Updated: Jul 19, 2020
When I’m fully asleep, I’m fully awake in her dream. And I see her where she always is – standing by an oak staircase, hand clamped over her mouth, and tears on her drained face. Her glassy eyes are fixed on a blonde girl who stands with her hand held to her stomach.
Blood is seeping through the girl’s fingers.
In front of the girl with a gun held to her forehead, is a young man dressed all in black with distress in his black eyes.
“Moxie, don’t move,” the girl’s lips quiver.
“Don’t try anything. I swear I’ll shoot.”
Fear paints Moxie’s eyes. “Cassie!” she screams. She steps forward.
There’s a loud crack and the girl falls to the ground with a flutter of gold.
I close my eyes, Moxie’s screaming getting louder. And it only gets louder. It fills my ears so that I can hear nothing else. I can’t even do anything about it. All I can do is stand here, watch, and listen as she faces all of this on her own.
She wakes up screaming.
I open my heavy eyes, purse my lips, and watch as she props herself up from the seat.
The tender morning light from the window falls on her, as if to calm her, and illuminates the whiteness of her skin. The color combines with her dark hair and gives it an almost unearthly look. Her boney hands are even more ghostly than normal as they search for something to support her. The red booth she’s sitting on is small and the leather is worn and the train all around us is shaking violently.
Her wide eyes break their focus from the wall opposite her and move to me now. The brightness of the blue in her eyes startles me at first, but I can’t look anywhere else.
“What was it?” I ask gently, though I already know the answer.
“Volt.” Her eyes fall away from mine.
“Did he hurt you?” I ask.
“He killed Cassie again.”
I close my eyes, lean my head back.
There are so many times that I wish that I could take her reality away from her. But she remains trapped in it, and I seem to hold the key, unable to use it properly. I swear, every time I try, instead of setting her free from her nightmares, I just unlock new ones – worse ones, even – that dampen her cheeks at night.
It’s been this way since her brother and I took her in. We originally had established an alliance for the purpose of protection, given the fact that we all had abilities to defend one another. But it didn’t quite work out this way. I abused her, in a sort of manner, and she was terrified of me. It never fully went away, either.
I regret it more than anything and I blame no one but myself for any of that fear that she feels. Not even her dreams.
I know how her dreams affect her. I’ve dreamt through them with her night after night. It affects me, watching her relive her worst fear every night of her life… This becomes my own worst fear. I hate to watch her suffer. I hate to watch her be in pain. And above all else, I hate seeing that fear that drowns everything out – watching it contaminate her eyes – and knowing that I can’t change it.
But I know that all this fear couldn’t touch that fear that I bring her.
I wish I could be the one to take that fear away from her because she doesn’t deserve any of it. Not after what I’ve put her through. But I just can’t. I never will. There’s only one person I know that could’ve taken it away from her. Her best friend, Cassie. The one that she watches die every time she sleeps.
I open my eyes and watch blankly as she stands.
She wavers, her feet stuttering.
I reappear standing next to her and catch her shoulders, but as soon as she manages to stand on her own, I draw away.
“Thanks,” is all she says. She waits a moment then reassures me that she’s okay.
I don’t reply. Frankly, I don’t have anything to say back to that. She can try over and over to convince me she’s okay, but we both know it’s a vain attempt. She’s not okay. She’s weak and vulnerable, and she’s never going to be safe.
She’ll never be safe, no matter how much space she tries to put between her and her worst fears. She doesn’t realize that when it all comes down to it, it’s not Volt – or her dreams – that she needs to be hiding from, it’s me.
I hear her mutter something about food to herself, and this takes me out of my own haze. We could both use some of that.
She doesn’t speak a word to me on the way to dinner. She’s not usually like this. She’ll at least talk to me, even when she isn’t feeling the best. But now, her sense of security has been lost. It’s been like this ever since we lost sight of home really.
And it’s been three days like this, trapped – caged– in this train…
Originally we had set out to go to the beach house her brother owns. It was her idea, due to a combination of her stress and her love for the coast, saying that it might take her mind off of it all. Shame we couldn’t foresee how badly it would end.
Volt had shown up there to greet us. Neither of us knew exactly how he knew we’d be there, but he did.
Thus, Moxie created a theory. She said that Volt could track my powers and begged me not to use them. She said that abstaining from my powers was “staying under the radar.” So instead of warping us home like I would usually do, she insisted we ride the trains.
