The Exchange

It was dark when they finally arrived at the house. The night was grey and clouded, and of course there were no street lights here in the country. The small amount of scenery he could see by the illumination of the car's headlights was unkempt and overgrown, apart from a small flowery garden lined by a white picket fence, encircling the house. The house itself was old, with a few narrow windows spaced evenly around it.

"Here we are," said William Hunter, as he parked in the small gravel area in front of his home.

Felix glanced at his watch. It was already eleven thirty.

He and William carried his luggage into the house, and William led him up a narrow staircase to what looked like a walk-in wardrobe at the end of the hall.

"Well, this must be the room Della's set up for you," said William, as he set a backpack upon the floor, evidently trying his best to hold in a sneeze. "It's soundproof, so you won't get woken in the night." Felix thought this was slightly odd, but was too tired to think about it.

They said good night, and William walked back down the hall, sneaking quietly to his bedroom. Felix tossed his things to the floor, and gratefully collapsed into the bed, making the springs in the mattress creak.

"Good morning, Felix." A rather bony woman with a long ponytail was drawing the white curtains of a small window.

"I hope you had a good sleep. I'm Della, by the way. I'm sorry to wake you, but it's near ten o'clock and we plan to go out soon."

Felix squinted as light flooded into the small room, lighting up the dust in the air and making it look like glitter. The room was shabby, painted a forlorn green.

He looked up and rubbed his eyes, managing a feeble "hello."

"Well, breakfast is ready when you are." Della left the room, her steps brisk, creating ripples in the fabric of her tight beige skirt.

Felix rose from the bed and dressed, then looked into a cracked mirror on the wall. He quickly patted his hair, making a futile attempt to flatten it. Then, following the rich scent coming from the kitchen, descended the polished steps.

"Eggs?" asked William.

Della passed Felix a plate as he nodded.

"Has Melinda had breakfast?" William asked his wife, as he dished up Felix's breakfast.

"Mmm," grunted Della, who was bringing a stack of dirty dishes up to the bench, making the already precarious pile beside the sink wobble dangerously.

William passed Felix some toast, and he began to eat.

"I'll just go get her ready," Della said, after stabilizing the mountain of dishes. "You can put everything in the car."

Della left the room, and Felix could hear her shoes as she went up the steps.

"Where are we going?" asked Felix.

"Oh, we're just going to Ashhurst for a picnic," replied William. "We're going to meet up with a friend there, and thought it would be a good oportunity for you to see a bit of local scenery."

After breakfast, William and Felix went out to the car with the picnic basket and rug, and waited for Della to come. Felix was sitting in the back, next to a blue car seat, and William was at the wheel. They sat in silence, gazing out the window at the chaotic fields.

Five minutes later, Della came out of the front door. Holding her hand was a small girl, who looked not much older than six or seven. She had a thin face, and there were dark bags under her eyes; her hair was long and dark like Della's.

Della turned and locked the front door, then walked to the car. She opened the door nearest to the car seat, helping the little girl get in.

"This is Felix," she said to the girl, as she buckled her into the car seat. "And Felix, this is our daughter Melinda."

Melinda stared silently at Felix, her deep eyes drilling into him. Felix looked away.

They drove for about fifteen minutes before reaching Ashhurst. The small town was small and quiet, and few people roamed the streets. There were many small houses that looked like ideal retirement homes.

They pulled up in a carpark beside a sign that said ashhurst domain. Behind the sign was a grassy park, with a small playground near the corner. The park was empty, except for a woman in her mid thirties who was wearing about a centimetre too much makeup, sitting under a large tree nearby.

William opened his car door and got out. He retrieved the picnic basket from the boot, and when Felix emerged from the car, gave him the rug to carry.

"There she is," said Della. She walked towards the woman under the tree.

"Hello!" the woman said, standing up.

"We've brought some food," said Della. She took the rug from Felix and set it down on the ground. "This is Christine," she said, addressing Felix.

"And who's this?" asked Christine.

"Oh, this is Felix – you know, the German exchange. He arrived last night."

