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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18. I've Got a Bad Feeling About This

As Evelyn pushed the front door shut behind her and stepped down onto the pavement, she looked up at the blank, pale sky above her and realised that she had absolutely no idea how she was feeling. That kind of indecision, she knew, was poison to someone like her, so she swung her schoolbag over her shoulder, forced a spring into her step, and set about trying to organise her thoughts.

On the one hand, she conceded, there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the day that lay ahead. For instance, the November sunlight was warm against her skin as she walked, turning the foggy streets ahead into gentle rivers of golden mist, and that told her that it was probably going to be a really nice day as far as weather was concerned. It was Valerie’s birthday, too. This meant that the loudest person Evelyn knew was probably going to be even louder and more delirious than normal, which might have sounded ​like an annoying thing to have to deal with, but Evelyn wasn't easily annoyed, and she liked seeing other people happy, so that was a good thing. On top of that, she had French and Drama today- her favourite subjects- and she was really proud of the essay she'd written the previous night for French. She’d put two subjunctive verbs in it, she remembered, and although she wasn’t quite sure if she’d conjugated the second one right, she knew that there was at least a ​fairly ​decent chance that she had. She had so many positive things to think about; the sunny side of her mind picked them out in gold for her, making them easy to see, but not necessarily- she realised- quite so easy to feel. ​And today, she just wasn't feeling it.

Her problems had begun as soon as she'd woken up. By that point, thirty-nine hours had passed since Raegan and Valerie had told their impossible story, but for whatever reason, Evelyn had spent that time- and her energy- ignoring it as best she could. Wake up, smile, go to school, work hard, keep smiling, go home, do homework, go to bed, have nice dreams. That had been her routine for as long as she could remember, and it had worked for her up till then, and she hadn't seen any reason to put it all on hold the moment something strange came along. The day, then, had been normal. But the night had been different.

Evelyn remembered sitting up to do her homework with the curtains open to the darkness outside, and all night long, she had been sure that she felt eyes ​on her. Red, glowing eyes. And as soon as she had opened her eyes in the morning, she had taken a deep breath and finally- ​finally- asked herself the killer question. ​Do I believe in all that stuff now? And the answer, to her utter shock, had been yes. ​In eight sleepless hours, she had gone from caring deeply about her friends to trusting their word more than she trusted the laws of physics themselves. Did she believe that a human being could fly, or snap necks with a flick of their hand? Absolutely. But did she believe that her friends would lie to her about it? Never. Never in a million years. One thing she had learned in all her sixteen years of struggling to make and keep friends was that it was much, much easier to trust people than it was to push them away. Less painful, too.

​As cheesy as it sounded, the friendship of those three weirdos was the most valuable thing she had ever owned. They kept her sane. More importantly, though- as Mara had told her- she kept them ​sane. Evelyn gritted her teeth and quickened her pace as she turned down Mara’s street. She couldn’t afford to let all this messed-up stuff mess her ​up. She loved her life, and she loved her friends, and she was the voice of reason in the midst of the chaos they created, and she held the team together, just like Mara had said, and she had to keep that up now. Now and forever.

As she stepped up onto her best friend’s doorstep and reached for the doorbell, Evelyn decided that she was still happy, and that she would continue to be happy if it fucking killed her.

Evelyn rang the doorbell and waited. After a few seconds, Mara opened the door, and she was smiling, and that made Evelyn's happiness come a little more easily. She beamed back. “Hi," she said. "How've you been?" A split-second after the question had left her lips, though, Evelyn realised that she knew exactly what Mara was going to say.

I’m okay, thanks. You?

“I’m okay, thanks,” Mara said with a smile. “You?”

That was weird, she thought.

Then, Guess I’d better get used to thinking that.

Evelyn returned the smile automatically. “Yeah. Same.” She racked her brains for something else to talk about, but when she drew a blank, she realised that it didn’t really matter. She knew that Mara preferred silence to small talk, and Evelyn liked being with her even when there was nothing to say.

*        *        *        *        *

Five minutes later, they were on the very edge of the city, turning down Raegan’s road. The fog rolled in across the fields on their left like waves across a spectral sea, and to their right, skyscrapers rose up from the ground in towering columns of mist, melting seamlessly into the clouds, looking like they had grown down from the sky above them rather than up from the earth beneath them. They walked up Raegan’s driveway, and Evelyn stepped up onto the doorstep and grabbed the knocker. A few seconds after she had knocked, they heard faint footsteps approaching them from inside the house and stepped back as the door swung slowly open. Raegan stepped out with a grim expression on her face, and for the third day in a row, as she stood on the doorstep of her lavish three-storey house, she looked like she’d spent a month sleeping rough. Her red hair was knotted and greasy, and her grey eyes were foggy and distant. Slowly, carefully, she guided the door shut behind her and said, “Hey.”

