Messed Up Things

What do you do when you find out that you can do things other people can't do? Simple- you wait. Eventually, someone will show up on your doorstep, tell you that you're the Chosen One, and send you off on some mildly perilous quest to save the world.
At least, that's what the plot of every fantasy novel ever written tells you will happen. Sometimes, though, real life isn't as neat and tidy as the books you read, and when you've been waiting full years for your destiny to come knocking, the idea of being patient for a moment longer can make you mad. The question, then, is this: when fate leaves you on your own with the power to change the world, what do you do? Believe it or not, the answer to that one is just as simple.
You take matters into your own hands.

(Cover by NamesFromGraves)

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9. Tear You Apart

 

At ten o’clock, she had answered a phone call from one of her friends asking if she knew the answer to question twenty-two on the history homework. She’d given them the answer, though she had realised soon after hanging up that she had forgotten to finish that homework herself. At eleven o’clock, she had finished the twenty-four questions and packed the completed worksheet away in her schoolbag. At eleven thirty, she had taken her phone out of her jacket pocket, setting it to charge on her bedside table. At midnight, she had tied her shoelaces in double knots and zipped up her jacket and pulled her hood up around her face. At twelve thirty, she had closed and locked her bedroom door and turned out the lights, then, out of her usual paranoia, she had placed a bundle of clothes under the duvet. Just in case, she had thought. At twelve forty-seven, she had positioned herself on the windowsill to wait, one leg dangling idly from the ledge, eyes staring hungrily into the darkness outside. Then, finally, at eleven minutes past one in the morning, the hallway lights had been turned off, and, confident in the knowledge that everything was in order inside, she had gone to create some chaos outside.

Ember had no idea what time it was now, and she didn’t care, because she was drifting through the darkness above the city, her gaze dripping red onto the clouds below, and up here, time was as meaningless as gravity. She pushed herself into a standing position in the air, twisting her hands and swinging her legs up until she was hanging upside down. Her powers cocooned every part of her body, holding her still in the air, and she trusted them to keep her safe, but she didn’t want safety. She raised her left hand and gestured towards her right leg, imagining a loop of rope tightening around her ankle, relinquishing control of the rest of her body to gravity. Now, she was holding herself in the air with one foot. Her jacket fell down around her head and her hair hung limp, combed gently downwards and sideways by the wind. She could feel the blood pounding through her skull as she strained to look down. The ground looked so far away. Grinning, she flattened her hand and swept it upwards like a scythe, cutting that invisible rope in two, gasping as she was yanked suddenly towards the ground.

One. Two. Three. The wind forced its way into her mouth and dragged out a long scream. Her heartbeat was everywhere, throbbing in her throat, pounding through her head. Four. Five. She was still falling, and she was still grinning, and the scream twisted and changed in the darkness, reformed into laughter, wild, insane. Six. Seven. Still going.

Eight. A skyscraper fell down over her vision like a blackout curtain, a looming, silent monster made from shadow and glass. She was getting close.

Nine. She clenched her fists and the air snapped its jaws shut around her body. She wasn’t falling anymore. She was dangling upside down all of six inches from the ground, and her hair was trailing in a puddle. She laughed as the adrenaline hit her, crashing through her blood in hot waves. It never got old.

She placed a hand on the wet pavement and swung her legs down towards the ground, manoeuvring herself into a standing position. Her scarlet gaze swept over the narrow street. She had landed in Ashwell Alley- a narrow, dirty alleyway towards the centre of the city, full of overflowing dumpsters and leaking drainpipes and hemmed by crooked walls that rose a hundred feet into the air. She leaned back against the wall, running a hand through her rain-soaked hair as she wondered what to do next. Maybe she could hop over to the richer neighbourhoods, grab a few cars, see how many she could lift at once. What was her high score again?

I wonder what would happen if I chucked a car through somebody’s roof?

Oh yeah. Twenty-three. Sometime in August, she had managed to get twenty-three cars in the air at once, though she had lost control and dropped them pretty quickly, so she wasn’t sure if it really counted.

A house. People sleeping inside.

What if I lit the car on fire first?

Maybe she could light a few fires. Emberly had no shortage of flammable stuff that nobody would miss; it was piled high in every dumpster. Setting things on fire was fun, and she didn’t have to worry about the fire spreading, because she could just levitate the burning object a few feet from the ground. Easy.

Light up a building.

She liked setting things on fire. Of course, it would have been cooler if the fire had come directly from her hands, like that dude from the Fantastic Four, but she wasn’t picky.