I think this is all a dumb idea. We’re exposed, staying in one place so long like this. Home is really the only safe place for either of us. Back there, we have the protection it offers, our sense of sanity when it comes down to it. We’re out of territory and weak because of this. We’re aliens in a foreign surrounding. If we were to fight here, we’d lose, hands down.
My concentration breaks with the stale smell of tomato sauce and Italian seasoning and the sound of dishes and metal scraping together. I glance up from the floor where my eyes have been tearing a hole and follow Moxie as she gets her food. I get myself a small serving as well, but the likelihood of me eating any of it is even smaller.
“Ember you’re not talking,” Moxie says once we’ve sat down at our table.
The table is small and it makes me uncomfortable how close I am to her. I scoot my chair back, keeping my eyes on the red in my bowl. “Neither are you.”
“You aren’t acting like yourself.”
“Neither are you,” I repeat.
She drops her fork in her spaghetti with a clank.
I look down at my own. The food’s scent is sour in my nose. I push the bowl away, hoping that might get the smell to leave.
“What’s wrong? Did I say something while I was asleep?”
She stays quiet now.
My own curiosity gets the best of me and I look up at her again.
“You can tell me,” she says.
“There’s nothing to tell.” I run a hand through my wild hair. “I just want to go home.”
The conversation ends here and she starts eating again. I can’t bring myself to touch my food, though. Instead, I occupy myself with watching her and analyzing her thoughts ever so gently.
She doesn’t seem to mind. She doesn’t seem to realize at all, really.
But then the train jolts and she spills red sauce down the front of her white shirt.
Normally, I think I would’ve laughed at this. I don’t for two reasons. First, the train stops completely. Second, I can see that fear in her face and feel it pulsing through her veins.
We were told the train wouldn’t make any more stops.
I tell her to leave her food and she obeys me. I rush her back to our room and lock the door. She remains quiet the entire time as if she’s a slave to my wishes like she seemed to believe she was all those years before.
I pull my suitcase down from the top and unzip it quickly. I shuffle through it for several moments before finding a t-shirt and handing it to her. “Here,” I tell her to change into it and keep the door locked.
Again, she doesn’t question me.
I make my way down the stagnant hall, my hands out of my pockets. The temptation to use my powers now seems greater than ever. Both of us would be so much safer if I did.
But I won’t.
I end up in the control room where I hear bickering among the two in charge. From what I pick up, they don’t know what caused the halt either. And from what I can discern, they’re both extremely uneasy about it.
When I step into the room, the smell of their scent is overpowering, like they’ve been in here for days without any sort of shower. They look as filthy as they smell, their faces smudged with dirt and their clothes yellowed with sweat. I look them head to toe, my eyes falling on their torn up combat boots. This, for some reason, awakens a certain fear in the pit of my stomach.
But I push the thought from my head – thinking it more silly and caused by paranoia more than anything else – and clear my throat.
One of the men turns to me, a scowl plastered across his greasy face. “Who told you you could be in here?”
“No one.” I cross my arms. “I want to know why we’re not moving.”
“Sir, you’re not allowed here. You’re going to have to leave.” The second man places a hand on my arm.
I bare my fangs at him and he immediately backs away.
I never get a direct answer. They tell me they’ll try to get the train up and running within the next half hour, but I know how well people keep their words.
I return to our room and find Moxie changed – the black shirt I had given her doing nothing for her complexion – and looking out at the unmoving forest. I knock on the small window to the room and wait for her to turn around. I try to manage a small smile when she does, but the emptiness in her face scares it away.
She unlocks the door with shaky hands, allowing me in.
Figuring it’s just another one of her phases, perhaps a dream again, I let the issue settle on its own. Moxie doesn’t settle down, though, until later that night when she gains the courage to speak to me again.
“I saw him, Ember.”
“Volt. He was moving around outside. He came in the train.”
“Are you sure you weren’t just seeing things? It’s dark outside.”
“It was him, Ember!”
I hold my breath. I don’t argue beyond that. I watch her lie down with her back facing towards me. I don’t know if she sleeps or not, but my guess is she doesn’t.
With the dark sky outside singing its lament to me, I feel my own drowsiness start to take over. I don’t want to let it in, but I know that without sleep, I’ll just be worse off.
I sleep restlessly. I share her nightmares – I see everything, I feel her panic. I hate every second of it, but I can’t block it out. I see it all.