“Hi, Raegan,” Evelyn said quietly. “You okay?”

“Yep.”

They started down the road, and as Evelyn opened her mouth to say something, she allowed herself a moment to marvel at how normal everything suddenly felt. With every new person that joined the group, every friend that didn’t bring up the subject Evelyn dreaded, the foggy blur of wrongness and emptiness and confusion that had lain so thickly on her world that morning melted a little more, showing her that everything she cared about was just the way she had left it.

“So,” Evelyn said with a smile, “what did you guys get for Val’s birthday?”

​Raegan smiled. "You guys go first."

"Um, okay." Mara smiled sheepishly. “I’m not very good at presents,” she said. “I just got her a makeup kit. I figured she’d like this one because it has this really fancy black eyeliner pen in it, and she said hers was running out the other day, so…”

Evelyn smiled. “Nice.”

“What’d you get?”

“I couldn’t think of anything really good, so I just got loads of little things. Like…” She raised a hand to count on. “Some earrings, some chocolate, a new homework diary-”

Raegan smiled slightly. “She has one of those, Ev. The school hands them out for free, remember?”

“I know. But this one’s better. It’s got little memo pads and stuff in it. And it’s, like, bright red, so there’s no way she’s going to lose it like she did with her year 9 one. Oh- and I also got her a gift card for that shop she likes in town.”

“You mean that weird little goth place?”

“Um, yeah.” She smiled. “It’s kind of scary in there, isn’t it? I had to go in to get the card, and the assistants were all staring at me like I’d just dropped from the damn sky.”

Raegan snorted. “Probably because you’re always wearing something flowery or lacy or pink, Ev. You were messing with their aesthetic.”

Evelyn smiled again. “What did you get her, Raegan?” she asked. Raegan didn’t say a thing. Instead, she just etched an incredibly self-satisfied grin onto her face and pulled something out of her pocket. Mara gasped. Evelyn smiled. “Wait, seriously?

Raegan was holding a little white box with a gigantic red gift bow on it. Beneath the ribbon, Evelyn could make out the word iPhone.

“You got her an iPhone? That’s…” Evelyn grinned wider. “Oh my God. You’re, like, the best bestie ever.

“Nope,” Raegan said, sliding the box back into her pocket. “I’m just the richest bestie ever. No friend of mine is going to have a shitbox Blackberry past their sixteenth birthday. My fancy arse won’t allow it.”

Mara smiled. “Way to make us feel inadequate.”

“No. I just gotta get her the best present, because I’m her best friend,” Raegan said seriously. “That’s how it works. Know your place, peasants.”

Mara elbowed Evelyn, and Evelyn turned to look at her, watching with a small smile as her best friend drew quotation marks in the air with her fingers and mouthed the phrase, “best friend.” Evelyn grinned wider, but her smile quickly dropped when Raegan turned around and said with a grim smile of her own, “I know what you’re whispering about, you little fuckin’ arseholes. I also know that Val happens to be straight. So I’m gonna have to settle with the role of best friend for now, ain’t I?”

Evelyn smiled as sweetly as she could. “What d’you mean, ‘for now?’ You mean, until she realises that you’re the only one for her?”

Raegan closed her eyes and sighed. “Shut,” she said slowly, “up.

“Sure thing!” Evelyn beamed. Mara sniggered, and as Raegan turned away, her steel-grey glare could have burned through metal. They turned the corner, and Evelyn caught sight of the bus stop. She frowned. What she saw there, she realised, was abnormal in precisely two ways. The first was that Valerie had arrived there before them- Evelyn could see her sitting there, holding a silver and red foil birthday balloon that caught the sunlight as it bobbed back and forth in the wind. The second thing, though…

“Val,” yelled Raegan as Valerie turned her head to face them, “first of all, happy birthday and shit. Second of all, how the fuck did you get up there?”

Valerie wasn’t sitting on the bench underneath the shelter. She was sitting on the Perspex roof of the shelter itself, feet swinging ten feet from the ground, raising a hand to wave at them without so much as a wobble, acting like what she was doing was the most normal thing in the world.

“Oh, hey, dudes!” Valerie said loudly. Her words sounded weirdly forced, almost overacted, like she was reciting from a script. “I thought you’d never show up.”

Raegan snorted. “That’s rich coming from you, Val. The fuck’re you doing?”

Valerie raised a hand and flicked her index finger downwards, gesturing at the bench. “It was broken. Had to find somewhere to sit, didn’t I?”

Something’s wrong.

