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       Severed, p.26

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  She grabbed her bag from the empty seat beside her, ignoring the gasped mutterings from the rest of the class, and strode towards the door.

  A hushed awe descended over the classroom as she threw it open. She caught sight of Mr Fielder staring at her in slack-jawed incredulity – and she noticed too her ex-boyfriend Tom out of the corner of her eye. He was sitting in the back row, frowning at her.

  Nothing new there she thought to herself before she closed the door behind her.

  Her pick up truck was parked in the far corner of the lot. She headed straight for it, tossing her bag onto the passenger seat and climbing in. Her hands closed around the wheel. Fate? Was he serious? Mr. Fielder, her senior year English teacher was asking her, of all people, about fate and freewill? If only he knew the truth about her life, and how concepts of fate and freewill had played a part in it, he could get her to write a paper on irony. Wherewould she start? With the fact that due to an accident of birth she wasn’t just a regular girl, but a Hunter? Or with the fact she’d been told she was the famed White Light, whose destiny was to end the war between humans and unhumans? Or perhaps with the fact that she’d believed it all, and it had turned out to be a lie? There was no such thing as fate. There was only life. And death. And, in between, only heartache and hurt.

  She rested her forehead against the steering wheel and took a deep breath. That’s when it began, the sob erupting out of the centre of her, as if it had been there all along, poised like a vicious, cunning dog, waiting to get her alone. She should have expected it. It wasn’t as if it was the first time she had broken down since the battle at the Bradbury Building. She clenched her teeth and tried to fight it, but it tore free anyway. She thumped the dashboard and tried to get a grip, closing her eyes and instantly confronting the image branded on the back of her eyelids of Lucas - lying in her lap, grey eyes dilating black as the blood rushed out of him in warm sticky pulses, soaking her legs and her hands. Would it ever stop being the only thing she saw every time she closed her eyes?

  When she finally lifted her head from the wheel she saw Tom standing in front of her car, his bag slung over his shoulder and his hands thrust into the pockets of his jeans. She glared at him for a full twenty seconds hoping it would convince him to move out of the way. When he didn’t move she turned the key in the ignition and let the thrum of the engine as her foot hit the floor do the encouraging for her. Tom tipped his head to one side and raised his eyebrows in amusement. The engine started to whine. She took her foot off the gas and, sighing loudly, reached over and unlocked the passenger door. She caught the smile that Tom tried to hide as he strolled around to the passenger side and climbed in.

  ‘So,’ he said, pushing her bag to the floor and making himself comfortable, ‘that was an interesting reaction to Shakespeare. Care to share?’

  Evie knotted her hands around the wheel and kept staring straight ahead. It had started to drizzle. She didn’t care to share. If she told anyone about what had happened, they’d commit her to the nearest mental institution. She could feel Tom looking at her and knew if she turned her head she’d find his brown eyes filled with a mix of three parts pity one part frustration. She started to wonder why she’d let him into the car. She should just have driven over him.

  ‘Evie,’ Tom said, shifting in his seat so he was facing towards her. ‘What’s going on?’

  ‘Nothing,’ she answered.

  She felt his hand come to rest tentatively on her shoulder and her body reacted instantly by stiffening, her breath catching painfully in her throat as if she’d swallowed a fishing hook. Tom’s hand fell away. He exhaled loudly and cracked his knuckles - a classic Tom gesture of frustration.

  ‘If it’s nothing why were you just crying?’ he asked.

  ‘I wasn’t crying.’

  ‘Right,’ Tom said softly. ‘Listen Evie, I know something went on with you and that guy Lucas, and you don’t need to tell me what, but I figure you must have broken up or something because I haven’t seen him around.’ He hesitated, possibly noting the way her jaw had locked and her breathing had become shallow. ‘But like… you know, that happens,’ he said with a small shrug, as if he didn’t get why she was making such a big deal about it. She noted the barely hidden tone of recrimination. ‘I don’t remember you being the same way when we broke up.’