Set a little fire on the highest floor and watch it grow. Watch the whole thing crumble into ash like an old cigarette. Watch the flames throwing golden shadows onto the city below. Feel the heat rising up into the sky.

Then laugh and start again.

Do it again and again until-

She frowned. There they were again: those random, disturbing thoughts that liked to creep up on her every so often. Where were they coming from? She was a nice enough person; in fact, when all of this had started, the first thing she had promised herself was that nobody would get hurt. And nobody had. In two years, nobody had. But still, those messed up thoughts, deep within her messed up mind, kept urging her to do messed up things.

It was all fun and games at the beginning of the night. Fun and games and criminal property damage. But when she ran out of things to do and found herself standing in the darkness far above the city, godlike powers breeding dark ideas deep within her head, it was easy to imagine what it would be like to watch the world burn.

She had thought about it a lot.

First, she thought, it would be fun.

Then less fun.

Then suddenly, horribly, achingly lonely.

Then…

She shuddered. What the hell was she thinking? She had a life in this city, friends, family. She didn’t want to hurt them. She didn’t want to hurt anyone. She was a good person. Wasn’t she?

Are you?

Yes. Yes, she was. She just needed to clear her head. Maybe she would feel human again if she did something normal for a change. Like a walk. A nice, long walk. On her own. In the dark. In the most dangerous part of the most crime-ridden city in the country.

Yes. That sounded good.

She shoved her hands into her pockets and began walking. The street in front of her was flat and empty, soaked in a damp amber glow that dripped into the puddles on the ground and hung like smoke in the blackened air. Those high, bare walls were splattered with graffiti, and as she drew closer to the mouth of the alleyway, her gaze snagged on something drawn on the wall to her left. Amongst all of those brightly coloured names and symbols, somebody had painted the black silhouette of a person with a narrow white slash of a smile and two red blobs where their eyes should have been. The figure’s arms were raised slightly, long fingers reaching for nothing, and there was a message scrawled next to its head. She stopped walking and stepped closer to read it. It said, Welcome to Ember-ly.

Ember grinned. Nice pun, idiot.

It was egotistical, sure, but the idea of having fans- followers, even- still excited her. How long had it been? Two years. Two years since that first video had appeared on YouTube. Two years since some Internet user had given her a new name, a new identity, an urban legend all of her own. Weirdly, she felt like she had been doing this her whole life. She had gotten so used to thinking of herself as Ember, the supernatural scourge of the city, the faceless monster with a taste for destruction, that she had begun to view the normal schoolgirl with the normal name she had been before as the fake identity; a mask she wore during the day to hide who she really was. And every time she jumped out of that window and lost herself to the darkness, she found it easier and easier to forget what she had left behind.

​Thud.

She blinked and looked up suddenly, feeling the confusion drawing itself onto her face. Had she heard something? She strained her ears against the silence, quickly realising that the sound was still there. Footsteps. They echoed wetly in the rain-soaked street, sending ripples through the dark silence of the night. They were getting closer.

Then she heard laughter, and with it, felt a clammy breeze nudging at the back of her neck.

She gasped as an arm wrapped around her throat, dragging her back, lifting her off her feet, hammering needles of pain down through her spine, and suddenly, there were tall shadows all around her. The laughter was still going, assaulting her from every direction, male and female, and somebody was waving something in her face- something thin and sharp that gleamed blindingly bright in the darkness. A knife. The arm around her neck tightened and her heartbeat hammered harder in her head as she strained to look around. There were eight people in front of her and one holding her. Nine in total. Five of them brandished sharpened shards of light that drew her gaze in the gloom. Through the laughter, she heard somebody mumble, “Hold her arms.” She felt hands on her wrists, wrenching them around as the grip around her throat shifted to her shoulders and she was shoved back against the wall. That knife was in her face again and her gaze travelled along the arm holding it, finding a pair of eyes that gleamed impossibly bright in the darkness. The owner of those eyes- a guy with dark skin and bleached, close-cropped hair- stepped closer and said, “Okay, girl. We’re gonna need your money, your phone, anything valuable. You understand?”

Kill them.

Images of the phone she had left charging by her bed flashed irresistibly through her head. She didn’t have any money. She wasn’t carrying anything valuable whatsoever. The guy with the knife was still staring at her, lips twisted into a sneer, weapon poised teasingly less than an inch from her face. She could see her reflection in the blade. The red glow had faded from her gaze- it only burned there when she used her powers- and instead, her eyes were white, wide, wild.