Raegan smiled. “You will literally fall and break your fucking face, you idiot,” she said. “Though I have to admit, it’d be pretty funny if the reason for your death was ‘trying to look cool in front of your friends on your birthday.’ That’d be, like, the most you thing ever.”

“Yeah, that’d be fucking hilarious,” Valerie said offhandly. She hooked her hands around the edge of the roof and flung herself neatly from her perch, landing on her feet in front of Raegan. Raegan, Evelyn and Mara stared at her. “Though I don’t think that’s gonna be much of a problem. I’ve fallen from higher places, see?”

Something’s wrong with her, Evelyn’s mind was screaming at her. She frowned and looked away. This wasn’t just a feeling anymore- it was something else, something hotter and stronger and louder. Suddenly, Evelyn found that she was afraid to look at Valerie, and that fear made her curious, so she forced her head to turn, and after a little while, Valerie’s green eyes swivelled to look back. Evelyn could have sworn that she could hear her friend’s gaze snapping onto hers- it made a clicking sound, like a door being unlocked, and suddenly, Evelyn could hear a hundred voices at once, humming and stinging and buzzing against each other like bees in a hive, and she frowned hard, trying to focus on them, but her head was full of holes, and the sounds kept slipping through. Some of them, she realised, sounded like Valerie’s voice - those ones were quiet, whispering things Evelyn couldn’t make out- but the rest were darker, deeper, and they screamed and cried and laughed, but their laughter was odd, disjointed, like a track played on repeat again and again and again and again, and Evelyn was so focused on listening to it that she didn’t even notice that her vision had gone black until she heard another voice, separate from the rest, throbbing through the darkness like a searchlight.

“Ev?” Mara’s voice slammed through her head again. “What the hell are you doing?”

Evelyn opened her eyes, not knowing when or why she had closed them, and suddenly, the world was rushing back to surround her all over again. “Um…” She didn’t know what to say. Her head hurt- badly, too, like someone had taken a power drill to her temple. “Um, I dunno.” Evelyn laughed lightly. “What am I doing?”

“You just kinda closed your eyes and started, like, swaying,” said Raegan. “The fuck’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Evelyn said truthfully. Nothing was going on. “I have a really bad headache.”

Mara frowned. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Evelyn smiled. “Does anyone, like, have some…”

“I got you.” Valerie dug her hand into the front pocket of her bag and pulled out a foil packet of Aspirin. “I always carry these." She turned to face the others. “Shall we go?”

Raegan sighed. “Sure.”

They started walking- Raegan and Mara ahead, Evelyn and Valerie behind- and Valerie handed Evelyn the packet. As Evelyn cracked out a pill and popped it into her mouth, she turned to Valerie and asked, “You get migraines, or something, then?”

Valerie laughed and said, “Not exactly. But I do get some weird shit with my head sometimes. Those help to, uh… let’s say, suppress it.” Evelyn went to hand Valerie the packet back, but Valerie shook her head. “Nah, dude, you can keep them. I don’t need them today. Or, like, ever again.”

She laughed suddenly, like she was remembering something funny from a long time ago, and Evelyn frowned. “Valerie,” she said slowly as they turned onto the main road, “are you okay?”

Valerie stopped dead in her tracks and turned to look at Evelyn, the smile that had been frozen on her face all morning melting away into nothing. Her face went white and her eyes went cold and she shook her head slowly, her gaze flashing briefly red as her eyes caught the fiery glow of the sunrise. She didn’t say anything, but that didn’t matter, because somehow- somehow- Evelyn knew exactly what she was thinking.

Help me.

Evelyn frowned. What the fuck was happening?

Help me. There it was again. It sounded, Evelyn fancied, like somebody was standing right next to her, whispering into her ear as she walked, though she couldn’t see them or even feel their breath against her skin. Valerie blinked hard and turned away, but that voice- Valerie’s voice, Evelyn realised- was still whispering those two words into her ear.

Help me.

Help me.

Then, Stop me.

Evelyn closed her eyes, screwed them shut until sharpened shards of colour began to dig into her eyeballs, and suddenly, the sounds of the world around her faded into silence, and that voice was all she could hear.

Stop me. Oh God, please stop me. I don’t want to do this anymore. Please, God, someone, anyone. Help me. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t want to do this, but if nobody stops me, I think I’ll have to do it anyway. Please. Someone. Anyone. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me.

Evelyn didn’t know how long she stood there, stationary in the rushing crowds, listening to nobody in particular spill the bloody insides of their heart all over the gleaming floors and walls of her mind. All she knew was that, in the end, she was only dragged back to reality by the feeling of the cold wind chafing against the tear-tracks on her skin, though she had no memory of beginning to cry, and that by the time she opened her eyes again, Valerie was already long gone.

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