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!*


10. Crushing

The first thing Raegan noticed upon waking up was that she’d left the Xbox on. Of course she’d left the Xbox on; she’d fallen asleep in front of it, fully-clothed, with her head flung upside-down over the arm of the sofa and her blood weighing down her brain. As the flickering screen threw vivid shadows across the darkened room, two loops of the controller’s wire squeezed all the feeling from her wrist. Raegan often woke up like this, with manic music or undead moans or electronic screams from the TV erupting into her dreams, and so it made sense, really, that the second thing she noticed after waking up was that her life was still just as messy as ever.

As she changed yesterday’s uniform for a slightly fresher set and drowned herself in a cloud of deodorant, she became aware of a third thing: her mother’s voice, yelling her name.

“Raegan!” came the unmistakable screech from downstairs. “Are you up, sweetheart?”

“Yeah!” Raegan yelled, wondering as she did so whether the reply would come out sounding more like ugh, and then wondering why she still bothered to care about what her mother thought of her. Sweetheart. Her mother had called her sweetheart. It was funny, really, that the same mother who used endearing pet-names on her daughter in the morning would have reverted to the same tongue-in-cheek comments about lesbians and diets by the time the sun went down. That the same mother who seemed so desperate for her daughter to come downstairs at breakfast would have ushered her back up into the attic with a warning if anyone important was coming for dinner. Raegan would have acted upset, but she liked it up here in her cocoon of overprivileged loneliness, games meant for ten-year-old boys clogging up the expensive TV, chocolate wrappers and crisp packets littering the glossy mahogany floor. It was her safe space.

“Well, get down here, darling. Your breakfast’s going cold.”

“Darling,” Raegan muttered under her breath. “I’ll give you darlin’.”

Slinging her perfect backpack over the shoulder of her perfect school blazer and closing the perfect door of her perfect bedroom, Raegan McKenna let the beginnings of yet another defective day wash over her messy life.

*        *        *        *        *

“Raegan, sweetie?” Raegan’s mother set her cup of tea on the table with an annoyingly dainty clink. Raegan had always hated tea; she thought that it tasted like murky dishwater, but it was an English thing, and her mother was English, so she guessed it was a matter of national pride, or something, rather than a case of liking it. Her mother curled her perfectly lipsticked lips into a smile and said in her deceptively sweet voice, “Why are you dressed like that?”

Raegan looked down at herself, confused. Then she looked up again. Her father wasn’t wearing his usual neat suit and tie, and Connor wasn’t wearing his school uniform.

Of course they fucking weren’t. It was Saturday.

“FUCKING ‘ell!” she yelled, throwing her bag onto the floor with a deafening clunk.

“Raegan, language! Honestly, darling. Have you taken your pills?” Her father didn’t even look up from his breakfast as he spoke, so he didn’t see Raegan glowering at him for a full five seconds before she left the room. Her mother did, though all she did was sigh.

As Raegan stomped back up the long staircase towards her bedroom, her footsteps echoed endlessly in the cavernous hallway, but they still weren’t loud enough, because even as she slammed her bedroom door and went to change, she could hear her mother laughing at her from the kitchen. The laughter, to begin with, hurt, rubbing her thoughts raw, sparking anger in the chaotic depths of her mind, but she shut her eyes and shook her head, once, twice, and the anger faded. She hadn’t taken her pills that morning, but as long as she had a say in it, that perfect little white bottle with its innocuous little white pills could go fuck itself. She didn’t want those things fucking with her brain anymore. Who gave a shit if she was angry anyway? Everyone got angry from time to time; everyone, that was, aside from the three people sat around the table in the room below her. Her so-called “family” never got angry; it was always confusion or amusement or fake-sounding sorrow that ran through their voices when they spoke to her. They were the perfect fucking family, all right, and she was fucking everything up for them, and the whole lot of them could go fuck themselves.

Okay, then- all teenagers got angry from time to time. It was a hormonal thing. It was normal. Wasn’t it?

