~~I feel the coldness first then the pain and all I can think is its coming again the visions have come to haunt me. They’re worse this time, more vivid. I’m pushed around in the darkness and I try to remember how I defeated it before but the pain is too much and I can’t think about anything else’s. I collapse on the floor and land next to something still and lifeless. When I look up I already know what I’m going to see, Ethan’s body on the floor with the life drained from his dull eyes. I reach out to him and yell his name. I hear the voice whispering to me but this time I recognise it as Igneous Bane’s “It’s your fault, you did this” He hisses into my ear and I wipe the tears away. “No” I scream and he cackles.
The scene around me shifts and I stand by my parents who lie dead on the floor. The screams start and my head feels like it’s going to burst open. I feel myself sinking and I’m drowning, something warm fills my mouth and surrounds by body. Blood. I’m drowning in the blood of people whose souls were put into the machine, the blood of the people I murdered. I want to scream the terror out of me but blood has filled my mouth and blinded me. I finally stop fighting; let them take me I don’t ever want to wake up after this.
“Ashlyn! Ash wake up it’s ok it’s not real, whatever’s happening it’s not real” I hear a voice in the back of my head as the blackness stops pushing down on me. I don’t want to open my eyes, what if I see it all again. I let out a low weak whimper and I feel a strong hand behind my head stoking my hair. “Ashlyn baby please open your eyes” The voice pleads and I force my eyes open and see Ethan’s anxious face above mine. I’m shivering even though it’s warm in the room and my cheeks feel wet. “What did they do to you?” He asks as I shakily sit up.
“It...It’s over now” I stutter as he pulls me to his muscular chest.
“It’s not real, whatever happened is just in your head, it’s just a nightmare” He whispers. I nod and pull him tighter to me so I can hear his breaths so I can reassure myself he isn’t dead.
“What’s the time?” I ask when I stop shaking.
“About half 6 in the morning” He answers “Do you want to go back to sleep?” I shake my head
“Not now, can we go?” I ask
“Yeah, is there anything you want me to pack?”
“No I just need my rucksack” I reply and nod to it on the floor. He scoops it up then slides it onto his back and pulls me off the bed so I stand beside him.
We walk out of the flat in silence and Ethan doesn’t look back before shutting the door then locking it. We ride the elevator to the bottom floor then catch the first train to roll into the station. “Where are we going?” I ask when we’ve settled into our seats “FREAM was bombed a month ago so they’ve found a new base in the outlands. We’re going to find that” He explains quietly and I stare at the back of the seat trying not to cry. “Is everyone safe?” I ask anxiously.
“I don’t know, remember I was locked up just as long as you” He reminds me and I wince.
“Did they hurt you?” I ask suddenly realising I have no idea how well they treated him, better than me I hope. “No, they knew who I was so said I was safe for that reason only but now I realise they were keeping me alive so that you’d cooperate, I hope they did the same with the others.
“Did you not see any of them when you escaped?” I ask panicking a little.
“Marlec let them out first and they left to help set free other prisoners” He reassures me and I let out a sigh of relief, it still doesn’t mean they survived getting out of there I remind myself before I can get to helpful. One way or another I’m going to find out later today though and I hope I only get good news. Somehow I doubt it though and that’s what I dread as I wait for our stop to arrive.
When it finally does we slip through the early morning crowd, keeping our heads down as we go and not making eye contact with anyone. I start to relax as we reach the edge of the city and start seeing more tree’s than buildings. “Do you know the way?” I ask Ethan when all we can see is the dusty sand around us. “I hope so” He says and we keep walking for I don’t know how long but by the time the rocky Mountains come into view my tongue feels like sandpaper and it feels painful to swallow. “Why didn’t I bring water?” Ethan mutters to himself in annoyance but I’m distracted by the beauty of the scene in front of me.
I’ve never seen real Mountains before and watching them tower mightily over me takes my breath away. “Come on, we’re almost there” Ethan says pulling at my arm. I stumble forward with him as he leads me towards the ancient giants in front of us.
Unlike the loud crowded city everywhere around me is quiet and still. It’s all undisturbed by humans I think to myself, I wonder what it was like before we came along with our wars and polluting factories. “What are you thinking about?” Ethan asks quietly when he sees the frown on my face; I give him a small smile.