I see her wandering through an empty warehouse, through the territory of the Division, where she was, again, a slave to someone else – commissioned to be an assassin, do the dirty work for someone else. She was a killer because she was told to be, yet given no reason at all.
I see her submit to her partner, Volt, as he commands her up to the door to the red brick house, the one where her best friend lives, though at this point she has no idea how important Cassie could possibly be to her. Time passes quicker than usual and Volt returns, fury in his eyes and hatred in his words as he tells Moxie every desire, every need to make her feel what was inflicted upon sick sister all because Moxie had copped out of their commission.
In the dream, she starts screaming. And her screams bring us both back into the real world.
I put a hand to my eyes, trying to rub away any lingering aspect of the dream.
Moxie gasps on the booth, her nails clawing into the dark leather. Her breathing quickens and doesn’t show any hopes for slowing.
“Moxie.” I reach over and put a hand on her shoulder. It feels like her heartbeat is shaking the entire frame of her body. I sigh, whispering, “Moxie, it was just a dream.”
She stares up at me and something’s missing in her eyes. That something – that I know is her vigor – has been replaced by that fear again.
My hand falls from her shoulder limply and I lean back against my own seat.
“She’s gone,” she says.
“He took her from me,” she says.
“I want to kill him, Ember. He doesn’t deserve to live for that. She didn’t do anything. She was an innocent. It should’ve been me. I was the one who should’ve died…”
I listen to her go on.
Eventually, she talks herself back to sleep.
I can’t sleep again. I’m too horrified to be in her dreams. It’s cowardly, but I can’t see her like that. I spend the night watching her instead. I listen to her as she murmurs Cassie’s name and sobs quietly. I wish I could do something but I’m too afraid to try. I want to comfort her, but scaring her is the last thing I want to do.
I sigh, growing tired of her crying, and lean forward. I touch the fabric of her shirt and find her bones protruding from underneath as if she were an ill-fed child. I whisper her name gently, then wait.
She rolls over to face me. Her blue eyes are clouded and look more of a grey than anything. There’s no makeup on her face. It’s already been cried off. She’s too tired now, too exhausted, to be afraid anymore.
It’s at this point that I’m not afraid to reach out.
I offer her my hand and she takes it, climbing into my arms. I let her rest against my chest and lay her head in the crook of my neck.
Her small breaths tingle against my skin and I shiver. She shifts once, then stops, not moving again.
Her breaths slow and calm and finally she dozes back off. This time she doesn’t wake.
With her lying on my chest so close like this, I’m allowed to manipulate her thoughts, her nightmares, and give her the smallest sense of relief.
But I still can’t sleep. I’m given over to my thoughts and left alone with them. I lean my head back against the train, but the jerking keeps me well awake. So I sit there for several more hours – listening to the shrieking of the train as it runs metal on metal – until the sun rises, trying all the while to keep my mind – and her mind – empty of any savage memory.
I close my eyes and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. It’s nice after a long night. Something about the day almost makes it feel easier to sleep, safer almost.
But I hear pacing in the halls.
It shouldn’t bother me. I know we’re not the only passengers in the train. But the sound of it, I would know it anywhere. Muffled boots. It’s the same sound that Moxie’s boots make when we’re out and she doesn’t want to be heard. Anyone else would think nothing of this, but I know where Moxie came from and I know all too well myself what the sound of that scuffling may bring.
I glance down at Moxie. I run my fingers over her black hair and move it ever so slightly to see her face. I don’t want her to know. I don’t want her to be afraid.
She looks up at me, sleep still covering her eyes like a murderer’s alibi. She wouldn’t be able to process anything I told her now. She’s too tired.
I rub her forehead and force a smile.
She smiles back up at me groggily.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” I lie.
I stand, picking her up and setting her back down on her own crimson booth.
She rolls over and stays still.
Slowly, I open the door to our room. It makes an awful sheathing sound, and I’m sure everyone in our car would’ve heard it. My hopes are that he’s not on the train and that he didn’t hear it.
I step outside.
The door slides shut and locks.
I don’t know why I actually believe her, that Volt might actually be on the train with us. I know what I told her – about seeing things – but it’s not true. She doesn’t see things. She sees what everyone else sees and nothing more. That alone scares me more than anything.
