Chapter 3 : Stranger
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The warm water slid along my back softening the stiff muscles of my tired body. It was late night. I stayed under the shower for an unusually long time, recollecting the events of the day.
“Us? There’s more of you?!”
“More of us. Do you trust me?”
I wanted to trust Callum. But being a alone and feeling vulnerable for nearly half your life seldom allows you to trust someone completely so quickly. I did trust him with one thing though, my secret. He was the only person I’d ever known who could even come close to showing me what I could do to control it.
He’d smiled with some relief. Callum held out his hand and I shook it before my mind allowed me to debate against it. He led me quickly off the school grounds asking me to come with him.
I was scared and unsure of what he wanted with me but I was also sick to the core of being a freak who just happened to destroy anything in her path. I was desperate to find a way out.
“You coming?” he asked with a bemused smile as I hesitated by the passenger side door of his car. With a deep breath I pulled the car door open and slid into the seat holding my bag tightly with my arms crossed over it.
He twisted the keys and started the engine. The next thing I knew his arms flew up toward me and I instinctively flattened myself against the door looking at him alarmed.
He looked back at me curiously and deliberately placed his arm around the headrest of my seat slowly turning around to look out the back as he single-handedly reversed out of the parking spot. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding as he rolled his eyes with a smile and returned both hands to the wheel.
“So much for trusting me!”
“Yes, well you startled me!” I said defensively.
Callum laughed and continued to drive. About twenty minutes of awkward silence later we were pulling into the driveway of a house I could only describe as beautiful.
Callum led me across the paved pathway and opened the door with a key. I would have thought a place like this would have inhabited more people.
“Do you live alone?” I asked him as the lock clicked.
“Not usually, I live with a few friends but they are all out at the moment,”
Hmm. Well that did nothing to calm my paranoid fears. If I see ducktape or polythene anywhere I’m out the door faster than Road Runner.
He smiled at my wary face and opened the door with a soft chuckle.
“Look over there?” he pointed over my shoulder and I spun around (stupidly) to see an old granny on the across the road coming out of her house with a small black dog. She looked over at us briefly.
“What am I looking at?” I asked.
“Your witness. You see, someone saw you here with me, now I can’t kill you!”
A shiver ran down my spine and I turned around to look at him with wide eyes but he still had the same smirk on him. He was mocking me.
“It’s not funny,” I narrowed my eyes at him.
“You were the one thinking it!” he laughed.
“Are you a mind reader?”
“Not remotely,” he said cheerfully, “You’re just obvious!”
He chuckled, “Coming?”
I followed him through the door and entered a large hall lined on one side with tall wide windows that streamed the grey morning light into its centre. The windowsills were lined with brilliantly blooming potted plants. Portraits by masters I didn’t recognise hung on the walls.
Our steps echoed in the silence as I walked behind him.
“Wait here,” he said turning to be and I paused dead in my tracks.
He walked through the archway in the distance and disappeared to the side. I could hear several drawers being pulled out, cupboard doors being opened, the distinct tinkle of sorting through silverware.
I glanced out the windows, the gardens were very well kept, the privet hedges perfectly trimmed. He was wealthy, that much was obvious. The fireplace at the end of the large hall looked like it hadn’t been used in a while. But what caught my attention was the lack of furniture…
There were no armchairs or couches around the fire, no tables no stools, there wasn’t even a clock. Just the long empty hall, the portraits and the potted plants.
Footsteps told me Callum was coming back and I straightened up watching expectantly as he reappeared round the archway. In his hands he carried a small brown sack.
He placed the sack on the floor a few feet in front of me wordlessly. I watched his immaculate unreadable expression once more as he pulled out its contents.
Feathers, pencils, a matchbox, balls of crumpled paper, candles, an old deck of cards, glass marbles and a silver fork.
I continued to stare as he arranged them in what looked like order of weight.
Then he pushed himself up off the floor abruptly and step towards me. I did my best not to back away swiftly. His smile stretched as he stopped just in front of me. His general charm and cool collectiveness was beginning to unnerve me.
Callum reached slowly and carefully for the shoulder strap of my bag watching my eyes gauging my reaction. When I didn’t object he helped pulled it off my shoulder over my head and placed it on the floor next to me.
“What’s all this?” I asked him pointing to the stuff he’d laid out on the floor.
“They’re all the things you’re going to learn to float today?” he said calmly.
“Wait…what?!” I asked in panic. Did he say float?! As in, FLOAT?
He’s got to be kidding.
“You’re kidding right?”
He gave me a look. Clearly not.
“I’ve never done that before!” I said. Obviously.
