Solitude: the state or quality of being alone or remote from others. Humans, pack animals by nature, generally cannot comprehend this. We hungrily seek contact and intimacy. We crave interaction with others like us, even if it is only to complain about them. Forced isolation, being shut off from people against your will, can be understood to an extent, but deliberate separation? Unfathomable. I pondered this, neatly tuning out Sami’s words, imagining myself peacefully secluded on some uninhabited-by-humans land, far away from the heartache, fear, and raw, abrasive rage that coursed through me.
Sami’s apprehensive “Kiera?” came right on the heels of Book’s “I do imagine that you have time to indulge in these escapist fantasies of yours.”
I kissed my teeth in irritation, producing a rude sound. “Shut up. I’m thinking.” This was the part, in books and movies, where people would tempt fate by asking, “What can possibly go wrong?” I, however, wasn’t eager to find out. With my track record, I’d end up dead, again, because, you know, once just isn’t enough.
I scrubbed my face with my hands, more to keep them from around Sami’s neck than for any real reason, and eyeballed the clock. I blanched when I saw how long we’d been sitting at the table, and wondered if Kenzie had actually gone to school, or if ze was just killing time until it was safe to arrive back at my house. There was too much pressure; I couldn’t deal with it.
“I can’t deal with this,” I giggled, suddenly feeling giddy. “My mother hates me and my apprentice is a murderous spy.”
“Atlantia doesn’t hate you. It’s the opposite, really; she loves you, and that’s why she-”
I held up my hands to stem the flow of her words. “And, break!” I clapped my hands together. “Stop right there. I need…air.” I was having an extremely hard time processing everything I’d just heard. Of course, I only had Sami’s version of events, which meant one major thing.
I had to call my mother. It probably might have been more fruitful to visit her, to storm the compound and bellow for her, making everyone notice my presence, except –and I was quite certain of this– that that particular display would be exactly what she wanted from me. Not to mention, the shame of showing up as I was, a literal shade of my former being. No. Visits to Atlantia were off of the immediate agenda.
I giggled and hiccuped and snorted as Sami slid out of her chair and, with a terrified glance in my direction, slipped away, leaving her cold and untouched coffee on the table. Mine had cooled, too, and it was just as well; I couldn’t drink it, after all. I couldn’t savor it, letting the taste of roasted beans roll against my tongue, or have the sweetness of the caramel and honey and sugar massage my aching spirits.
I wept. Noisily. Sami poked her head in a couple of times, but stalked right back out each time, muttering to herself. Book kept trying to cut into my pity party time, but I shut that down, too. I needed this cathartic session of snot and salty eye water, though my mess was mostly imaginary. When I looked down at the table, I was shocked to see actual wet spots on the wood.
I had manifested real tears.
As soon as I noticed that, my crying jag ended with a screech. My befuddled brain stuttered and blinked, trying to kickstart itself into gear. I needed my motor running to process this unexpected happenstance. I stared at my cold bowl of coffee and almost dissolved into hiccuping sobs again. How could I ever function normally without caffeine?
“Don’t answer that,” I mumbled to Book in warning. The silence that responded to my order felt smug, and annoyed me greatly.
I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon floating from room to room, deep in thought, pondering my next move. Sami threw glances my way every fifteen minutes on the dot. Hopeful glances, full of guilt and apprehension. I noticed, too, that she kept her phone near her at all times, as if anticipating that I might need her to dial Atlantia’s number for me. Either that, or she was waiting for a call. Perhaps she was making a recording, or snapping pictures, of my ethereal form. It was also possible that she was sending and receiving messages that pertained to me, with clues on how to suck away my remaining essence and trap me in a bottle of some anti-magic design. I was becoming paranoid, but I couldn’t blame myself for that. Everything that I thought I knew had been turned on its head and spun around like a breakdancer doing the windmill. I craved a distraction which, thankfully, landed in my lap.
Literally landed in my lap.
Sami opened the door at 3:37 p.m. to an overeager Kenzie who, somehow, managed to trip on nothing, fall, and land in my just-so-happened-to-be-solidified lap. Two shocked pairs of eyes bores holes into me, and Book heaved an exasperated sigh right into the middle of my thought process.
“Okaaaay,” I drawled. “I’m pretty sure I can explain this.”
Kenzie scrambled off of my lap, and the expression on that youthful face just about killed me. Caught between awe and horror, Kenzie could only gape at me, while Sami’s chin trembled as she fought to contain her emotion.
“Kiera!” she cried, losing the battle with herself. “You’re… alive? How? Did the magic restore you? Have you found a cure?”
“I’m…positive there’s no cure for death, Samilla,” I told her. “But I did find the most interesting book….”
Kenzie perked up, quickly masking the turmoil that played across hir face. “Book? What kind of book? Can I see it? Can I borrow it? Do you have another copy? Those brats at school will be so jealous.” Ze rubbed hir hands together and cackled.
Disturbed, I tried to diffuse the situation. I opened my mouth, but what poured forth was neither my voice nor my thoughts.
“You would do well to seek, first, within yourselves, then amongst others, for that which you lack. Go inward, then beyond, to uncover the truths to the questions you fear to ask. The winds of change are blowing, and the balance of power is shifting as you breathe. A new era has dawned, and the vanguard has come.”
Kenize summed up all of our feelings nicely.
“What the heck was that?!”
The air around me began to shimmer, and thicken. My body grew hot and heavy; I had an idea of what was coming, and I didn’t like it one bit. I heard Sami’s phone clatter as it slipped from her grip and onto the bare floor. I heard Kenzie gasp, and Sami moan. My vision grew fuzzy, and I started to shake. Soft light shined through my skin and formed letters on my arms. My throat worked, and I felt as if I was going to vomit.
Often, being right is a terrible burden.
I doubled over, and spewed a forth a gelatinous mass that shaped itself and stood. My tongue and teeth felt gritty, like I had gargled with ash, or sand, and dread settled in the one part of me that wasn’t aching and shuddering with power.
Kenzie, once again, was the first to speak.
“Ohmybiscuitflippinggod! What is THAT?”
I lifted my head, and through my swimming vision, I saw…me.