Welcome to Emberly

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 should happen. But sometimes, real life isn't quite as simple as the books you read, and when you've spent years waiting for destiny to come knocking on your door, the idea of being patient 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 so you do?
Believe it or not, the answer to that one is just as simple.
You take matters into your own hands.

*FINALIST in Movella of the Year 2017!*

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21. All Alone

Black jeans. Black t-shirt. Black gloves. Black hoodie. She grabbed each item from its drawer and flung it onto the bed, beginning to undress as quickly as she could. Where were her parents? Had they been called into school already? It was her dad’s day off, but he wasn’t here. Good thing, too. Was the door locked? She didn’t know. She hadn’t used it to get in. As she flung off her blazer and kicked off her shoes, she wondered how long she would have before he came home and noticed that there was an intruder in his missing daughter’s bedroom, doing her best to tear the place apart.

The answer, as it turned out, was not very long.

The quiet scraping sound of a key in the lock sent a violent shiver of fear down her spine, freezing her solid as she stood in the ragged pool of daylight that leaked in through the hole in the wall. The window had been closed and locked, and she had been on the outside, so she’d torn the whole thing away at once- glass, frame and all, cheap bricks crumbling and collapsing like wet sand. The hole extended the full height of the room, forming a doorway to nowhere. She was choking back the dust that danced in the daylight even as she choked back the heartbeats that thumped in her throat.

The conversation going on in the kitchen was little more than a gentle, low-pitched hum, like she was listening to a bad recording of her parents, or listening to them whisper her name into her ear as she lay dreaming. Wake up, Valerie. It’s just a bad dream. Wake up, honey. We’re here for you. She could only hear fragments of what they were saying.

“…find her.”

Then, “…stay with you for a while.”

A few seconds passed and she wrenched her body out of its stupor, grabbing her schoolbag from where it lay on the floor and stuffing most of the black clothing into it. Her shirt was half unbuttoned, but instead of taking it off, she just shoved her hoodie on over it and did up the zip as quietly as she could. Shoes. She wasn’t wearing any shoes. After a moment’s hesitation, she stepped back into her Doc Martens; they’d meant a lot to Valerie, after all, and she was leaving sixteen years’ worth of memories in the dust. Might as well bring just one along for the ride. One final piece of her, hanging on for dear life.

As she took a single step towards the sunlight, she felt the wooden floor shift slightly beneath her feet, giving a loud and unmistakable creak.

Fear slammed into her heart like a knife. The conversation in the kitchen stopped suddenly, but the silence didn’t last; less than a second later, two sets of footsteps were hammering out twin trails along the landing. She didn’t move. She couldn’t. She still had her back to her bedroom door as it swung silently open, but she could hear the floor protesting beneath the weight of the intruders. Creak. Groan. It did that a lot. The ground could have broken into splinters at her feet, the whole building could have toppled down around her, and she still wouldn’t have moved. She didn’t even turn her head.

“Val?”

“Get out.”

The words left her lips before she even had time to think. The voice she used wasn’t her own. It was dead, cold, full of icy malice that burned her tongue as she spat it out.

Two more sounds. A creak as someone took a step into the room.

Then a sob.

She lost it.

“Get OUT! GET OUT! Get away from me, or I SWEAR TO GOD, I’ll give you a reason to!” Her body was still but her hands were fitful, clutching at the air, making it dance away from her touch and fill the room with her fear. Suddenly, everything was moving. Still staring at the wall, she couldn’t see it, but she could feel it; she was tearing her old bedroom apart at the seams. “Get AWAY from me! GET AWAY FROM ME!” Paint, cracked. Furniture, wrecked. Throat, aching. There was another creak on the floor right behind her, and she dragged her thoughts back into her head one-by-one and grabbed her bag of clothes from the floor as her feet started running towards the light. Running.

She reached the edge. The room behind her was a shattered wreck. Still. Silent.

Creak.

“I… I love you.”

Valerie said nothing. She just closed her eyes, took a breath that tasted like blood and ice in her mouth, and let herself fall.