“Have you ever wondered what it was like before the government, before the Zones and all this conflict?” I say cocking my head to the side slightly as I try to picture a totally different world.
“I already know a little bit about it” He admits and I raise my eyebrows at him in curiosity.
“All I know is that it wasn’t much better than what we have now, we at least admit to having an unequal society. Before the government created the Zones everyone was the same but people we still better off than others and there we always people who were treated unfairly. They were more extreme though, some people had a lot and other people had nothing” I frown at him.
“That’s the same as the society now, people from Zone 1 have everything and people from Zone 3 have nothing.” Ethan shakes his head.
“No, they’re still given a house and food every day” I stop and stare at him.
“You have no idea do you? How wrong that is.” Ethan turns and frowns at me.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean your attitude towards them, ‘oh it’s ok, they’re fed and watered they’ll be fine’ you can tell yourself that to make you feel about spending the amount of money my parents would earn in a year on a sofa, but hey never call it fair.” I spit at him and he takes a step back holding his hands up.
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean it like that, I just...”
“Have no idea what you’re talking about” I say coldly.
We stare at each other for a few seconds “Come on we can’t argue about this, it’s stupid and neither of us can do anything about it”
I walk over to him and look right into his soft brown eyes “Then what do you think the point of FREAM is? Its not a tea and coffee club Ethan, it’s a rebellion” I point out.
“That was run by a traitor who has probably told the Government all about our plans”
“Then we make new ones” I reply quickly but Ethan just shakes his head. I rest my hand on his shoulder. “You told me last night that you ran away because you didn’t agree in what the Government is doing, that you came to FREAM to fight back” I whisper.
He takes a step back and bends down slightly so his eyes are level with mine “And look where that got us, you were being tortured I was locked up and the whole base was blown up. That boy’s wishes disappeared as soon as they took you from my arms, as soon as I knew I had lost.” His words hit me like a blow to the stomach, he can’t have given up. I shake my head stubbornly “That was one battle, who cares if they won it, I plan for us to win the war” I declare then start to march towards the mountains bringing our conversation to end. Ethan jogs to catch up with me “Your stubbornness will get you killed” He says lightly and I smile a little “Not if your stubbornness saves me” He laughs a little and swings his arm over my shoulders “Don’t worry I won’t ever let you go again” I look at him and wrap my arm round is waste and smile “I believe you” And I do, seeing the determined look behind the amusement in his eyes. “I’m sorry” I say quietly and he looks down at me.
“For what?” He asks.
“Letting them take me away from you”
He shakes his head and squeezes me to him a little “It wasn’t your fault you were passed out” He points out but I still hate myself a little for all the hurt it caused him. “Hey Ash, look at me” I slowly lift my eyes to meet his “It wasn’t your fault, I was the one who was carrying you and I should have run faster, I only blame myself”
“Don’t” I say “They would have caught us even if you’d run at 100 miles an hour, it wasn’t your fault either, we never should have gone once we found out Julie was a traitor.” My voice slowly fades away and we walk silently thinking hard about the past few days.
It’s getting dark when Ethan suddenly stops for a moment and stares intently at something. “What are you doing?” I ask
“Shhh” He hisses at me and holds his hand up to me. I raise my eyebrows at him and cross my arms then look at him impatiently. “Can’t you hear it?” He asks after a few seconds.
“Hear what?” I demand but he starts running into a patch of trees so I follow him.
“Yes!” He shouts triumphantly and I rush through the trees after him and smile as I see the waterfall in front of me. Ethan’s already rushing down to the edge of the stream holding his hands out greedily. I quickly make my way down after him and dip my hands into the stream letting the cold water run over my stiff hands. “Are you sure it’s safe to drink” I ask quickly.
“It’s what they’ll be using in the new base as a source of water” He explains.
“But they’ll use a filter”
He just shrugs “I’m willing to take the risk. And with that he dunks his whole head under and I stare back at him with disbelief then hesitate before doing the same.
