her and she sure enjoyed her status of high school queen. Although they really wished they were, the two girls and Stacy were not friends, but they strove by doing everything in their power to achieve such a level of popularity.
The evening of her sixteenth birthday, while hanging out with Juny in their favorite fast food, Amanda took advantage of the free internet connection and stumbled upon a forsaken article. It made the glorification of several magic rituals for positive outcomes, and among them, one stood out as the perfect fairy spell for the popularity the girls were craving: the 'Limelight' spell. A dark ritual that promises fame to whoever performs it and the article even claimed that most celebrities did it for their careers. Although not taking it seriously at first, the girls finally performed it later that evening, for the fun and adrenaline it could bring them.
In Amanda's bedroom, the girls drew a symbol on the floor in order to set up the ceremony. The symbol was a rotated square with a circle inside, and as a requirement, they put a candle on each of the square's angles. With the lights off, the girls lighted each of the candles and entered the circle, face to face, hands in hands, smiling and giggling.
"You ready?" Amanda asked.
"Yeah." Juny replied.
"Okay let's do—"
"Look, I think we should just, you know—"
"Oh come on Juny! You really wanna chicken out because of some stupid freaky stuff we saw on the net? Come on it's gonna be fun. Do it for me, it's my birthday remember."
"Yeah, that's my girl. Oh, one more thing." Amanda took Juny's glasses off her eyes and threw it on her bed. "Okay, let's do it."
Closing their eyes, the girls both sighed and recited the required incantation for obtaining the attention they dreamed of. "Beauty and charm, wealth and fame, in the silence of the night, I summon you Gerxhos, to please bring me limelight, from all four corners of the world." They both stayed silent, eyes closed, expecting to feel something like a strong wind or to hear a fairy whisper something to them.
"That's it?" Juny asked, after slowly opening her eyes.
"Yeah. I think so. See? There was nothing to—"
Mysteriously, something blew off the four candles on the floor at the same time.
"Hey, you closed the windows didn't you?" Juny asked.
"I did look, everything's still—"
The glass of the big mirror and the windows suddenly and violently shattered. Amanda and Juny rushed out of the bedroom, sped up in the corridor and arrived in the living room under the stupefaction of the former's mother.
"What you girls doing?" Amanda's mother asked with her cigarette between her fingers.
"Uh, we just, we just—" Juny tried to explain, immediately interrupted by her friend.
"We were just talking in there and—the mirror fell on the floor and broke. It scared us and we ran. Crazy right?" Amanda said, looking at Juny, nodding and forcing a chuckle with a big fake smile on her face.
"Uh, yes, yes that's that." Juny said and nodded with the same fake smile.
"You better be careful and stop messing up stuff in my house young ladies." Amanda's mother said.
"Okay mom! Don't worry we—"
"Yeah that's that. Go and clean everything!"
Creeping in the direction of the bedroom, Amanda firmly held the broom followed by Juny, armed with the plastic long handle scoop. The girls both slowly looked in the bedroom and saw nothing unusual inside. Amanda then switched the light on and they both could confirm the zone to be cleared.
"So it's gone?" Juny questioned.
"I think so, yeah."
"What was that?"
"I don't know. A ghost?" Amanda then turned to her friend to warn her of another danger. "Look Juny. You gotta leave now."
"She gonna come here and if she sees the broken window she'll go crazy. You know her."
"What? Even on your birthday?"
"She don't care, just go!"
"Okay, okay! Chill!" Juny said, entering the bedroom to retrieve her glasses on the bed. "Uh, where my glasses?"
"What?" Amanda said as she removed and hid the candles.
"My glasses girl."
"They were there on the bed what you talking about?"
"Well, they're not. Only shards on."
"Okay look, just go and you'll get it back at school tomorrow. Promised."
"You really gonna let me walk alone to home?"
"For real? Your house is just in the next street remember. Go!"
"Okay fine." Juny said, walking to the door.
"Love you J."
"Love you too bestie."
That was the last time Juny saw and spoke to her friend. The following day at school, Juny noticed that Amanda was absent and immediately expected the worst to have happened. Moreover, just as she thought, Juny did not experience the popularity the ritual was supposed to bless them with. After school, she went to her friend's house only to find it locked with nobody inside. Worried, she went to her house, came back later and waited till Amanda's mother returned from work.
"Well well well! Look who came to visit! Girl, you better tell me right now where she is. Right now."
"What? Where she—I don't know, she didn't show up at school today. I was—"
"Yeah of course. After the mess you put in the bedroom last night, she had good reasons to flee. She was gone by early morning. I thought I told you not to mess anything up in my house young lady." Amanda's mother said, walking to her front door.
"I swear we did not do anything last night. It's the mirror that—"
"Shut up and come see what she left for you, Miss J." she said after unlocking the front door.
"What she left?"
Eyes largely opened, she froze and her heartbeats fastened in front of what she saw. On the floor, apparently written with the same chalk Amanda used to draw the symbol, a strange message from her left everybody with more questions than answers.
'J don't answer if I talk t.'
"Well, what you have to say about that?"
"It's not the first time anyway. Look, I don't know what you two are plotting, but if she doesn't come back soon, Imma call the police to get you."