  Evie shook her head at him in amazement. ‘You cheated on me with my best friend and, if you recall, I didn’t talk to you for six months. And I’m starting to wonder why in fact I ever did start talking to you again.’

  ‘OK, OK,’ Tom said, holding both hands up in a gesture of surrender, ‘You’re right. I’m sorry. I just… I don’t understand is all. I’ve seen you angry Evie. Hell, I’ve been on the receiving end enough times. And I’ve seen you hurting too. But I’ve never seen you like this. I’m worried about you. We all are.’

  ‘We?’ she asked, laughing under her breath. People were gossiping about her, she knew that much. They definitely weren’t worrying about her.

  Tom hesitated. His fingers started playing nervously with the door lock - pulling it up, pressing it down. ‘Well, you know what I mean.’

  She didn’t, but she kept quiet.

  ‘You’re going to flunk all your classes at this rate. I don’t know what happened between you and this guy but is it worth throwing away your future over it?’

  ‘Jesus,’ Evie snorted. ‘Have you been talking to my mother? Because it sure sounds like it.’

  ‘No!’ he said, flinching back in his seat. But the way he said it - the slight fluctuation in his tone, the way he couldn’t hold her gaze anymore - told her that absolutely he’d been talking to her mother.

  ‘Look, if I want a lecture about my future,’ she said, wishing once more she’d never unlocked the door and let him into her car, ‘I’ll go and see the school guidance counsellor.’

  ‘Maybe you should,’ Tom shot back.

  Evie’s mouth fell open. ‘What are you saying?’

  Tom looked hurriedly away, ‘Nothing. But maybe it’s not such a stupid idea. If you won’t talk to me and you won’t talk to your mum, then maybe you should talk to the school guidance counsellor. That’s what she’s there for.’

  Evie almost laughed. ‘Tom,’ she sighed, feeling the tears burning the back of her eyes. ‘It’s not that easy. I wish it was. Believe me.’

  Tom’s face crumpled, ‘Evie,’ he pleaded.

  ‘Just go, Tom. Now!’ She could feel the pulsing waves of adrenaline shooting down her arms and legs. She needed to vent and if he stayed in the car he was in danger of becoming the object of that vent and he had no idea how strong she’d become in the last three months. She could seriously hurt him.

  Tom seemed to realize the tension in the truck had built to reactor overload level. He fumbled with the door handle and jumped out the car. ‘You know,’ he said, the drizzle coating him in seconds, dampening his hair across his forehead, ‘For the record, I think it’s freewill.’

  She shot him a confused look.

  ‘It’s freewill, not pre-destiny,’ he repeated. ‘Macbeth chose his destiny – he chose to kill the King. The witches didn’t foretell it. They planted the idea in his head but he still chose to kill the king. You could choose too you know.’

  ‘What? To become King?’ she fired back.

  ‘No. To not be such a victim. Why do you care so much about a guy who didn’t even deserve you?’

  She reached over, grabbed the door handle and slammed the door shut on him, then rammed her foot to the floor and tore out of the parking lot, managing to jack-knife across the road in an unholy screech of tires.

  She was so incandescent with rage that she shot right through the stop sign on Main Street almost knocking Mrs. Lewington, her mother’s lodger, off her feet.

  She ignored the old woman’s warbled protests and the stares of several townsfolk and kept driving as though if she drove fast enough she could enough distance between herself and the past.

  Chapter 2


  As she drove, Tom’s words played on a loop in her head. She couldn’t believe he had told her to stop acting like a victim. Everyone belived that Lucas had ditched her and that’s why she was acting the way she was. As if she’d ever act this way over a boy breaking up with her. Tom had no idea. None of them had a clue what was going on around them, what monsters stalked the streets when they were tucked up sleeping soundly.

  She corrected herself, they didn’t know about the monsters that no longer stalked the streets, thanks in part to her. They didn’t know that she’d had to fight those monsters, that she’d almost died – would have died, perhaps not willingly but died nonetheless– to protect all of them from an army of unhumans who would have torn this world and all the unsuspecting humans in it to pieces.