Burn them.

Tear them apart.

Do it now.

No. No, she wasn’t going to do that. She looked again at the guy in front of her and realised that he didn’t look much older than her. She locked eyes with him and said, “Yeah, uh…”

“Do it now, bitch!” Another person stepped forwards- a girl with a half-shaved head. “We’ll kill you!”

Ember breathed in quickly, feeling the cold air scraping painfully against the back of her throat, and said, “Guys, I don’t have any stuff for you to steal. Honest.” She shoved her hands into her jacket pockets and pulled them inside out to prove that they were empty.

The girl with the half-shaved head turned to look at the guy next to her. “Um…” The guy sighed and shoved the girl out of the way, holding his own knife in front of his face, his dark, dark eyes finding hers.

“If you won’t give us anything…” He leaned over her, tracing the knife along her cheekbone. “We’ll fucking kill you and dump your body in that skip. Doubt anyone’ll miss a dumb bitch like you.”

She was smiling. She didn’t know why or how, but she was smiling.

“What the fuck are you so happy about?” He looked slightly unnerved, eyes widening slightly as he took a step back.

A laugh tore itself from her throat and the guy with the knife snarled and swung his weapon towards her. She bit her lip as the blade slashed through the skin of her left shoulder, spraying hot blood down her arm. The pain was unbelievable. She wasn’t laughing anymore, and as she screwed her eyes shut against the pain, she could feel a familiar heat pressing against the inside of her skull.

Burn them.

Tear them apart.

Do it NOW.

Her eyes were changing. She hadn’t used her powers, so why were they changing? She had no idea.

NOW!

“You gonna cry, little girl?” The girl who had spoken tossed her long red hair over one shoulder in a flourish of confidence, her voice punctuated with a long screech of laughter. Ember squeezed her eyes shut tighter, hammering hot bolts of pain through her mind, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to keep them closed for much longer. The heat pulsed through her skull, fiercer than she had ever felt it, and as she felt it ebb slightly, signalling to her that the transformation was complete, the girl spoke again.

“We’re gonna show you a thing or two, girl. You think you can just tell us to fuck off without giving us anything? Who the fuck do you think you are? You think you’re special?”

Kill them.

Burn them.

Tear them apart.

Do it now.

Ember opened her eyes.

As one, the group surrounding her took a step back, and she felt the hands holding her withdraw, shaking, weak. The red-haired girl's whisper shivered through the darkness like frost. "The fuck?"

Ember turned to look at the girl, her bloody gaze illuminating a pale, frightened face with wide, white, wild eyes. The girl was taller than her, so she lifted herself into the air and looked down on her with a smile spreading smoothly across her face. “In answer to your question,” she said, still smiling, “Yes. Yes, I do think I’m special. And I bet you can guess why.”

Kill them.

Burn them.

Tear them apart.

Do it now.

Ember smiled, wider than she had ever smiled in her life, so wide it hurt. Suddenly, she felt emptier than she had ever felt in her life.

Yes.

She raised her left hand, fingers playing with the air, pushing her thoughts out of her head, letting them coil, snakelike, around skulls and spines and necks. Then she curled her fingers and lifted those nine unlucky thugs into the air. They were struggling. Some kicked at the air. Some clawed frantically at their throats. No use.

She twisted her hand and the silence was shattered by a sickening crunching sound as nine necks snapped at once.

The air shimmered with sound as the knives clattered onto the concrete, and for a second, her nine victims hung limply in the air, puppets that couldn’t dance, dangling on broken strings. Then she cut their strings with a swipe of her hand and let those lifeless bodies slump to the ground. That girl's shiny red hair was vivid against the grey concrete, dizzyingly bright as the street around her bled black and white. Her eyes were closed, because she was dead now, and dead things didn't need to see.

She was dead.

They all were.

​Dead.

Wait a minute.

​What?

​What the fuck have I done?

*        *        *        *        *

For a long, long time, Ember stood there, letting the colour bleed back into her thoughts, trying to jam the reason back into her empty head, but it wouldn't stay. The tears didn't come at first; the heat from her monstrous eyes was evaporating them, reducing them to steam as soon as they touched her skin.

Then, suddenly, she was cold, and the street was dark, and she was able to cry again. Her black-and-white vision blurred to grey, blotted out by wave upon wave of tears. They were hot. Hot, hot tears against her cold, cold skin.

​Every heartbeat sent shockwaves through her body. Every thought that crossed her mind left her just that little bit emptier. Time passed.

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