“You did it an hour ago” he countered in a bored voice as if he’d been expecting me to say this.
“That was an accident!” I implored. He can’t be serious!
“I’ve never done that before! Look, trust me ok, if something is not straight I can straighten it. If there’s something small I want to turn I can turn it. That’s it! That’s the extent of control I have over this…this weirdness.”
“Exactly,” he said calmly.
God I hate how calm he is.
Callum picked up a feather and pulled my hand up placing the feather upon my palm.
“And it wasn’t an accident, it was your energy”
“What?” I asked in a high voice, somewhat frazzled.
“You’ve been keeping your powers under a giant rock since they surfaced, afraid of them and their strength.” He circled around me and his voice, how sure he was of the things he spoke, it panicked me even more.
“You’ve got a lot more power inside you than you realise, Daphne. When your emotions are labile, when you’re scared or angry… that’s when your resistance against your power is weakest and it comes out in huge bursts of energy, allowing you brief access to powers you don’t really have…”
He seemed fascinated, as if I was a little lab rat he had seen do something incredible. I felt disgusted at the thought.
“I just want it to stop.” I said clearly with frowning at him.
He stopped in front of me at the words and looked into my eyes. His blue eyes seemed unfazed by my decision to abandon the powers he spoke so greatly of.
Again he took another bold step towards me and held my chin in between his fingers. I swallowed nervously.
“You want it to stop? There’s only one way. Control it. Don’t let it control you”
I clenched my jaws.
“What do I do?”
I asked finally stopping in front of him after pacing back and forth for a solid ten minutes.
Callum smirked and got up off the floor. He seemed completely at ease with me and decided it wasn’t unusual to invade my personal space, grab my wrist and spin me around so that my back hit his chest successfully making me lose my breath.
His other hand immediately held my waist steadying me.
My heart began to race and I could feel my entire face flushing.
“Calm down,” he said in an amused voice in my ear. I resisted the urge to make a face at him.
“Put your feet apart,” I followed his instructions without questioning them.
His hand then released my waist and moved under my elbow pulling it up to my shoulder level.
“Open” he whispered in my ear again.
As if I knew what he meant I opened my palm to reveal the feather upon it.
I just know that I can’t do this.
Deep breath. Ok… let’s just try. Let’s just try.
“Lift the feather off your palm.”
I closed my eyes. Lift the feather… Lift the feather, I chanted in my head.
I willed for it to happen. But the feather was so light upon my hand I didn’t know if it had. My eyes peaked open.
“I told you I can’t” I said almost resentfully.
“Can!” said Callum firmly, “This is where you start. You can. Believe it. This is your only way out…You need to know how to control it”
I sighed deeply and tried again. Concentrating. The weightless feather in my mind lifted off my palm. Then…
Panic. I could feel my head throbbing in my throat. It was second nature for me to panic when I had this feeling.
My fingers were becoming hot as if a current ran within me. I could feel the energy pulse through my hands. My heart raced it was happening again!
“Concentrate” Callum breathed into my ear again but his voice sounded far away.
I can’t. I could hear my blood pumping loudly behind my ears. The ringing began again. It was growing quickly louder…
“Hold on, Daphne… Focus!”
Focus… All I could think was the shrill piercing sound in my ears and how I could feel my entire body crumpling with the pain it created.
“Come on Daphne!…” Callum urged and something inside me flipped. My eyes were screwed up in pain, ears nearly bleeding, my hands were ablaze but with all the strength I had left in me I wished… prayed… hoped… for the feather to float off my hand.
And in the span of a heartbeat…
Sheer unfathomable relief. It felt as though I was plunged deep into water. The chaotic sound in my head vanished like a switch had been flipped off inside me. All I could hear was the loud drumming of my heartbeat.
The ear-splitting ringing was gone, my hands were no longer burning. The shock of it made me open my eyes.
I saw clearly, a glimpse of the feather floating serenely above my head before consciousness abandoned me and my eyes fluttered closed plunging me into darkness.
Something cold pressed on to my forehead and my eyes flew open once more. Callum was crouched over me, his face upside down as I watched him.
“How long was I out this time?” I asked.
“Twenty-two seconds” he replied with a small smile. He was impressed, I could tell.
I was impressed. Ever since I felt the amazing sudden relief gush though me I wanted to do it again… and again, until I was convinced that yes, I could control it. Yes, I could get better.
Yes. I could stop it from overpowering me.
Callum helped me sit up slowly and handed me the cold soda he was pressing against my forehead.
“You’re getting better. Drink.”
I immediately took a few gulps of the ice cold soda. After the first few times I realised it made me better.