"Oh yes, I remember," said Christine. "Are you going to do it tonight, or–" A hard look from Della hushed her mid-sentence. "Can he understand me?"

"Yes," Della replied. "His English is very good."

Felix could see Melinda in the playground, flying down on the flying fox. Suddenly, she turned upside-down, and started waving her head and cackling madly, holding on with her legs.

"Um, Della," said Felix, "does Melinda normally do that?"

Della abruptly turned sharp. "Do what?"

Felix pointed to the flying fox. Melinda was about to hit the tire. Della looked over, and screamed, "William! Quick, Melinda's going to crash!" William looked up, then rushed over to the flying fox, but was too late. It smashed against the tire, sending the little girl flying.

"Melinda!" shouted William. He ran over to where she had fallen.

But she was gone. He searched thoroughly around the area, and then wandered into the trees beyond.

"William?" shouted Della. She peered over at the bush, but could see nothing.

Felix gradually became aware of a scraping sound from behind the tree. He walked around, but when he was on the other side, tripped on a root. Small, cold hands closed over his throat, and he could see Melinda, her hair covering her eyes. He was being strangled. She squeezed his neck tighter and tighter, and, though Felix struggled, he couldn't pull her hands away, even though he was a fourteen-year-old boy. Her hands were like iron, and they would not budge. He could feel the life being sucked out of him like a fish out of water trying to breath. He began to kick against the tree.

"Can you hear something?" he heard Christine ask. Soon, Felix could see a pair of high-heeled boots walking around the tree. Christine screamed.

"Della! I think I found her!"

Della came around, and siezed her daughter. She quickly grabbed hold of her hands and bent them back until she let go. Felix inhaled a lungful of air.

Melinda screamed, and there was a sudden gust of wind. It blew the hair out of her eyes, and Felix was astonished to see that they were completely black.

"What's wrong with her eyes?" asked Felix.

Before Della could speak, Melinda grabbed hold of her and bit deep into her shoulder. She screamed with pain, grabbing the girl and carried her to the car. Melinda began to kick her mother, cackling insanely.

That night, back at the house, Felix sat in the lounge reading a book. Melinda had been sent to bed; Felix could still hear her upstairs, laughing, screaming and thumping against the wall. William and Della were in the kitchen, tackling the pile of dishes and talking.

"It can't wait, Della," he heard William say. "It's only going to get worse."

"But we have to gain his trust first."

"We already have, and it'd be best to get it over with. Melinda will soon put him off and he'll start asking questions. And it's a full moon tonight, which is apparently a good time to do it."

"Oh, I suppose you're right," said Della reluctantly.

"Tonight then?"

"Okay."

At nine thirty, the dishes were done. William came out into the lounge, and sat oposite Felix on the couch. Della went up the stairs.

Felix closed his book and put it down on the round glass coffee table in front of him. He fiddled with some strange leather straps that were sewn onto the armchair.

William was the first to speak. "I would like to explain about what happened today." He leaned in towards Felix, making him feel very uncomfortable. "Well, you see, until four years ago, Melinda was a wonderful little tot; healthy and pleasant. But then, on her third birthday, she went... mad. Like what you saw today. Something changed. She wouldn't speak to us, and began to get dangerous. We searched far and wide for a cure, but no doctor could explain what was wrong with her.

"Until, at one point, we went to see Doctor Quentin in Rotorua, and he said that Melinda didn't have a medical problem. No, she had been possessed.

"So he told us to go and see the local priest, Father Rutherford. We didn't believe in that kind of thing at the time, but we were desperate, and so we went to see him. In the end, he came here, and gave Melinda an excorcism."

Felix heard feet on the stairs, and looked up to see Della coming down, holding hands with Melinda. Melinda's eyes were back to normal, and she was staring at him again.

"The excorcism didn't work," said William. "But Father Rutherford told us there was one other way to get rid of the demon."

Della and Melinda reached the bottom of the stairs, and came to sit on the couch.

"It's okay, Melinda," said Della. "Everything will be alright soon..."

"The only other way to get the demon out of Melinda is to pass it on," said William. "And there is only one way to kill it."

Melinda's eyes turned black.