Yes. Yes, it was. She was sure of that, however often her psychiatrist tried to convince her, in that empty, annoyingly gentle voice of his, that it wasn’t.  At least, the feeling of anger was normal. But getting so angry at someone twice your size that you marched right up to them with your fists clenched, ready to start a fight? That probably wasn’t so normal. Punching an older kid so hard in the face that you broke his cheekbone and knocked him unconscious? Even less normal. An eleven-year-old girl, expelled from her first high school after less than a week for somehow causing a bully to spend three nights in A&E with a single punch?

Abnormal. Definitely abnormal.

Although she was much happier now that she had been banished from that poncy shithole of a school, the events that had led to her expulsion still bothered her a lot. Then again, if she hadn’t been thrown out of that place, she never would have met Valerie, so…

Time to take your meds, idiot.

After she had swallowed two of those little white pills and flung the bottle across the room, she sank down the wall and sighed. She wasn’t planning on going back downstairs; she wasn’t hungry anyway. Besides, she was sick of all that Weightwatchers crap her mother kept trying to feed her. She had all the food she needed up here, hidden under her bed in a big plastic box she’d stolen from the attic. In fact, she had no idea why she ever bothered to leave her bedroom, why she didn’t just stay up here, playing video games and eating junk food and waiting for her life to fall apart around her. She wasn’t sure that anyone would miss her if she did. She reached under the bed and grabbed the box that held her secret stash, pulling the lid off and picking out a packet of crisps. Then she popped open the bag and dug her hand in.

So much for not being hungry.

As the minutes ticked by, the loneliness began to gnaw at the edges of her mind. She didn’t want to be here with her family; she wanted to see her friends. Maybe she could invite them over. Yeah, that sounded good- maybe, to get away from her family, they could walk up to the KFC near the school and grab some lunch. She seized her iPhone from her bedside table and selected a name from her contact list. Halfway through the third ring, she heard her best friend’s voice floating down the line towards her, and as usual, she couldn’t help but smile.

Then she sighed, and her smile faded.

God fucking damn it.

*        *        *        *        *

“Thank you!” Evelyn’s voice was bright as she took her food from the bored-looking twenty-something behind the counter and made her way towards the table where Mara was sitting. Mara hadn’t ordered anything, offering instead to ‘guard the table.’ Apparently, she had already eaten. Raegan stepped forwards, fishing her card out of the back pocket of her jeans.

“Uh, I’ll get a six-piece bargain bucket and a large Pepsi. And…” She turned back towards Valerie and asked, “What d’you want, Val?”

Valerie made a show out of blinking and jabbing her finger into her chest. “You’re offering to pay for me?” she asked, her voice loaded with manufactured surprise. Raegan, as usual, played along with Valerie’s charade of modesty, shooting her friend the kind of smile that only Valerie could force onto her sullen face.

“Sure, Val,” she said, spinning the card between her fingers, “I just got my allowance.”

Valerie grinned, her green eyes glittering. “Ah. So what you’re saying is, I could order six of everything on the menu and it wouldn’t make a dent in your account.” She grinned wider and her eyes shone brighter. Raegan was pretty sure that Valerie had just insulted her, and if anyone else had dared to do that, she would have lost it, but she made an exception for Valerie. She was just too…

Raegan didn’t know what it was about Valerie that could make her anger dissipate with a single glance. Maybe it was the colour of her eyes- that lovely, calming green. A while back, Raegan’s psychiatrist had told her that green was a calming colour. Something to do with it being the opposite of red. He’d encouraged her to spend time outside, where there were green trees and grass and shit, but even Raegan’s mother had snorted at that advice, and anyway, the pretty green of Valerie’s eyes was all she had ever needed.

“Uh, Rae?”

