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!*


6. No Good Reason

Mara had woken up that morning with her duvet flung back around her ankles and her arms wrapped tight around her pillow, hanging onto the thing like she was drowning and it was the only thing keeping her afloat, a castaway clinging to the wreckage of a dwindling dream. When she had opened her eyes, the first thing she had seen had been the sunlight, spilling through the gap in her curtains, lying in bright puddles across the floor. She hadn’t slept well; she never did. She had spent an average amount of time putting on her uniform, a little too long doing her makeup, and far too long staring at her reflection in the mirror. Then she had retrieved her homework from her desk and gone downstairs for breakfast. Her mother had made pancakes. Her little sister had been loud, her little brother had been quiet, and her big brother had still been in bed, insisting that now he had left school, he was never going to leave his room again unless the place- in his own words- ‘caught on fire’. And her father, as usual, had flashed her his most convincing smile and told her that she was the most beautiful girl in the world. She hadn’t believed him, but she had thanked him anyway. It had been a typical morning at best, and at worst, it had been the latest banal addition in the endless queue of identical days that made up her life. She had only been back at school for two weeks, but she was already getting sick of this routine.

Think positive.

It was now twenty minutes to one in the afternoon, and Mara was sitting on a bench outside the science block with her sketchbook balanced on her knee and her pencil case spilling its contents across the tabletop, far away from anyone that might try to ruin her day. Evelyn was sitting opposite her, working through the morning’s homework with that familiar look of calm determination etched across her face. Her pen flew confidently over the page as she wrote, dotting every full stop with a decisive flourish of satisfaction. In the eight years she had known her best friend, Mara had never asked Evelyn whether she actually liked doing her homework. She always looked like she was enjoying herself while she worked; then again, she approached everything with that same baffling enthusiasm, that same optimistic glow brightening her dark eyes. She was one of those people who could make you feel better just by smiling in your general direction. Most days, Evelyn’s smiles were enough to make Mara feel happy for hours at a time, but today, so far, they just hadn’t been enough. Some days were like that.

Mara looked back down at her page just as Evelyn looked up from hers and asked, “What are you drawing?”

“Uh, nothing,” Mara said, repositioning herself on the bench so that her sketchbook was hidden under the table. When she had finished outlining the last of the four figures on the page in black, she grabbed a coloured pencil from the table in front of her and added a little spray of yellow flame curling around the shortest one’s hand.

Evelyn smiled and said, “I seriously doubt that. And don’t even try telling me it’s not good, because you know I won’t believe you. Come on, show me!”

“Fine.” Mara handed her sketchbook over. Evelyn took it, her smile widening.

“That,” she said, “is so cool!”

Mara was about to say something in return when she was interrupted by somebody loudly saying, “What’s so cool?”

Valerie, having apparently materialized from nowhere, flung herself down on the bench next to Evelyn and leaned in to see what she was looking at. She grinned and exclaimed, “It’s us! Oh my God, dude, that is epic!”

Mara became suddenly aware of footsteps growing closer behind her just as a fourth voice yelled, “Oh my fucking God, I can’t believe what an arsehole Mrs Summers is!”

Raegan, unlike Valerie, was incapable of appearing suddenly; she was one of those people who made themselves heard long before coming into sight, partly because she tended to stomp everywhere rather than walk, and partly because she always seemed to be ranting about something. She collapsed onto the bench next to Mara and slammed her bag down on the floor at her feet just as Valerie asked, “What’s up, Rae?”

“That arse set us a fucking essay for three days’ time! I don’t have time for that bullshit, I’ve got important shit to do!” Her eyes shone with rage as she spoke and she looked ready to throttle something, her fist clutching fitfully at the air in front of her, but Valerie just raised an eyebrow in her direction and asked, “What important shit would that be?”

Raegan hesitated for a second with her brow furrowed and her hand frozen threateningly in mid-air. Then she relaxed, slumping down in her seat and saying quietly, “I was gonna play some GTA. Was looking forward to it all fucking day, as well.”

“Sucks, dude.” Valerie smiled. Then she said, “Hey, check out Mara’s drawing! It’s fucking epic.”

She turned the sketchbook around, and Raegan looked at it for a second before smiling slightly and saying, “That’s awesome. Last time I tried drawing, I had to lie down on the floor and count to ten, I got so fucking angry. How do you do it?”

“Um, I don’t know.” Mara could feel the heat seeping into her face already. She had never been good at dealing with compliments- probably because she could never quite bring herself to believe them. She had to admit, though, that she was pretty proud of this one. She had spent all day drawing herself and her three friends with the superpowers they wanted, and she was sure that she had gotten almost everything right- Evelyn’s hair, Raegan’s freckles, Valerie’s cocky grin. The only thing that was slightly off, in fact, was herself; the girl in the drawing was much prettier than the real-life version. She’d been reading comic books for as long as she could remember, and in her experience, superheroes didn’t tend to have acne and braces and oversized noses. Especially if they were girls. Ugly girls weren’t allowed to be heroes.