I don’t want to believe it, because if he’s here, we’re in more danger than we could ever be. I don’t know this train well enough to warp place to place. Volt, on the other hand, he specializes in that sort of thing. He could find his way back to Moxie before I could even find my way to him.
I clench my fists. I pace down the halls several times, but find no one. I hear no one.
Maybe I’m just paranoid.
I return to our room.
She tries to spark a conversation with me and I try to carry it on, but my own thoughts get caught up in my fear.
She knows. I can tell by the way she looks at me. She knows I’m scared. This, I know, only makes her fear worse.
I leave again. I think that somehow getting away from her for a bit might help, but the thoughts keep clogging my head like smoke. I’m too afraid to lose her. If I lose her, I lose everything.
I walk down to the control room again. After the other night, and all my suspicions, I can’t help but wonder if my mind was just playing tricks with the boots that I saw the two men wearing. I want to be sure, because if I can be reassured, I’ll know whether this is all just a bad case of being homesick or not. I want it to be nothing more than that.
And I want nothing more than just to be at home, safe, with Moxie protected. It’s only meant to be two more days’ journey, but it doesn’t seem like it could pass any slower.
When I reach the control room, I find it empty, but the unbearable stench that was on the men remains. The black walls of the room are plain except for a small sticky note that reads “Smoke break. Be back in ten.” in some awful scrawl.
I sigh, placing my hands in my pockets. I figure waiting a couple more minutes couldn’t hurt, but then it strikes me odd that two men would leave to smoke on a train when the train itself couldn’t possibly be ruined anymore. But I wait anyway. They don’t come back in ten minutes, not even fifteen.
Uneasiness fills my chest up like sappy water, making it hard to breathe. I close my eyes, take in a deep breath, then turn to go back to the train. To my relief, I hear their voices howling at each other like dogs and start to wonder if they had had a drink as well. The smell of beer starts to follow me back down the train, confirming my suspicions.
Thinking it best not to go back. I continue to roam the train, on patrol and on watch for any signs that Volt may’ve come aboard.
I find nothing.
I return to our room in the evening and find Moxie dressed in my clothes. I ask, not really caring in the end, but allowing my curiosity to blot out the rest of my thoughts. She tells me that she ran out of clean clothes and that mine were much more comfortable anyway.
When Moxie lies down on the red booth to sleep, I start to remember why I hate sleeping so much. Because now, after being up and walking all day and with having little sleep the night before, I’ve made myself tired.
I can’t fight it. I lie down on my own booth, the leather protesting beneath me. I close my eyes reluctantly and give in to sleep. It seems to mock me, really, as it enfolds me in its hands, its deep chuckling slowly starting to block out the sound of the shuddering train around me.
I open my eyes slowly. I can hear the sound of Moxie sobbing next to me. I glance down at my wristwatch. It’s two-thirty in the morning. I close my eyes again and rub my calloused hand over my face.
It’s when Moxie shifts and wipes her tears away that I know she’s awake. She gets up and I sit up, looking up at her through the darkness. The combination of her pale skin and the white shirt she’s in gives the illusion that she’s glowing. She holds her arms out to me like a child.
I hesitate, then stand as well.
Her small body presses against mine and her arms hold me with all the fierceness they can manage. She hides her face in my chest and I can feel the warmth of her tears soaking through my shirt.
But a crash in the hall causes her to go still.
“Stay here,” I say, moving her away from me.
“Don’t leave me.”
I clench my jaw. “You have to stay here. It’s safer here.”
“Not without you.”
“Stop it,” I raise my voice.
She shrinks away from me, recoiling back to her booth. She pulls her knees to her chest and her eyes fall downcast.
“You’re staying here. I’m not asking.” I can hear the venom in my own voice. I turn and walk out.
The air in the hallway is stiff and the door smacks shut behind me.
I walk in the direction of the source of the sound, finding a room left open. The scene inside is something I could’ve lived my whole life without seeing, but it’s simply another to add to the collection.
A blonde girl is posed sitting under the window. Her eyes are open, staring straight ahead. There’s a slit in her throat and blood on the dress she’s wearing.
I hear laughing behind me. “She looks a bit like Cassie, don’t you think? Too bad Moxie didn’t get to see her.”
I spin around. I come face to face with every bit of the fear that I begged myself not to believe.
Volt, with his dark eyes and frenzied brown hair, is standing in front of me. And here I am, his prey.
“At a loss for words, Mutt?” His lips curl up, revealing a set of jagged teeth.
