“Police are investigating a string of fires across the country over the past several days. Officials now believe it may have been arson. We’ll have more information as the story develops,” A woman on the television explains in a typical reporter voice. I glance up at the TV, hung above the bar, in the corner over the expensive liquor. It’s barely eleven in the morning.
I nurse a glass of whiskey, a fresh pack of cigarettes on the counter beside it. There’s only one thing on my mind lately; what does it take to kill a Guardian? I’ve tried suffocation, stabbing, shooting, and jumping off heights. I’m a lot more resilient than I’d hoped, and I’m running out of ideas. I wonder how people hunted down the Guardians hundreds of years ago, with less technology than they have now.
The bell of the door jingles. I look up by instinct. A man walks in, shoulders nearly as broad as the doorway, with his head just an inch or two below the top of the door. All conversations in the bar pause as the patrons turn to look, but they quickly resume. I turn away too until the stool beside me moves.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” the man asks. I wave dismissively. He orders a beer and sits quietly for several minutes before he turns to speak. “Are you from around here?”
“No,” I sigh. Here we go again.
“I see,” he hums and falls silent again. Okay, that was weird. I glance up from the corner of my eye, only to accidentally meet his gaze. His eyes are the darkest brown I’ve ever seen, set deep above high cheekbones and a broad nose.
I focus on my glass, embarrassed. “Excuse me,” I mutter as I get up. I leave some cash on the counter and grab my cigarettes. I keep my head down as I scurry past the man and head for the door. I get a shiver down my back as I slip out to the chilly afternoon. In southern states, the weather is still pretty mild even in the middle of winter. Not that I mind the cold.
I wander the streets of the town, into the shadier area. I’m not sure what I’m looking for; maybe an empty house to sleep in. I don’t have time to figure it out, as I pass the end of an alley and feel a hand on my mouth. I gasp as I grab onto the hand to pull it away, searing the flesh of their fingers. The person stumbles back, but when I turn to look at them my vision swims.
One… no two… three? I stumble back. Everything is spinning. How many are there? I throw my arms up, tossing fire at the fuzzy figures. I hear a voice curse. A sharp pain on the side of my head and the world goes black.
Talk about a rude awakening. My eyes snap open and I suck in what I thought was air. The icy liquid greedily pours into my lungs. I can’t see anything but shades of blue and it stings my eyes. I cough, but it’s no use. My body aches. Little threads of red drift up through the blues as I sink further.
I guess I got my wish. I really wanted to avoid this outcome, but maybe water is the only way to put out fire after all. I let my eyes close and relax. I allow, in my last moments, for my thoughts to wander back to him. I want his face; his messy brown hair and his hazel eyes to be the last thing I see.
My everything hurts. My head feels like it’s split in two, and my lungs are full of pins and needles. I’ve never really believed in the afterlife, but this doesn’t seem right. Why does it smell like stew?
“I see you’re coming around,” a voice comes from somewhere nearby. It sounds like an old woman.
I peek one eye open just enough to make out details. Wooden pillars hold up a straw roof with a hole in the raised center. It’s dark, the sun outside barely filters through the little hole, where the smoke rises out of. Around me, I make out some colourful shapes, but it’s still fuzzy. I grunt as I push myself up on my elbows. My shoulder and a few other places on my chest and legs scream at me.
“I would advise you try not to move too much. You’re lucky to be alive, with the shape you’re in, child,” the woman’s voice fills the small space. I turn my head just enough to catch sight of a figure hunched over the pot a few feet away. I think she’s got her back to me. How did she know?
“Where am I?” I croak.
“Safe,” she replies. “Though I doubt this is where you planned to be.”
“Huh?” I moan. I’m way too tired for riddles.
“You’ve been causing quite a bit of trouble. My grandson found you floating in the river. It’s good that he did, too,” she states as though I should be happy.
“He should have left me there,” I scoff. I lay back down. Maybe I’ll succumb to my wounds.
She chuckles. “You’ve caused quite a bit of trouble lately, child, but that’s hardly reason to give up.”
“I’m not giving up,” I snap.
“Oh?” she hums, “What other reason could one have to take their own life?”
I take a painfully deep breath. “To protect everyone else.”
The woman starts to cackle. I glare at her back. “Forgive me,” she glances over her shoulder. “But that is quite ridiculous.”
“What do you know?” I mutter as I close my eyes. She’s just a crazy old woman in a weird little hut.
“What, indeed…” she muses. She doesn’t speak anymore after that, and it’s not long before I pass out again.
The hut is pitch black when my senses return. Luckily, I was too exhausted to dream. My eyes adjust to the darkness quickly. I notice two shapes on the ground of the hut, rising and falling at a steady pace. Sleeping people, probably the old lady and someone else. It doesn’t matter.
I see my jacket laying on the floor by my head. I grab it and climb to my feet. My body is riddled with pain, particularly my shoulder, but I push myself to head for the vague outline of a door. The sooner I leave this place, the better off they’ll be.
I see moonlight down a long tunnel and follow it. The ground under my feet shudders. An earthquake, probably. I take another step and walk face first into a wall.
“What the hell?” I hiss under my breath, rubbing my sore nose.
“Where exactly do you plan to go?” a male voice asks from behind me. A light fills the hut. I turn slowly, annoyed.
“None of your… You!” my eyes bulge. Am I seeing things?
He nods and smirks. “Yes. Had you given me the chance, we could have met under better circumstances,” his dark brown eyes dance in the firelight.
“Better… I was drunk in a bar. How is that better?” I raise an eyebrow, crossing my arms. Ow. That was dumb.
He shrugs. “At least you were in one piece then.”
I glance down at myself. “In one piece?”
“You were in bad shape when I pulled you out of the water. It seems someone put quite a bit of effort into your demise,” he explains, totally casual. “It took quite a bit of energy to restore you. Three of the elders still haven’t recovered.”
I gulp and glare at the wall. “Why did they bother? Everyone is better off without me.”
“In what way?” he asks curiously.
I hesitate. I think of her, and my eyes sting. I push the face out of my mind and swallow hard. “They just are.”
He hums. “I would argue the opposite.”
I step closer. “What would you know? You don’t know me.”
He nods. “You are correct. I don’t know you. However, I know of you. You’ve left a path of destruction in your wake, as the elders predicted you would.”
“Maybe you do know me,” I scoff.
His dark eyes bore into me. He can’t be much older than me, if not younger, and yet there’s a strange wisdom in those eyes. “You are more than destruction. Much more.”
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t taken aback by that. The sincerity in his voice rings in my ears, and I feel a little light-headed. I stumble, catching myself on the surprisingly sturdy grass wall. I blink and he’s there, his arm wrapped around my back. I can feel the muscles of his arm against my back and shiver.
“Let me help you,” he whispers, almost begging.
I shake my head, clenching my fists. “You can’t help me… You’ll just end up dead too.”
He ponders for a moment. “Alright. Don’t let me, but I’m going to help you regardless.”
My gaze snaps up to look up at his face, “What? Why?”
“I cannot stand by while you fight alone,” he states, dead serious. “Your story has been foretold for generations.”
“I don’t want help,” I pout stubbornly.
“You’re not in much of a position to argue,” he smiles. “Rest. You’re safe here.”
I glare at him. “It’s not me I’m worried about.”
“We can take care of ourselves,” he responds with a chuckle as he gently nudges me back toward the hearth. “A skill you seem to lack.”
“Hey,” I snap. “Not fair. We just met at a bad time…” I mumble awkwardly. He doesn’t appear to buy it. I give up and lay down. Clearly, this argument is going nowhere.
By Krystyna Yates