Valerie turned to Mara and said, “So- Evelyn’s got telepathy, Raegan’s got super strength, and I’ve got pyrokinesis. But you’re, uh, just kinda standing there. What’ve you got?”

“Uh, nothing, I guess. I couldn’t decide.”

“So you’re, like, the Batman of the squad?”


Valerie smiled, more gently this time. “Cool.”

“I’ll finish it later,” Mara said, taking her sketchbook back from Valerie and sliding it back into her bag. “Maybe I’ll add something in when I decide.”

“Cool,” said Valerie again, reaching into her own bag and retrieving her lunch. Raegan and Evelyn did the same. Mara didn’t. “What’s up, Mara? Are you not gonna eat?” asked Valerie.

“I ate at break.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Evelyn looked up and shot Mara a strange look. Mara looked away. For the next fifteen minutes, nobody said anything, and Mara didn’t dare look up from her lap in case Evelyn said something, mentioned to the others that she had been with Mara for the entirety of that morning’s break and she hadn’t eaten a thing. After a while, Raegan looked up from her food and said, “So- you guys see the video from Wednesday?”

“Yep,” said Valerie.

“Nope,” said Evelyn.

“No,” said Mara, already prepping herself to zone out, feeling that familiar twinge of annoyance tugging at her gut. For some reason, whenever her friends switched the subject to anything like this, she found herself fighting frustration. She had never understood why. Maybe her perpetual pessimism had turned her into a sceptic.

No. That isn’t it.

What was it, then? Did she find it boring? Was she just boring? She didn’t think so.

You’re scared for them.

Aren’t you?

As usual, Mara said nothing. She just kept her mind focused on nothing in particular and let her thoughts bleed from black to white to grey.

*        *        *        *        *

“Uh, Mara? You okay?” Valerie’s piercing voice sliced through Mara’s daydream, scattering her thoughts, shattering her stupor. As she blinked, once, twice, dragging her mind back to reality, her only thought was: Why is everyone always asking me if I’m okay?

“Um, yeah. Sorry. Zoned out for a second there.”

“A second?” Valerie raised an eyebrow. “Try forty-five minutes, dude. The bell just went.”

As her surroundings faded back into relevance around her, Mara noticed that Evelyn and Raegan had disappeared, leaving Valerie alone at the bench with her. Valerie had moved from her seat and was sitting on the tabletop, legs swinging idly back and forth, looking at Mara with the slightest hint of a smile still lingering on her lips.

“Oh. Crap. Sorry,” Mara said.

“It’s okay. The others had to leave a couple of minutes ago, but we’ve got Art now, so I thought I’d wait for you to, uh…” Valerie smiled. “Zone back in.”


“Shall we go?”


Mara stood up, hoisting her bag onto her shoulder as she went, and Valerie grabbed her own bag and jumped down from the table. As the two began to walk across the wet grass towards the main building, Mara found herself glancing periodically in Valerie’s direction. She couldn’t help it; strange as it was, she found her fascinating. She was, in every way, Mara’s exact opposite. While Mara walked with her head down and her hair veiling her face, Valerie kept her head held high wherever she went, pausing every now and then to comb her short hair away from her eyes with her fingers. Mara found herself wishing that she knew where her friend got her confidence, wondering what it was like to be so happy all day, every day. To her, it looked absolutely bloody exhausting.

Valerie flung the door open and they stepped through, leaving the cold, silvery September sunlight for the colder gloom of the lobby beyond and beginning to navigate the narrow maze of hallways and stairways that formed the school’s dark interior. In places, the carpet had peeled away from the floor beneath their feet, and a few patches of discoloured paint still clung to the walls of the narrow corridors, shaded with graffiti hastily scrawled in Sharpie. The grimy window at the top of the stairway leading to the first floor boasted a jagged hole some idiot had made with his shoe a few years back, allowing the wind to pour in and roll lazily along the hall. As they approached the door leading into room sixteen, Mara could see that there was nobody waiting outside.

“Ah, shit,” said Valerie, “Everyone’s already in there. We’re fucking late.”

Mara felt guilty. “That’s my fault, you know. You didn’t have to wait for me.”

“Nah, ‘course I did. Otherwise you’d have slept through the afternoon.”

Mara took a deep breath and pushed the door open, and Valerie gestured towards the corner where Miss Grey was standing, facing away from them. Valerie beckoned for Mara to make a dash for their seats, but as soon as they stepped into the room, the teacher turned around. “Hello, girls,” she said with a grim smile, “Would one of you like to explain to me why you’ve arrived ten minutes late to my lesson? Valerie? Your excuses are always entertaining.”

“Uh…” Valerie’s eyes flickered briefly upwards. Then, to Mara’s surprise, she said, “I fell asleep at lunch. Sorry.”