The water is freezing but the it feels wet and fills I welcome the shivers it sends down my back. I rise to the surface gasping but a tingle pleasure runs through me a I feel the water dripping from my lips. I cup my hands and scoop water into them then quickly throw it into my dry mouth. It slides down my throat taking away the parched feeling and I do it again and again until I can’t drink anymore. Ethan does the same and we laugh with pleasure and relief as our thirst disappears.
I finally lean back and ring out my wet hair “Well that was refreshing” I say letting out a hysterical laugh and Ethan smiles, he looks so beautiful lit by the moon light. “Your lips have gone blue” He points out and I shrug.
“I don’t care, I feel great” He nods then crawls over to me.
“Let me warm them up” He mumbles and leans into me.
I moan and let my head fall back “That was so cheesy”
He snickers “I know” then he pulls my head up and our lips meet softly at first but I let my hunger take over me and we fold into each other as I slowly lean onto the ground and run my hands along is smooth back and he cups his hand behind my head and strokes my hair.
We break away finally but we’re both gasping and I run a finger along my tingling lips. “I think they’re warm now” I say and he smiles. “Mine too” he tries to say seriously.
We both lie back onto the hard ground and I rest my head onto his shoulder whole he wraps his arm round me “I could lie like this forever” I sigh staring at the starry sky above us.
“We could stay here and never go back” He says and close my eyes trying to imagine staying here with Ethan never worrying about anything, it sounds so easy yet it’s impossible.
“They need us” I say quietly and I feel Ethan nodding.
“I know” He replies in whisper and we lie in silence trying to relish in every second.
At some point I fall asleep but my nightmares don’t come instead I dream about first day of secondary school and the worried looks my mum gave me. “I don’t want you misbehaving, don’t stand out, and just sit though your lessons quietly. I nodded and smiled at her. “Don’t worry mummy no one will notice me” I said and she smiled at. “Good girl, now have fun.”
Of course I didn’t listen to her and I got 3 detentions on my first day, one for hitting a girl who said my skirt looked frumpy and two for being a ‘smart ass’. It wasn’t my fault that the art of hair dressing didn’t interest me. The dream continues to the end of the day and I remember my mother’s disappointed face as I gave her the slips to sign. She didn’t say anything and neither did I she just slid them across the table back to me shaking her head. I didn’t give the slips to her after that, I forged her signature on all of them but she knew and I pretended not to notice the sad look she gave me every time I came back late from school. The dream then skips a head to the day I came through the door quietly after yet another detention and I heard her crying softly in the kitchen and my father’s reassuring voice. “It’s just a faze, she’s just angry about not going to school with Marlec, she’ll grow out of it.” He was wrong though, I didn’t grow out of it, I continued to play up at school, it got worse and I got isolated and suspended, I was just so angry at all the rules, angry at the dull life I had and thought I always would have. I took out my anger on my parents, shouting at them and deliberately defying anything they did. I was so angry, I watch all the arguments we had over stupid meaningless things like curfew and clothes and hate myself for my selfish behaviour. This is worse than my nightmares, this is all real, it all happened and I can never take it back. Never say sorry to my parents for it.
I try to drag myself out of the dream but it continues right up to me and my mother’s last argument, the night before I came to FREAM. I watch myself storm up the stairs but the scene doesn’t end. I watch my mother walk slowly over to the table, “we forgive you Ashlyn, you were born to be great, never forget that.”
The words echo through my head as I rise into consciousness and feel the tears running down my cheeks. I wipe them away “Are you alright Ash?” Ethan asks as I look up at him and he wipes one away. “What’s wrong?” He asks softly as the tears continue to fall but I just smile at him. “They’re happy tears; my mother believed in me until the end, she never gave up on me.” I say happily as I sniff. He holds me tightly to him and kisses the top of my head “Of course she did, you’re amazing” I smile and let it sink in then shake myself out of the moment and swallow away the overwhelming happiness. “We should set off now” I say then lift my stiff body off the ground and stretch my arms out. Ethan moans and rolls onto his side.
My stomach grumbles in protest and I give him a gentle kick “Hey sleepy head did you hear that, I need chocolate and soon otherwise I might have a breakdown.” He moans a little again then pushes himself off the ground. “Then we must carry on” He says slowly holding his head and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “I take it you’re not a morning person?” I ask as we set off deeper into the forest.
“How’d you guess?” he says sarcastically.