She did. Amanda never returned to her home. The police asked thousands of questions to Juny who never revealed to anyone what they really did the night of Amanda's disappearance. Soon after, there were a search and an investigation organized with no success, not even a single clue.
The dog suddenly stopped barking when Juny turned right in the street she lived at. As soon as she did, she heard it loud and clear behind her. The exact voice of her best friend, saying it with the exact tone in which Amanda used to call her.
She immediately looked back and saw her. Amanda made little steps toward her with a sad look in her eyes. Juny's hair rose on her skin and she started shaking her head in disbelief with her widened eyes on her friend.
"Juny. Juny it's me."
The teenager put her hands on her mouth and started walking backward slowly, avoiding to answer anything to Amanda as she remembered the message the latter left her.
"It's okay. You can answer me. You can talk to me. Look, I came with your glasses. You want them back? Take them. It's me Juny. I'm back."
Juny turned and started walking as quickly as she could.
"What you doing Juny? Where you going? Hey! Where you going you freak!" Amanda said with anger and a progressively distorted voice.
When Juny looked at her, she saw her friend or the entity that stood in front of her instead, reveal its true nature. The face vertically split into two like the opening of its mouth and the entity pushed eerie rage screams.
Juny ran as fast as she could in the desert street to reach her house, just at the end of it. She looked back while running at some point and glimpsed the thing running after her with its disturbing posture. It was running on all fours but had its legs coming from behind, above, and in front of its head, and it had no ounce of resemblance with Amanda anymore. She got rid of her bag and fastened to escape death.
Her father, leisurely seated at his front porch, sipped his beer as his reward after a long day at work. Suddenly, he heard a girl's scream and soon saw Juny screaming and dashing in the direction of the house with a look of terror. Surprised by the incident and understanding her to be running from something, he looked at the street and did not see anything or anyone pursuing his daughter.
"Lock the door! Dad lock the door! It's coming, it's coming!" she shouted running to her father.
"Hey! Hey! What you talking about? Why you screaming like a crazy girl?"
"It's coming, it's right there in the—" she said, with a good grip on her father's arm and pointing at the street.
"Where? And what you talking about?"
"It was—it was right there." Juny said, calmer but still out of breath.
"Juny what is it? What a dog chased you or something?"
"No, it was—I mean yes."
"Yeah. You see, you should slow down a little bit with all that. And you have school tomorrow Juny. I know Amanda was your friend but you still have a future to plan." Juny's father said, returning to his chair.
"Is dad. Is. Amanda 'Is' my friend. She still alive with her future to plan too." Juny yelled before she went into the house, leaving the front door opened.
"Hey, where's your bag?"
"The street. And I'm not going back there!"
"Yeah sure." her father quietly said, immediately standing up to fetch it.
In her bedroom, Juny lied down on her right side in a fetal position, and cried with profound regret, wishing they never performed the ritual. Just after a few minutes, her father came to the door.
"Leave me alone!"
"Juny please, I'm sorry. Please, I'm coming in. I promise I won't take long."
His daughter did not answer and he entered as he said. He put her bag next to the door, took a chair and sat close to the bed, in face of his daughter's back who refused to turn and look at him.
"I'm talking to you Juny, you not gonna look at me?"
She stayed silent.
"Look, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to frustrate you by saying that Amanda's dead. I'm not here to crush everybody's hope about it."
"She's my friend dad. My best friend, how could you?"
"I'm sorry. Sorry for saying that. Please excuse me. I love you and I hope you will forgive me. You still mad?"
"No, it's fine."
"Look, if there's something you really wanna share about Amanda or her disappearance, I just want you to know that I'm here to listen. Anything."
They stayed silent for some seconds. Juny let out tears and decided to finally open up to the only person she could trust.
"We just wanted some attention, Dad. We just wanted to be like Stacy. She's just so happy with her perfect life. Everybody wanna be her dad."
"Perfect life? Look Juny, I don't know that Stacy friend of yours but, everybody got problems. Even though everything looks rosy for someone, it doesn't mean that they have a perfect life. You don't know what that Stacy goes through in her home, or inside in her heart. If you could switch places, maybe you would be surprised to find out that things aren't so good than it looks, and that you've actually a better life than her."
"Yeah. Maybe. But we did something. Something we shouldn't have done."
"Yeah, you did. And because of that, Amanda's dead. Dead and gone. Rotting somewhere forever."
"What?" Juny said, immediately sitting and looking at her father with stupefaction. "How can you—what? Dad, I don't know what's going on with you tonight but I need you to get out of my room. Now!"
"Dad? But, I'm not your dad."
"Juny! I didn't see your bag out there, you better remember where you left it you have class tomorrow little girl!" her real father yelled from outside.
Her heart fell into her stomach and she did something she never thought she could do again as she wet her bed, petrified by the revelation and the smile of her father's evil doppelganger. The entity's skin turned gray and its face vertically split into two before it stood up, in preparation of a fatal attack.
As soon as he heard the call, Juny's father sped into the house. Storming through her bedroom door, he only found the bed, the chair next to it, her bag next to the door but no trace of her. He looked in the bathroom, in his bedroom, in the kitchen, everywhere he could, calling after her, but all in vain. He went outside, looked behind the house, then in the street, without success. Juny just vanished.