Valerie was the only person who had ever called her Rae. Normally, nicknames pissed her off, but Valerie couldn’t piss her off. Not Valerie, with her happy green eyes brightened by her dark eyeliner, the platform soles on her shoes failing to bring her anywhere close to Raegan’s shoulder height. Any other girl who dressed the way Valerie did, in her leather jackets and ripped jeans and clunky boots, might have found it difficult to be beautiful, but Valerie managed it effortlessly.

“Raegan? Dude?”

Valerie was staring at her.

Fucking hell.

Raegan blinked and frowned. “Uh, what did you just say?”

“I said, the fact that you’ve got your allowance means that I’ll be able to buy everything in this place six times over, and your bank account won’t even notice.” Valerie grinned. “And that’s funny, because you’re rich as shit. Or, at least, it WOULD have been funny if I hadn’t had to explain it.”

“No, I got the joke. I was just, uh, confused. I mean…” Raegan trailed off. “I only get eighty quid a month. That’s not enough to, uh…”

Valerie laughed again. “Seriously, dude? Talk about first world problems. My allowance is whatever I manage to fish out from under the sofa cushions each month.” She reached into her pocket and came out with a single copper coin. “For instance, here is my November allowance. It’s shiny. See?”

Raegan sighed and smiled. “Val, do you want anything or not?”

“Actually, you know what? I’m not all that hungry.”

Raegan frowned. “Then why did you join the queue, you moron?”

“I thought you’d need some help carrying your food. I mean, you gotta admit, Rae, that is a lot of food. You do realise it’s advertised as a sharing bucket, right?”

Pulling her card out of the device on the counter, Raegan picked up her tray and began to walk back towards the table. “Yeah, okay. You got me. But I’m fat and lazy as shit. I need all this, see?” As they sat down at the table opposite Evelyn and Mara, Valerie reached across and grabbed a piece of chicken from the top of Raegan’s bucket.

“Maybe,” she said, “but I’m sure you won’t miss one piece.”

“Valerie, you arsehole. I can’t believe you just took my fucking food.”

Raegan was trying to sound upset, but she couldn’t help but smile as Valerie grabbed a handful of chips from her bag while maintaining eye contact and said, “Sucks for you.”

“You’ve been my best friend for, what? Five years?”

“Four years and, like, two months,” Valerie corrected through a mouthful of Raegan’s food.

“So you should know that nobody steals my food and lives. Nobody.”

Nobody except you.

Raegan stuffed a piece of chicken into her mouth and, as a result, said nothing. In fact, she managed to continue saying nothing for the next twenty minutes or so, which was a pretty solid achievement.

“So,” said Mara, “Do you guys want to, um, talk about anything?”

Raegan swallowed her last mouthful of food and said, “Not really much going on that we could talk about. Is there?”

Evelyn cleared her throat, placing her rubbish neatly on the plastic tray in front of her, and said, “Did you hear about the results from that crime scene we saw in September? You know- the Ashwell Alley thing?”

Valerie smiled slightly. “Being a bit morbid there, huh, Evelyn?”

Evelyn smiled sheepishly. “I guess so. I just find that stuff interesting.”

“What’d they find?” asked Raegan. For some reason, though she preferred to keep to herself as much as possible, she had thought about that murder scene an unhealthy amount since they had stumbled across it back in September. Maybe it was because she had been so sure that she had lost Valerie in that alleyway, or maybe it was something else. Either way, the official statement for the murders had taken a horribly long time to go out to the press, and even that had been vague and confused, as if the person who had written it had been just as clueless about it all as the general public. All anyone knew was that there had been nine victims, five weapons, and nothing else anywhere on the scene. It was… weird, to say the least.

One of the victims had been the older brother of a girl in their year. Grace, her name was. His had been Rick. Raegan had never talked to either of them, but the girl still hadn’t come back to school after a month and a half of grieving, and Raegan felt bad for her.

Evelyn took a deep breath and said, “Well, there’s not a whole lot of new information. They figured out the cause of death, though. All of them had…” She shuddered. “Broken necks. In the exact same place. They found some blood, too, though. On one of the knives.”