  And Tom expected her to go and see the school guidance counsellor. She laughed under her breath as she swung into her driveway. And tell them what exactly? That she had issues because her boyfriend had been stabbed to death right in front of her? That she dreamed every waking moment, and every sleeping moment too, of finding the man who’d done it and getting revenge? Should she tell them about Cyrus, who had sacrificed himself - taking her place – to end the war none of them had even known was raging all around them? Should she go all out even, and admit that she had nightmares about Thirsters? And about demons with razor-backed tails and acid-coated skin? Should she admit that when she finally managed to get to sleep at night it was only after taking pills pilfered from her mother’s cabinet and that when she slept it was with one hand under her pillow, her fingers locked tight around the hilt of a knife? Should she tell them she was too scared to look in the mirror these days because she couldn’t recognize the girl staring back at her?

  She got out of the truck and strolled around the house to the back veranda. Her mother was home. She could hear her upstairs on the phone. Evie’s senses had sharpened to needlepoints in the last eight weeks. She didn’t know at what point they’d stop improving – when she could hear the termites burrowing through the wooden stairs in the basement? She’d learnt to drown them out a little so it had become a fuzzy white noise in the background of her head, similar to the sound of the river rushing at the bottom of the Orchard behind the house.

  The leaves had almost all fallen. The trees were standing knobbly branched and embarrassed almost as far as the eye could see. She looked away deliberately before her eyes could fix on the tree she’d climbed with Lucas but it was too late. Her feet had already paused, tripping on some tree roots buried beneath a pile of leaves. She played out the scene, even though remembering felt like someone was prising her rib cage open with rusty forceps; Lucas standing balanced in the fork of the tree, reaching down with one hand and pulling her up as if she weighed less than nothing. She shuddered a little in the cool air as she remembered how he’d he caught around the waist and drawn her against him after she’d lost her balance. How he’d smiled and the sunlight had brushed his face making shadows dance across his lips.

  A howl brought her out of her daydream. She spun around. Lobo was standing on the top step of the veranda, nose to the air. He started to whine as she walked towards him. He’d stopped leaving the safety of the veranda since he’d been attacked by a Mixen demon. Her mum was going crazy at him for doing his business on the bottom step.

  ‘Hey boy,’ she said, dropping to her knees and burying her face in the Husky dog’s fur. He licked the side of her face. ‘There are no monsters anymore, you hear?’ she whispered. ‘They’re all gone. They can’t come back.’ She closed her eyes. ‘They can’t come back,’ she repeated, feeling the serrated edge of her own words biting into her flesh.

  ‘Evie! Is that you?’

  ‘Uh-oh,’ Evie whispered, getting slowly to her feet. ‘Better get behind me boy.’ She shouldered her bag and reached with a sinking feeling for the screen door.

  Her mother beat her to it.

  ‘I’ve just got off the phone with your principal,’ she announced, yanking open the door. Evie was sure her mother had lost a few pounds and gained several new worry lines around her mouth in the last two months.

  ‘Well?’ her mother demanded when Evie said nothing. ‘Are you going to explain to me why you just walked out of your English class? You can’t keep cutting school Evie, storming out whenever you feel like it.’

  Evie sighed loudly and felt Lobo inch himself forwards and rub himself against her leg. She reached a hand down absently and stroked him. ‘Mum, do we have to do this now?’ She really didn’t have the energy.

  ‘Now?’ her mother yelled. Evie looked up in shock. Her mother never yelled. Not even after Evie had turned up at the crack of dawn, after having gone missing with Lucas and walked like an ashen-faced zombie to her room. Not even after she’d stayed there for four days, curled on the bed, facing the wall, refusing to either eat or talk or admit where she’d been.

  ‘Yes, we are doing this now,’ her mother went on, ‘because there never seems to be a good time. I thought if I waited then maybe things would eventually get better. But it’s been two months and you still haven’t said a word about what happened to you – and what am I supposed to think, Evie? Answer me that? You disappear for days with that boy –‘

  ‘Lucas,’ Evie said through gritted teeth. ‘His name is Lucas.’