I don’t reply.
“Maybe taking her would get you to speak.” He narrows his eyes.
“Don’t touch her.”
“There it is… Now you’re talking.” Pleasure coats his rough voice. “But I’d love to hear you begging for me not to take her life.”
Volt smirks wider then dissolves into the air.
I run back to the room to find Moxie gone. I clamp my hands on the sides of the door to try to steady my spinning head. My heartbeat increases. I’ll lose it if I don’t get her back. I’ll turn into that monster and destroy everything.
“Isn’t it funny?” Volt’s voice comes from behind me.
I don’t turn.
“You think you can keep her safe, but you really can’t. I mean,” he laughs again, “what good is it if you can’t even protect her from me? How could you possibly expect to protect her from something like yourself?”
“So you know her death will be in your hands?”
The booming of my heart drowns out the sound of his voice. I can’t take it. “Give her back.” The sound of my own voice is startling. It comes out as more of an animalistic growl than anything. Utterly inhuman.
“Come and get her.”
Everything goes black.
All I can feel is pain and I don’t like it. I don’t like it because I know what the pain brings. I know what I’m turning into and I despise it.
My breaths are heavy in my ears and it’s devouring everything else. Everything else but her screaming…
I feel my skin breaking, peeling off me, in layers almost. It’s sickening, but with each breath I take, I can feel myself grow bigger – stronger – until I stand a twelve-foot monster. He doesn’t stand a chance against me. No one does. Not like this.
I hear them speaking just faintly in my head and among my anger, I feel the fear start to grow stronger.
“Oh Moxie. Revenge is sweet, wouldn’t you say?” I hear his laughter in my ears.
“When you betrayed me – when you didn’t kill her like you were supposed to – I lost everything!” he yells. “I needed that money. My sister was dying. I needed that money to pay for her medicine.”
“Now you’re going to know exactly what she had to suffer, all because of you.”
“I’m sorry,” Moxie whimpers.
“Sorry doesn’t cut it, Angel.”
Something snaps. I don’t know how I manage to move in the train, but before I realize, I have Volt trapped, a claw on either side of his head.
He’s smiling up at me. “I must’ve hit a nerve.”
“Ember stop!” Moxie screams.
I look up, and though the rims of my vision are blurred beyond compare, I can still see her face and I can still see every horror in her eyes. I can see that fear in her eyes. And not a single ounce of it is fear of Volt anymore.
She’s scared of me.
I pull away, sit back, and watch her. It can’t change a thing.
But Volt stands and my fury returns. I taste metal and hear her screaming again, but I can’t stop myself. I don’t stop until he stops moving.
I wake up nauseous. Most of everything that happened is just a blur now. All I know is that my mouth is crusted with blood and that it’s all down my chest and the sour smell of it is making me sick.
I look to my right slowly. I don’t want to look because I’m scared I’ve killed her. I’m scared that instead of Volt, I took my rage out on her and killed her.
But all that’s there is Volt’s mauled body.
It takes a few more seconds for the ringing in my ears to leave, but as soon as it does, I hear Moxie’s soft crying. I look just beyond Volt and find her folded into herself with her face hidden away from everything.
I stand up, keeping my hands on the walls to brace myself. I look down at the floor, finding my shirt lying ripped into several pieces. I glance down at my own bare chest then take a step back. I know she’s already seen me, but I don’t want her to see me again. I don’t want her to think that I’m still the same monster I was when I used to hurt her like I did. I don’t even want the thought to cross her mind.
I stumble into our room and take another shirt out of my suitcase. Slowly, I make my way down the hall and to the bathroom. I take my time washing up. I don’t want to go back.
But she comes to me. I see her in the reflection of the mirror. She isn’t crying anymore, but her face is still wet.
I look down at the red in the porcelain sink.
She doesn’t speak a word. Instead, she walks over to me and takes the dirtied rag from my hands. She turns me to face her then carefully starts wiping away the rest of the remaining blood.
I watch her silently, my throat tightening.
“It’s okay, you know.”
I brush a stray piece of hair out of her face.
She looks up at me, then wipes my mouth. “Now I’m safe.”
“You’re not safe from me.”
“You protected me.”
I keep my eyes fixed on hers. I search them, just knowing that I’ll find some fear left in them. But there’s not. There’s no fear in her eyes anymore.
She lays the rag down on the sink then picks up my clean shirt. “Here.”