Forged by Fire

by Myunique Green

It was the middle of August when my family decided to move to New Market, Alabama. I can’t say I was totally against the idea of uprooting everything I had in Hot Springs and moving away. I welcomed the thought of having a fresh start.

“Come on, Alizarin!” my brother yelled from the passenger window of the new jet-black Lexus I’d gotten a few months earlier. Since my parents didn’t spend much time at home, they tried to make up for it materially.

“We’re already ridiculously behind schedule. A few more minutes won’t kill you!” I yelled back as I took a key from my pocket and locked the front door of the barren house. I sighed. I didn’t know when I’d return—if ever. My legs barely wanted to carry me to the car as I walked away, but that could have been attributed to the lack of sleep the night before.

I reflected on all of the memories and friends I would be leaving behind; breaking the news to May and Lee that I was moving nearly five hours away was the hardest thing I’d had to do. They had been my best friends since third grade. I smiled at our adventures; there would be no more sneaking out of windows and enjoying the late-night happenings, doing circles in empty parking lots, or even just relaxing by the pool. Not to mention the enjoyable dangers we’d managed to get into a number of those times, including attempting to pin Lee to the roof of the car with duct tape before we continued circling the parking lot.

It’ll be alright, Alizarin; I’m sure you’ll make new friends, better ones,” my mom told me the day she and Dad broke the news. I had been more upset then than I was the day I left.

I stopped for a second and looked up at the grey-and-red, two-story house I was leaving for good. Every memory worth remembering took place right there in that town and in that very house: the first time I rode a bike, my sweet 16, and even losing my virginity. I cringed at the memory of the last thought; I hadn’t been even remotely prepared for that experience—first pain, then pleasure.

Although I’d told myself I wouldn’t reminisce, I couldn’t help but reflect on that day momentarily. Because my parents were off enjoying a four-day cruise, and Jasmine and Ash were staying with friends, Joseph had come over to help with homework and hang out for the next couple of days. I still remembered what he was wearing that night: a white-and-blue plaid shirt so tight I could see the imprint of his abs, and his blue jeans were slightly worn and ripped at the knees. I smiled as visions of his amazing green eyes and spiked blond hair danced across my brain.

But soon my smile faded when I remembered the part where after we’d done the deed he was suddenly in a rush to leave. I didn’t even have the chance to ask him where he was going or when he’d be back and, needless to say, that was the last time I saw Joseph. Not because I didn’t want to, he was just never at school anymore, and he never answered any of my phone calls. It was as if he had just disappeared off the face of the earth. After a while of thinking he’d run off with friends like he’d done countless of times before, his parents started a neighborhood search team in an effort to find him. When he eventually returned home, things were never the same. The phrase ‘April Showers’ had developed a whole new meaning for me.

“Hey, Aliza, are you alright?”

I felt Ash’s warm hand touch my shoulder, then shook off my thoughts. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just taking a trip down memory lane, that’s all.” My heart skipped a beat as a cold chill blew across the driveway.

“We need to be taking another trip right now. Put some pep in your step and let’s get on the road.”

New beginnings, I thought. New house, new life, new friends.

“You could have left with Mom and Dad, you know?” I teased while opening the driver’s door.

“And listen to six hours of nonstop music from the nineteen hundreds? I don’t think so,” he replied as he got comfortable in the passenger seat.

I gave the house one last glance, staring up at the wide window on the second story where my room had once been. “It’s all for the best isn’t it, Ash?” I said in an almost a whisper, trying to cast the memories aside. The more I thought about it, my heart ached.

“Yeah, maybe. You might like it there more than here.”

I put the car in reverse and began backing out of the driveway; I looked up once more, shifted into drive and sped down the street. Leaves fell from the trees and stuck to the windshield as we traveled out of Hot Springs. I was surprised my parents had let Ash and I make the drive alone, since we’d never even seen the new house before. Lately though, they’d been letting us get away with more stuff than usual, including staying out after curfew. I guess it was their way of apologizing for moving us away from everything we knew and loved.