“Well it must be a pain in the ass that your girlfriend wakes up at 5 in the morning due to her visions of happiness” I tease and he gives me a light shove.
I don’t mind his grumpiness, for some reason I feel light and bubbly this morning, which is not a normal feeling for me. We continue walking through the forest and soon the trees start getting thicker so we have to use sticks to beat a path through the over grown bushes. I cut myself once or twice on the sharp thorns of the brambles but I barely notice the pain, it’s nothing compared to what I’ve experienced. “Are we nearly there yet?” I tease after about half an hour of stumbling around. Ethan gives me an unimpressed look but doesn’t say anything, I can see he’s thinking hard about something so leave him to it and try to get lost in my own. It doesn’t work though, I’m too full of energy, I start kicking rocks and beating hedges harder than I need to. Every tree I pass gets smacked by my stick until I suddenly stop and start hitting one over and over again not knowing where the sudden feeling of anger and frustration has come from.
Ethan jogs over “Ash, what are you doing?” He exclaims as he reaches me but I ignore him and just keep hitting the tree. The stick snaps and I throw it away with a growl of irritation then start smacking the tree with my hands instead. I can feel the uncontrollable rage pulsing through me and I can’t stop it, Ethan can though. He catches my now bleeding hands and gently pushes me away from the tree. “Hey, hey come on, what’s got into you?” He asks softly. I just stare at the ground taking deep breaths trying to push away the rage within me.
Ethan patiently waits for me to calm down and I finally look up at him. “Sorry” I mumble and he frowns.
“Is that it?” He asks, confused. I swallow the last of the anger and nod at him.
“Can we just keep going?” I ask and he gives me a baffled look for a few more seconds then clears his throat and takes his hands from my shoulders and starts to walk through the forest again.
I quickly follow behind him, letting him to the chopping, not trusting myself with a stick again. We walk in silence but it feels awkward and heavy after my outburst, Ethan keeps looking back at me, worry in his eyes.
After an hour or two I can’t take it anymore. “I’m fine Ethan, I just needed to let it all out that’s all”
He stops and I stand beside him and rub my thumb over his hand “Don’t worry I won’t turn into a psycho again” I assure him lightly. He smiles a little and links his fingers through mine. “You’ve been through a lot, I guess it’s your way of handling things”
“What do you mean?” I ask as we set off again. Ethan slashes trough another hedge and helps me through before answering. “You have a quick temper, you remind me of a volcano. You let all your anger build up then erupt; you can be scary when you want to be.” I nod at this, he speaks the truth. I do have a habit of building it up inside. “I should probably learn to handle it” I mumble.
Ethan laughs “No way! It’s part of what makes you.... well you! Take away the flames and a fire is nothing” He says and I laugh a little “You have such a strange way of putting things” I say and he just shrugs.
“I told you I wanted to be writer; I see the world slightly differently to most.”
We continue our light conversation until we reach the edge of the forest and find a large cliff of rock. “Where are we?” I ask as Ethan starts poking the rock with his stick.
“Almost there, I think” He mumbles and I look around nervously. This is it, our hike has ended, the bubble we’ve been in is about to pop and we have to face the harsh reality. Ethan finds what he’s looking for along the bottom edge of the rock a few meters away and he kicks it. Nothing happens but he seems satisfied as he walks back over to me. “What did you do?” I ask.
“I sent a signal to the base, someone should be over to collect us soon” He explains and I nod then slide down the rock and sit on the floor. He joins me and I rest my head onto his shoulder. “It’s over” I sigh and he says nothing for a few seconds. “Not forever, when this is all over, you and me, we could go anywhere” He says in a low voice. I nod “I like the sound of that”
We only wait about 10 minutes for the escorts to appear. They walk through the trees dresses in black clothes with cautious looks on their faces. When they see it is their faces relax and they jog over. I jump up immediately “Marcus! Finn!” I exclaim and run over to them. They both pull me into tight bear hugs I almost cry with relief at seeing their faces, alive and healthy. Ethan’s walks over and they thump each other on the back. “Glad you could make it” Marcus says cheerfully and Finn winks at me. I smile feeling warmth flooding through me, if they’re here the others must be. No more loss and no more pain I think to myself.