“That seems to be a bit of a habit of yours, Valerie. Did you not get enough sleep last night?”

Valerie shrugged lightly. “I guess not.”

“Well, you should make sure that you get more sleep, Valerie. It’s important.” She turned away and began to make her way to the front of the classroom, allowing Valerie and Mara to slip into their seats.

Mara turned to Valerie and whispered, “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it, dude.” Valerie pulled out her books and kicked her bag under the table. Mara did the same. Miss Grey faced the class and cleared her throat.

She said, “Okay, everyone. Now that all of you have arrived, we can start the lesson. Can you all please get out your homework pieces?”

As the room filled with the sound of pages being flipped, Mara heard Valerie mutter, “Ah, shit.”

Mara turned to her. “Did you forget?”



As Mara settled on a page, she heard a snort of laughter coming from her right and turned to see that the boy next to her was leaning in to look at her book. She turned away from him, feeling that familiar heat bleeding into her cheeks. Valerie had noticed too. She leaned forwards and said,

“Liam, the fuck’s so funny?”

“None of your business, Blondie,” said Liam. Out of the corner of her eye, Mara saw him move away from her slightly, but she could still feel his eyes burning into her back.

“Ah, I see. But my friend’s homework is your business, right?” Valerie asked.

“Geez, I’m sorry. You weirdos are so easily offended. Just chill out, yeah?”

“Yeah, sure. If you tell me what the fuck you’re finding so funny.”

“Okay, then. Your emo friend is shit at art, and it’s funny. There you go.”

Something hot stabbed at Mara’s eyes. She blinked. It went away.

“Oh, and you’re blessing us lowly weirdos with your constructive feedback, why, exactly? Because you’re some great artist yourself? Let’s see.” Valerie’s hand reached out across the table in front of Mara and grabbed Liam’s sketchbook. “Fucking hell, Liam. Is this supposed to be a person? Looks like their head was caved in with a shovel.” She threw it back at him.

Liam smirked. “So does your mum.”

Mara sat up and looked at Valerie. For a second, nobody said anything. Then Valerie narrowed her eyes and said slowly, “My mum is dead, you thick piece of shit.”

Liam was silent for a second. Then he said, “Well, fuck, Valerie. It’s not like I could’ve known that.” His gaze slid in the opposite direction as he busied himself rearranging his books on the table. Mara heard him mutter, “You bitches need to take a chill pill.”

One of Liam’s friend yelled from across the table, “Yeah, Blondie! You could always borrow a few chill pills from your crazy friend!”

Valerie looked at him with one eyebrow ever so slightly raised. “You mean Raegan?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. The one who looks like a man in a wig.”

“You wouldn’t know manly if it punched you in your stupid girly face, Jack. Fuck you.”

“Fuck you too.”

“Hey!” Mara looked around to see Miss Grey making her way across the room towards their table. Jack, Liam and Valerie all hid their faces in their books at the same time. The teacher reached them and said, “What is this argument about? Liam?”

“Nothing, Miss. Valerie just kind of snatched my book off me and started laughing at it.  I’ve got it back now, though, so everything’s fine.”

Miss Grey turned towards Valerie. “What did you do that for, Valerie? That’s a very childish thing to do.”

Valerie sighed theatrically and cast her eyes down towards the table. “I’m not gonna win this, am I?”

“Not if you don’t explain yourself.”

“Well, I’m not sure where to start, to be honest. Basically, Liam and Jack were saying some seriously offensive things about my friends. I just thought I owed it to these two to let them know that they were being dickbags, so-”

“Valerie, language,” Miss Grey warned.

“So that they knew not to be dickbags in the future.” Valerie kept her eyes locked on the teacher’s as she spoke, her face utterly blank. “That’s all, Miss Grey,” she finished.

“Okay, Valerie. That’s another detention- in fact, I’m giving you an after-school detention for swearing at me. That’s unacceptable. Four o’ clock, my office. And Liam? Jack? You both get a warning. Now would the three of you please get on with your work?”

“Yes, Miss,” said Liam and Jack together.

“Yeah, sure,” said Valerie lightly, opening her planner to pencil in the date before burying her head in her exercise book. Mara did the same, fixing her gaze on her page and trying to concentrate on her work. Her contact lenses must have been playing up, because as she stared at the paper, she could have sworn that it was dappled with dozens of tiny tearstains. The words on the page were blurred, distorted, and as she watched, a hundred coloured vortexes of ink twisted free of each black letter.

Bloody lenses.

She knew, deep down, that her contact lenses weren’t to blame, and to convince herself of this, she touched one of the tearstains. Her fingertip came away wet. Yep. She was bloody crying again. Why? No good reason. That was why.

Her eyes hurt, too. They throbbed hot with tears every time she blinked. Once. Twice. The tears kept coming. They were all she could see.


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