Misha pushed open the double-doors and stepped inside the cafeteria.
It was sardine-packed, and the thick, humid air reeked of greasy, processed food, and a mixture of moldy scent that every cafeteria across the country is guilty of, along with a pungent scent of Red Bull.
The endless chatter and obnoxious laughter quickly faded into silence, and all eyes fell on her face.
She swallowed a thorny lump that suddenly spawned inside of her dry throat and took a step forward. Her heart thrashed frantically inside of her rib cage and her body shook from the adrenaline that rushed through her veins.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” demanded an angry voice.
It belonged to Joanna Smalls. She was a short, fat girl with piggish eyes, a pockmarked face and a large, bulbous nose.
She was what the neighborhood called a “bad seed” and her reputation for biting ears off in a fight earned her the nickname Tyson Jo.
“Hey, I’m talking to you, retard!”
For a split second, Misha thought about running out the cafeteria – embarrassed, angry and confused – but she stood her ground. For the first time in her life, she scraped enough courage to stand up to the leader of the pack that bullied her all through elementary and junior high.
Misha was tired of being scared.
She clenched her hands into tight, trembling fists and whirled around.
“And? You want a medal for that?”
A taunting wave of snickers weaved through the cafeteria.
“W-what did you say?” Joanna sputtered in disbelief, her face turning puce with anger.
“What are you, deaf and stupid?” Misha countered with a steady gaze even though her voice trembled with fear.
Joanna jumped to her feet so quickly that her chair fell backwards with a loud thud. She crossed the distance between them in short, quick strides and faced Misha with a menacing glare.
Misha prepared for the worst.
“Beat the crap out of her, Jo!” yelled a giant, paunchy girl with uneven, yellow teeth and thin, oily hair.
Without a warning, a large, sweaty fist hit Misha in the face and pushed her down on the cold ground. Joanna jumped on top of her, grabbed a fistful of her copper-red curls and pummeled her face with rabid punches.
Misha cried out in pain.
The skin on her face tore open. Blood oozed out of her nostrils, snaked down her chin and dripped down on the polished floor. She tried to wriggle free but Joanna grabbed her by the sweatshirt and slugged her in the eye.
Suddenly, Misha went rigid.
Her body went numb. But, she felt a blistering knot in the pit of her stomach. It was coiled into a tight, prickly ball and it slumbered deep inside of her like a fire-breathing dragon, only to reveal itself when her life was in danger.
She felt the knot unravel, very slowly, and it sent a fiery wave through her veins. Her body ached and trembled, and the stinging sensation burned every inch of her porcelain flesh. She knew that once it reached the surface, it would burn everything to ash.
Joanna gave out a blood-curdling scream. Her black tee shirt caught on fire.
“HELP ME!” She screeched and beat the scarlet flames with her large, calloused hands.
Her friends tugged the burning tee shirt off and tossed it on the ground while the students in the cafeteria watched in shock.
“She’s possessed! She’s possessed!” Joanna shrieked unnaturally and joined the rest of the students as they screamed at the top of their lungs and burst out of the cafeteria.
Misha sat up slowly.
Her body trembled from head-to-toe and her sweatshirt was drenched in sweat. She couldn’t see through her right eye; it was swollen shut. But, she knelt beside the flames and reached out a hand to touch them. They nipped at her fingers like baby snakes and sent a rush of excitement down her spine.
She scooped them up and watched them sway gently back and forth. Her eyes glistened and a menacing smile tugged at the corners of her lips.
This is only the beginning, she thought.