“So what are we going to do for the next six hours?” I said, turning the radio off and nudging Ash lightly.

“I know what I’m going to do,” he replied, pulling a small pillow from under the seat. “Wake me when we get there.”

I shook my head and turned the radio back on, turning the volume up as high as it could go.

“Turn it down, Aliza. Are you crazy?”

“I love this song!” I screamed over the horribly loud and horribly stupid song.

Ash sat up and hit the power button, turning the song off. “Immature.”

“You would know. It is your middle name after all.”

A light mist fell over the road as I rounded the curves in the highway. Traffic was minimal to none so I drove slightly above the speed limit. Instead of riding with the air conditioning on, I wanted to feel the coolness of the mist and warmth of the outside air blow through my hair. Since I didn’t have a convertible like Ash, I opened the sunroof, letting the breeze blow through my long hair.

I looked into the rearview, glancing at the road behind and catching a glimpse of my almond-shaped eyes. They were light hazel, in fact almost the same color as my wavy hair, which was actually closer to chestnut than hazel. I took one of my hands away from the steering wheel and ran my fingers through the tangled mess; I wished my hair was as tamable as Ash’s.

Contrary to my loose waves, Ash’s hair was straight and silky; its color was even different, almost the opposite. But I’d figured he’d just inherited the jet-black from Dad, while I’d gotten light-brown from Mom. Not what you’d expect from a pair of fraternal twins, but we were merely born on the same day because nothing about us seemed the same at all—except our last name.

Ash had let his pillow rest against the window, and he snored lightly. I let the window down on his side only. When the window had completely come down, the pillow flew out and Ash’s head hit the frame of the door.

He bolted upright. “Are you freakin’ serious?” He turned to look out of the window and watched his pillow fly momentarily, then slam onto the road like a brick.

“House rules still apply. No sleeping, loser.” I repositioned myself in the seat; my back was beginning to feel strained.

“Well, while you were sleeping last night, I was up packing your shit out into the hauler. So sorry I’m not well rested, princess.”

I shrugged. “You’ll get no sympathy from me.”

We were halfway through the longest stretch of highway in America before I had started to get tired and also before I realized the gas light had come on. “I think I may have passed up the last gas station a few miles back,” I said.

“I’ll look on the GPS and see how far up another one is to keep us from having to turn around.” He picked up the monitor from the dashboard and typed in the search criteria.

I glanced over at the dimly lit screen and focused my eyes on the pinpoints. “I could have sworn we were closer than that when I last looked down at it.”

He rubbed his eyes. “The next station is about two or three miles up.”

“Yeah I saw that,” I replied tiredly, glaring blankly at the road ahead.

“Oh, hey, I almost forgot . . .” He unbuckled his seatbelt and raised himself up to reach into the backseat, pulling two bottles of what seemed like grape soda from his duffle bag. “I found these on the counter in the kitchen when we first got back to the old house, along with this note . . .”

He tried to hand it to me but I shoved it away. “You read it.”

“Oh, sorry. Forgot you couldn’t read,” he teased, then held the paper up to his eyes. “In case you get thirsty.”

“That seems random. We already have water. Mom made sure of that before she left this morning,” I replied, ignoring his earlier comment.

“Yeah, it does seem a little strange.” He held one bottle up into the fading sunlight and examined it.

I took my eyes off of the road for a quick second and looked at the bottle while he still held it in the air. The light-purple mixture nearly dazzled through the clear plastic, appealing to all five of my senses. I turned my attention back to the highway and motioned for Ash to hand me a bottle. “Must be a new kind of energy drink. Hand it over, I need it.”

“How would you know that? There’s no label of any kind.” He examined the bottle, then turned his head to look at me and frowned as he tossed the bottle onto my lap. “Are you actually going to drink it?”

“I don’t see why not. Seems ok to me.” I twisted the cap off, took a tiny sip and swished the juice around in my mouth.

“What does it taste like?” Ash questioned.