Valerie leaned across the table. “Wait a sec. I thought you said they all had broken necks. Where’d the blood come from?”

“They did. But the article I read said the blood didn’t match any of the victims. They’re going to run tests on it, see if they can figure out whose it is.”

“Ah. Okay.”

Valerie sat back down in her seat next to Raegan, and for a few seconds, there was silence. Then Raegan picked up the tray of rubbish in one hand and said, “So- you guys done?”

“Yeah,” said Evelyn, getting up from her seat. Mara followed suit, and Raegan walked over to dump the rubbish in the bin.

“We gonna leave?”

Evelyn and Mara nodded, but Valerie ran a hand through her hair and said, “Hang on a sec. I just need to go to the bathroom real quick. Wait for me?”

“Sure,” Raegan said. Valerie smiled and turned to walk away, and Raegan, Evelyn and Mara sat down on a bench outside to wait for her. The sky above them was livid grey. Time passed. Then Raegan felt something pressing against her arm. Evelyn was elbowing her. She turned around and shot her friend an inquiring look.

“So,” said Evelyn. She didn’t say anything else.

“So what?”

“When are you going to tell her?”

Raegan frowned. “You fucking what?”

Then, Evelyn did something that Raegan would never have thought her capable of: she grinned mischievously. “You like her, right?”

For fuck’s sake.

I was doing so well.

She wasn’t going to give up yet, though. She forced her frown to deepen and said, “Uh, like who?”

Together, Mara and Evelyn said, “Valerie.”

Raegan hung her head, trying to hide her face beneath her hair, but she could practically feel the red glow emanating from beneath her red curls. “Yeah. I do. How long’ve you known?”

“Well, I don’t really know. For a while, I guess,” Evelyn said. “I’ve just, like, had this feeling. About you two. You know?”

Raegan sighed. “You wanna talk about feelings, Ev?” she said. Evelyn opened her mouth to answer, but at that moment, Valerie emerged into the late afternoon gloom through those sliding glass doors, her white-blonde hair shining golden in the sunlight, and Raegan smiled. Evelyn nudged her. Raegan wiped the smile from her face and stood up. She hoped that her face wasn’t still red. “So,” she said, “we gonna go?”

“Yep,” said Valerie. They walked together across the empty parking lot and along the long road that led back to Raegan’s house. Just as they were about to turn the corner onto Maple Court, a burst of loud rock music ripped through the warm silence of the day, and Valerie dug her phone out of her pocket and looked at the screen. “Ah, shit. It’s my dad. I gotta take this,” she said, tapping the screen. “Sorry, dudes.”

Raegan smiled slightly. “That’s okay,” she said.

Valerie smiled back, raising the phone to her ear and quickening her pace until she was walking twenty feet ahead. Raegan listened to her voice growing quieter and quieter for around ten seconds before she realised that she was still smiling like an idiot. She forced her features back into their usual cold scowl. Evelyn and Mara were walking either side of her, taking it in turns to dig their elbows into her arms. After a while, Mara snorted with laughter, and Raegan let out a low groan and hissed, “I swear to God, I will crush you, you tiny annoying motherfuckers.” Evelyn laughed. Raegan decided that the best course of action would be to pretend that her two friends didn’t exist, and kept her gaze focused on the pavement that lay straight ahead. Fittingly enough, straight ahead just so happened to be where Valerie was. Raegan watched as she stepped onto the pavement on the other side of the street, still talking into the phone she had pressed to her ear.

Even as she stepped down into that road, Raegan refused to let her gaze wander to either side, so she didn’t realise that the friends whose eyes she was trying to avoid were still waiting on the edge of the pavement behind her until it was too late to turn around.

Suddenly, her ears were full of the sound of blasting horns and screeching tyres and someone yelling her name. She didn’t know who it was, and before she had a chance to figure it out, she was flying backwards through the air.

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