  ‘You disappear with him without so much as a goodbye or a note, and the next thing I know I get a call that you’re in New Mexico – that he’s abandoned you.’

  ‘He didn’t abandon me,’ Evie growled.

  ‘Well, what else am I supposed to think?’ Evie’s mother sighed, her tone softening. ‘We’ve not seen hide nor hair of him since. And then when I find you’re not even at the gas station where you said you’d be…well,’ she shook her head, words seeming to desert her. ‘Can you even imagine how worried I was? And you didn’t even think to call me and tell me where you were? All that time?’

  Evie clenched her jaw shut. She glared at the floor, feeling her eyes tearing up. She knew that her mother had a right to be mad but there was so much anger inside her own body she couldn’t see past it enough to do anything about her mother’s. Everything was so impossible, so tangled up. She wished she could just fall into her mother’s arms and cry and tell her everything and have her soothe it all away but she couldn’t. She couldn’t tell her anything, and even if she did there were no words that could soothe any of it away anyway. It was pointless.

  ‘Evie,’ her mother said more gently, using the same pleading tone as Tom had, ‘Please, talk to me.’

  Evie looked up. Her mother’s face was contorted, twisted, with worry. And Evie knew she was responsible for it, just as she was responsible for the pain and suffering of dozens of other people – of Cyrus’s mother, Margaret, and the rogue Hunters, Vero and Ash, who had fought by her side. And of course, Lucas’s sister, Flic. If Evie had died instead of Cyrus, instead of Risper, instead of Lucas, she wondered how much less suffering there would be in the world. No one except her mother would miss her. She felt a pang that twisted itself into the unbreakable knot of emotions tied inside her. Steeling herself, she brushed past her mother and headed for the stairs.

  ‘Evie!’ her mother called after her as she trudged up the stairs. ‘You can’t keep on behaving like this.’

  Evie walked into her bedroom and closed the door, trying to block out the feelings of guilt that were suckerpunching her. She crossed to her desk, which she’d swept clean of everything. All her old magazines, term papers, essay notes and books were stashed in a cardboard box in her closet, already coated in dust. She’d taken down all the photographs and the postcard of New York she’d pasted on the wall, as well as the list of colleges she’d intended to apply to. In their place she’d tacked up a piece of paper with just one word on it.

  Victor?

  She stared at it for a good minute then she glanced down at the desk and picked up the single piece of paper lying there. On it were fragments of text, drawn from memory, as complete as she could mak
e it.

  From two who remain a White Light will be born.

  A purebred Hunter Fated to be the white light,

  Standing alone in the final fight

  To sever the realms by passing through the light

  Memories will rise, shadows will fade

  Facing an army from the realms

  the sun, the giver of life and the light

  together will stand and fight

  and one will sacrifice himself

  closing the gateway by walking back through.

  Crossing into the dark, memories will fade and shadows fall

  She dropped the sheet of paper back onto the desk. She didn’t know why she kept looking at it. The thing was done. The prophecy had come true. She had never been the White Light. It had been Cyrus all along. Anger gripped her every time she thought about it. The Sybll were worse than the witches in Macbeth. At least the witches got the right person. They hadn’t gone telling Macduff he was going to be King.

  She walked over to the bed and lay down on it, curling onto her side, her hands sliding underneath the pillow and pulling out a crumpled T-shirt. She balled it up and held it against her face, breathing in deeply and closing her eyes involuntarily as the scent of Lucas overwhelmed her. It was fading but she could still smell him – a trace of citrus and of late summer days, hazy with smoke and horses.

  Her mother was right about one thing, she thought to herself as she lay there; she couldn’t keep on behaving like this. She needed to do something before she went mad, before all the anger inside her erupted out in a lethal torrent. Her eyes flew open and settled on the piece of paper above her desk.

 
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