I swallowed the last bit I held in my mouth. “It’s actually pretty good and tastes like grape juice or something. Drink up.” I then drank from the bottle until I had emptied it.

Ash looked at his bottle one more time, then shrugged. “What the heck.” He took the cap off and consumed the juice.

Two miles later we approached the service station. A stabbing pain shot up my back, and I jerked the wheel of the car, causing Ash’s head to lightly hit the window.

“That one was unintentional,” I said before he could return the blow.

“You have a real problem, you know that?” he replied

I stared through the windshield as I eased the car off the road. “Take a look at this place.”

The outside wood of the building was old and rotten, and there were more than a few shingles missing on the roof. I pulled up to the closest pump and put the car in park. “After this there’s no more stopping, so if you have to pee you should do it now,” I said.

“Yeah, right. You’d be lucky if I’m even still out here when you come out of there,” he replied.

I walked several feet to the entrance of the building and slowly pulled open the glass door to the tiny shack and walked in. Not a soul was in sight; the place was deserted.

I hate my life; I wish I could just run away and never look back.

I looked around the store expecting to see the person the voice belonged to, but I saw no one. “Is anyone here?” I called out. I fumbled around the moldy old store before I finally found something that resembled a checkout counter. Seconds later a small, freckled-faced girl popped from behind the wooden counter. Her dark-red hair was thin and matted, and her frail arms rested across her petite chest.

“Hello, can I help you?” she said. Her voice was raspy and dry, as if she hadn’t had any water for days.

“I came to pay for the gas,” I said and looked into my wallet. As I fished for my bankcard, I tried shaking off my unease with her appearance. She had cold blue eyes that pierced mine when I looked directly at her.

She reached her hand across the counter and smiled as if she didn’t know she had creeped me out.

Of course you do. What else would you come in here for? It certainly wouldn’t be to see me.

I frowned and looked up. “You don’t have to have such an attitude about it.”

“What do you mean?” She looked confused for a minute, then smiled.

“Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about,” I retorted.

“Read my lips . . .” and just calm down.

I paid close attention to her cracked lips, yet after telling me to read them, they no longer moved. However the words kept flowing.

You can hear me can’t you?

I nodded slowly. “But how?” I said, my voice beginning to crack.

The biggest smile spread across her face, and she came from around the tiny wooden counter to grab my hand. I got a sudden flash of the chills before shaking off her hands. “Forget the question, I’m clearly dreaming,” I said.

I gave myself a quick pinch on the arm, then closed my eyes. I prayed that once I opened them this would all be just some silly dream and I’d actually be sleeping in the passenger seat of the car as my brother drove the rest of the way. Unfortunately, when I opened my eyes again I was still in the aging shack and the small girl still stood in front of me.

She placed her hands on her waist and looked down. I know you don’t understand now, but you will soon enough.

“Could you just stay out of my head until I can gather my own thoughts?” I snapped.

She looked up and walked back to her station behind the wooden counter. “You drank the elixir. Now you have to deal with the consequences just like the rest of us.”

I thought back to the drive there and the stuff in the bottles. “So the stuff we drank was some kind of super juice?”

“I guess you could call it that. It holds both a blessing and a malediction.”

“A malediction?” I let the word trickle slowly into my over-active thoughts and wondered what could be worse than having to hear every thought ever processed by the human mind.

“No time for that now. Have you learned what else you can do?”

“How am I supposed to know? This whole thing is kind of new to me. Am I supposed to be able to do anything else?” I listened to the sound of my words; I couldn’t believe I was actually buying this. Mind reading was a myth; it only existed in movies and comic books.

Taking in a deep breath, I tried to clear my thoughts again. But when sudden waves of visions and memories passed through my mind that weren’t mine, I freaked.

“Stop it, stop it, stop it!” I yelled. Pushing my palms to the sides of my head, I tried to squeeze the visions away. I didn’t deserve that torture.

Almost immediately Ash came running into the store. He grabbed ahold of my shoulders and turned me to face him. “Aliza, what’s going on?” What happened?”