“Thanks” I said coughing a little as the fizzy drink scarred its way down my throat.
“Admit it, you’re having fun,” he said watching me.
A small smile crept into my mouth betraying me. Callum laughed and walked over to the bunch of littered items picking up the cards I’d managed to float over my head and arranging the deck again.
He kept calling me Amateur, which probably meant I had a lot left to learn. The way he was so confident that I was doing the right thing, that I was coping well made me believe I was doing the right thing. That it was safe to trust him.
Any sane person would have avoided the thing that made them pass out. But it gave me something besides relief from the God-awful pain in my head and tinnitus in my ears, something I never felt before in my life …
I’d successfully managed to levitate the feathers, the balls of paper, the matchbox, up to a stack of twenty-seven cards and several glass marbles of different sizes. I’d only failed with the silver fork, which Callum decided to put away for another day.
I put the empty soda can on the floor and got up walking towards him.
“How do you feel,” he asked with a smile turning back to me.
“Essentially better…” I replied with a shrug.
“Good. Let’s keep it that way. More tomorrow…”
“Ok,” I didn’t argue. I was feeling weak anyway, like I could skip dinner and just go straight to bed. But there was still something else I wanted to see…
I watched him for a long minute wondering if he would refuse it but…
“Show me…” I said suddenly before I could stop myself, or even rephrase it.
Callum stuffed the cards, candles and all back into the sack and turned to face me, a smirk on his mouth.
“Show you what?”
I folded my arms and raised my eyebrow at him.
“Ok…” he laughed at my sceptic look. “Come here” he called me to him with two fingers. I stepped closer, enough for me to see how his eyes suddenly seemed brighter, clearer. His pupils were dilated, the corner of his mouth pulled up to a lopsided smile.
He dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out one of the crumpled paper balls that he’d just stuffed in there and balanced it on the centre of his palm.
I watched it for a second before my gaze darted back to his eyes then back again to his palm.
Without warning, the paper ignited upon his hand. Brilliant orange flames licked at the white paper charring its sides. As the fire engulfed the ball of paper vivid red lines appeared along the paper where the fire spread across the material.
I stared at it transfixed. The burning ball of flames lifted off his hand, and hovered over his palm. Callum seemed completely unaffected by its heat. I looked into his eyes, the warm golden glow of the flames illuminated his face throwing his young aristocratic looks into sharp relief. His intense blue eyes searched mine. What was he looking for…?
Callum blinked once and the flames vanished as suddenly as they had appeared. The ash that remained, trickled through his fingers on to the floor.
I wasn’t alone.
I smiled as I looked back at him and Callum’s face broke into a wide grin.
I shut off the tap and stepped out of the shower wrapping my towel around me and securing it. The mirror was fogged completely after my long hot shower and the surface squeaked as I wiped part of it away so I could look at my reflection.
Thin damp locks of brown hair that had escaped its knot hung around my face. I looked… better. I didn’t know how to describe it. I knew it was physically impossible to change in twenty-four hours, but I looked more like a normal sixteen year old girl.
As I walked into my room I pushed my fingertips over my shoulder blades gently massaging the muscles of my neck.
I changed in the dark into a pair of cotton shorts and a comfortable t-shirt and then reached for the light.
My hand stopped just short of the switch when I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle with instinct. I spun around but my room was still and quiet. The street lamp was lit across the road, its light fell into my room through the window.
I swallowed nervously. It was just typical that when I thought my life was getting just a bit better, it turned around and proved me wrong. Very wrong.
Ever since I had spent two weeks in my room suspended from school I had found something peculiar in the neighbourhood. A man… who watched me.
At first I thought it was my mind playing a twisted trick on me. But surely my mind would be more imaginative than to recreate the same hallucination three times in a row. Within a week.
I never spoke about it to anyone, mostly because I had no one to speak to. But also because saying it out loud would have made it more real. I admit I was scared, terrified even. But the prospect of returning to school and the stalker’s absence the following week had driven it out of my mind.
My breathing was suddenly erratic and my hands were shaking. I left the room in the dark and crept towards the window quietly, my heart hammering against my ribs in fear. I reached the window and my mouth fell open in shock.
There he was again…
On the opposite side of the road, in the convenient dark space between No. 23 and 24 amid the wild hedges where he’d be missed unless someone was looking for him, was the tall man I’d seen three times before.
His hooded black cloak was wrapped around him and he stared resolutely at my window. He looked too real to be a nightmare. He didn’t move or even make a sound but just stared at me…
My mouth went dry like every time I’d seen him before. A chill ran down my spine.
But in the time it took me to blink he turned on the spot and vanished into thin air…
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