*        *        *        *        *

She got changed in the grimy bathroom of a service station miles from home. Nobody had given her so much as a suspicious glance on her way in, even though she’d walked through the door with her hood up and her head down, wearing half a school uniform, her tights laddered all the way up her legs. Maybe they were used to seeing strange stuff here. Maybe not. Who the hell cared? She hadn’t been yelled at or shot or smiled at, and that was all that mattered. She was invisible. Untouchable. The mirror on the wall was cracked, scratched, stained, but that didn’t matter. She didn’t want to look into it anyway. She pulled off her school shirt and let the thin, useless thing flutter onto the ground, deciding to start a pile there on the wet tiles of things she wouldn’t miss. Shirt. Tie. School books. Before she removed her skirt, she pulled the jeans on over the top of her ruined tights, grateful for every scrap of extra warmth she could get. It was, after all, a cold, cold day, and in her experience, cold days tended to be followed by colder ones.

And it’s not like anyone’s gonna be inviting us out of the cold.

I mean, just LOOK at yourself.

For some reason, she raised a hand to her shoulder, wincing as her shaking fingers traced the raised, bone-white line of her scar. She could still feel the cold metal of that knife plunging into her skin, still see the dark glint of that boy’s eyes, the smile that spread across his darkened face as he hurt her. It wasn’t the only mark her mistakes had left. Her best friend’s handprint stood out against one wrist, vivid and purple and aching, and her skin felt weirdly tight there, too- almost as if Raegan was still holding her. Something to remember her by, Valerie thought. Her other hand crept up her bare back, tracing out the shape of her spine. There was her oldest scar- a pinkish jumble of ruined flesh set against her backbone, dating back to the day she had fallen from the sky. That one, at least, hadn’t been her fault. She looked so vulnerable, standing there in just her bra and jeans with each rib painting a sharp slash of shadow onto her stomach; it was easy for her to kid herself that none of it had been her fault. From the neck down, at least, she was the victim. But her face…

Look at yourself.

She did look at herself, walking towards the mirror beneath the flickering strip-light. The first thing she noticed- of course- was that her eyes still hadn’t changed back, even though two full hours had passed since she had last used her powers. The second thing she noticed was how bright they were. The red light was bleeding so messily from her eye sockets that her two eyes blurred into one, and even when she squinted, desperate to see her face beneath it all, her vision was full of red-and-white spots. As she stepped closer to the mirror in an effort to see herself, it was clear that there was something else wrong with her. The skin around her eyes was horribly red and swollen, caked all the way down her cheeks with black residue from her eyeliner. Burned. It looked just like the burn on her wrist. And it hurt, so much. It had never hurt her before. Not this much. Even as she stared at her own ruined face in that mirror, the pain was intensifying, white-hot knives stabbing black ragged holes like cigarette burns through the fabric of her vision. The pain was exquisite. She wanted to cry, but she waited, and waited, and the tears didn’t come. She couldn’t bear to wait for them any longer. And she couldn’t afford to be weak; not now. She pulled on her t-shirt, laced her shoes, zipped up her hoodie, grabbed her bag, and left that sorry little heap of possessions on the wet floor as she walked out into the dark and the cold.

*        *        *        *        *

You remember this place, don’t you, Valerie? The voice in her head was talking to her again. It was closer than ever, and it sounded so… real. She could almost imagine that the cold wind pressing against the side of her face was its breath as it whispered deep into her ear.

You’re on top of the tallest building in the city. It used to be a newspaper office, but it’s been abandoned for a few years now. I bet you didn’t know that, did you? I did. The company went bankrupt. We saw it in the paper. You probably don’t remember. That’s understandable, I suppose. As you look at it now, you notice that the stairway door is still broken. It’s hanging crooked on its hinges, and the carpet inside the doorway is covered in damp stains, like three years’ worth of rain have soaked into it. It’s raining now, but you’ve barely noticed. You’re numb from the cold anyway, and you’re not even shivering. This is your life now, so you’d better get used to being cold and numb and lonely. Every night. Forever.

Your memory might not be the best, but I know you remember this place. This is where it all started. I know that you know where you are, because when your eyes found the rusty, reddish stain on the concrete by the water tank, your heart started beating faster. I felt it. I live inside your head, see? I can feel everything you feel. Granted, we don’t tend to feel a lot these days, but it’s a fairly good arrangement, wouldn’t you say? You do all the difficult stuff, you laugh, you smile, you cry, you lie, you feel a little less alive every day, but you live. And I offer moral support.

Everybody wins.

You think I’m just something you created, don’t you?

But you’re wrong.

I’m so much more than that.