I allowed myself to slowly sink to my knees in front of a girl I’d never met before but suddenly knew like a best friend. “You have a lot of problems,” I whispered.

“You don’t know the half of it,” she mumbled.

The visions were from hurt and despair in the girl’s past. I’d managed to find her name through the mess of it all. “Corey, is it? While whoever has done this to me might have had pure intentions, I’d just like them to take this curse away now. I don’t want it.”

“If only it were that easy. I’m afraid you’ll have to learn to deal with it.”

I wobbled as I stood, looking at Corey and wanting to snap at her. I turned to Ash. “Did anything weird happen to you while you were outside?”

Before he could say a word, his thoughts replied for him. Panic, grief, and depression crashed over me. Visions of what had taken place whilst he stood outside fueling the car played randomly across my eyes. I saw his body split as his skin slowly began cracking, chipping and peeling like old paint- it was all like something I’d never seen before. A small headache began forming as I looked at the hazy recollection; he wasn’t screaming, and he barely moved, yet his face was turned in complete agony. Tears flowed from my eyes as I imagined his pain.

Just as quickly as the vision had appeared, it was gone. I stood motionless for a few more minutes before breaking free. “Well, Corey, it was nice talking to you, but my brother and I are going to be leaving now.”

I ignored the rest of the questions that had formed in my gut as I grabbed my bank card from the counter and held on to Ash’s arm while I headed for the door. That store had officially become the Twilight Zone, and the faster I had it in my rearview mirror, the quicker I could pretend it never happened.

“Wait!” Corey pleaded aloud before thinking the rest of her sentence. My father keeps me here because he knows that I have nowhere else to go. Please take me with you. We can help each other.

“Absolutely not! I don’t know you and I don’t know your father, please, I just want to leave,” I answered. As I got closer to the glass doors, my body froze on its own. I could only move my eyes as I tried glancing around.

Her voice was lower and more firm as she slowly walked in front of me and literally made me glance deep into her eyes. “Listen to what I have to say.”

I moaned- even more waves of thoughts and hazy visions.

“You have to help me,” she whispered.

Obviously thinking I’d just paused for fun, Ash brushed my arm and leaned to whisper in my ear. “We may need her.”

The force that’d froze me allowed my motion again, yet I still stood still. “You don’t even know where we’re going or if I could be a serial killer, on the road with my sidekick to dump some bodies,” I suggested.

After a pause she broke out into hysterical laughter. “That’s funny.”

I watched as Corey took a step away from her post at the counter. Don’t move, she warned.

Standing frozen in place near the entrance of the store, I clung to Ash like a toddler scared to be left alone. When something started gurgling on the ceiling of the shack, Ash and I looked up, staring at the ceiling as it began to crawl with dark, transparent shadows. There were thousands of tiny screeches as the shadows traced across the top of the ceiling, singling me out and hovering over where I stood. Every bone in my body became agitated and angry as a dark blob inched closer to my face.

I let go of Ash and moved away from him, still the shadow followed me across the store. My pulse quickened as my blood began to simmer and boil inside, when the heat-surge became so overpowering that my knees started to buckle beneath me, and I hit the hardwood floor. The floor beneath me vibrated as I curled into the fetal position.

The burn of the fire only grew hotter as the shadow came closer. “Make it stop!” I screamed.

“This needs to happen. Let your body make the change,” Corey replied.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about; I just want to go home!”

My body pulsated as the floor beneath me quaked and I found myself having trouble breathing. Ash never lifted a finger to help me as I gasped for tiny amounts of air. He just stood there looking down at me lying in front of the glass doors.

“If I die, I’ll haunt you until you join me,” I said as I slowly began to lose consciousness.

The fire continued to blaze inside of me until I could feel it start to ooze out of my flaming pores and evaporate into the air. The more lava that began to seep out of my body, the sooner I suddenly started to forget all about the shadows and the searing pain going on inside of me. I slowly began to stand, taking back the control that had been stolen from me.

A strange new sense of power washed over me.

That’s it take control of it.

 

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