Valerie hooked her hands over the edge of the five-foot concrete wall that surrounded the roof and pulled herself up to sit on it, resting her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands, leaning forwards so that she could look down. Sixty metres below her feet, black cars crawled along the back street, striping the darkness with thin streaks of red and white. If she could just pluck up the courage to lean a little further forwards, let herself slip…

Stop it.

“Stop what?” The words fell out on their own, sounding defiant and stubborn and spiked like the voice of a petulant kid.

All of this. Stop feeling bad for yourself. Stop wishing for all of this to be over. It’s only just beginning. So stop crying, stop praying, stop thinking of yourself as the victim. You’re stronger than that.

More than anything, stop ignoring me.

“I have to ignore you,” Valerie said blankly.

Why?

Because…” Valerie closed her eyes and sighed. “You’re like a stray fucking animal, aren’t you? If I keep feeding you, you’ll just come back for more. Again and again, and…” Her hands slid from her chin to her temple and she mumbled, “I don’t have anything else to give you, so why don’t you leave me alone and go find someone else to suck the life out of?”

 But I’ve really gotten attached to you, Valerie. And I don’t want anyone else. You’re special. There’s nobody else quite like you.

Except your friend, I guess. What’s her name again? I think it began with an R. It’s been so long since we last saw her, hasn’t it? Or maybe it hasn’t. Only a few hours. You already miss her more than you’ve ever missed anyone in your life.

Do you love her?

​Valerie hugged her knees to her chest and said nothing.

Not that it matters. I was just curious.

She loves you. More than anything.

Why would you hurt her like that?

Sorry. I got a bit off-topic there, didn’t I? Point is, she’s special, too. But she’s much too stubborn for me. Never does as she’s told. You, on the other hand… I’m surprised by how easy you were to break. Even if it was just for a moment. Thing is, you’re so powerful, a moment was all it took.

“Shut up,” she said weakly. “You’re nothing. I’m just imagining you, for fuck’s sake. You’re nothing.” She wasn’t sure if she believed it herself.

So, I’m nothing.

I don’t exist.

What does that make you?

“Crazy?” She collapsed onto the concrete, lying on her back so that the rain fell onto her face. The water made little hissing sounds as it struck her burning skin. “If you’re fake, I’m crazy.”

And?

Valerie closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself, desperate for the kind of warmth that only another person could have given her. “And alone.”

Alone.

Your friends are gone. Your family is gone. At the moment, you’re not really processing it, but it’ll hit you in the morning. The second you wake up and realise that you’re not in your bed, you’ll realise that it’s too late. Too late. Too late for tears, too late for apologies, too late for goodbyes. It’s too late for your parents. They’ve probably already begun to regret the day they took you in. And as for your friends… well, you’ve destroyed everything you spent so long building for them. You were so afraid that they’d abandon you, weren’t you? So afraid to be anything other than what they wanted you to be. Too bad you ended up scaring them away instead. You were doing such a good job of pretending, too.

She hadn’t been pretending. That she was sure of.

You scared away everyone that’s ever cared about you.

And now, you’re all alone in this big wide world.

But that’s okay, isn’t it?

If you get too scared, you can just burn that whole big wide scary world to the ground.

You could.

If you really wanted to.

“I don’t want to.”

Well, who knows.

You might change your mind, soon enough.

What if she did? There was no telling how long she’d be on the run, but it was all flashing past her eyes in the space of a second. She imagined bumping into somebody by accident and watching them run away from her as soon as they saw her face, hugging and crying and talking herself to sleep every night with nothing to keep her warm, a thousand sleepless nights spent on a thousand different rooftops, scouring the red-and-white striped roads below her for the cyan flash of sirens that would send her spinning back into the safety of the sky.

On the plus side, you’ll never have to attend another maths lesson.

What if she lost her mind? How long would it take? A year? A month? Less?

She shook her head and told herself, no.

Never.

She had to keep her head. Not for her own sake; for her parents, for Raegan, for her friends, for every person she’d ever hurt, for every person she’d never met and never would.

She was past saving. They weren’t.

“You were right about one thing, you know,” Valerie said. There was no answer. Of course there wasn’t; there was nobody there, and that was just the way she liked it. She was nobody’s fucking puppet. All of this was hers. This was her city, and her power, and her story, and she was in control of it all, this beautiful fucking mess she’d created, and she was going to see all of it through to the end.

She stood up on shaking legs and used one hand to pull her hood down, letting the wind play with her hair. The smile came on its own.

“This shit isn’t over yet."

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