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Tag: dead girls don’t cry

Chapter 8 – A Little Pain Never Hurt Anyone

One Year Before Impact Day

“I can’t believe you’re seriously doing this,” Sadie said, as she watched me getting ready.

“I don’t know what I’m doing yet,” I told her. “I’m just testing the waters, that’s all.”

“What do you think is gonna happen? You’re just going to stumble onto a mugging, beat up some thug, and be given the key to the city? By the way, you look ridiculous.”

“What were you expecting, a cape?” I snapped, wishing she’d just keep her mouth shut for once.

I may have been inspired by comic book heroes, but that didn’t mean I was going to dress like them. I wanted something practical, nondescript, and most importantly, easy to replace. A distinctive look could come later, if I really needed one. I wasn’t exactly going to start that way.

What I had was a sports bra, a black hoodie, and black cargo pants and combat boots I’d picked up from a military surplus store. I’d even picked up a ski mask to hide my face, because despite what TV tells you, a hood is not enough to keep your face hidden, especially when you’re in motion. I’d probably look like a criminal myself, but at least I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and nobody would be able to identify me by looking at me. Hopefully, they wouldn’t even be able to figure out that I was a girl.

“You look like you’re going to rob the liquor store,” Sadie said.

“Alright, I get it. Now, if you don’t mind, I have better things to do than stand around and be insulted.”

“Okay, I’m sorry,” she said, as I started climbing out through the window. “I’m just worried about you, that’s all.”

“Oh, please. What do you think is going to happen to me?”

I crawled out into the front yard, dusting myself off as I started to skulk away from the house. Sadie followed me out, climbing out the same way. Though I had no idea why, she seemed bound by all the same laws of physics as any other person. She was still held down by gravity and she couldn’t pass through walls or any other physical object. Unlike normal people, though, she couldn’t actually move anything, either. No matter how hard she pushed on a door, she couldn’t open or close it. She couldn’t pick up objects, and if they were placed on her, they would just sort of fall through her. So far as I could tell, it didn’t follow any logic or sense.

“Just because nothing can kill you, doesn’t mean you don’t feel pain,” she said, hurrying to catch up with me.

“A little pain never hurt anyone,” I said.

“That makes no sense,” she retorted. I ignored her.

For a while, I just wandered the streets, just generally trying to move further away from home. I had a vague idea of what I was looking for, but I wasn’t sure if I’d recognise it even when I saw it. I was actually glad Sadie was there, just as an extra set of eyes.

I thought as I walked. There are a lot of reasons people do bad things. A lot of crimes are motivated by desperation and oppression, by disenfranchised people who don’t see any better options available to them. People who are generally good can fall into a bad culture, and that can be a powerful motivator for things they wouldn’t otherwise do.

I wasn’t looking to punish those people. There wasn’t anything I could do for them, at least not directly. Interrupting a crime in progress would only lead to preventing that one specific incident, or maybe only delaying it. At worst, someone would get hurt.

The real problem, the one I really wanted to do something about, was the gangs. They’d been growing in power for years, and the police seemed powerless to stop them. Occasionally they would find and raid a hideout, or arrest some particularly careless thugs, but it wasn’t enough to make any sort of real difference.

According to rumour, more than one of them was funded by some of the city’s more excessively wealthy citizens, which did help explain why they were so untouchable. Even still, despite Sadie’s protestations that real life was not like a comic book, the problems in our city had reached an almost comic book level of proliferation. You could find evidence of the gang presence almost everywhere, and they were growing increasingly brazen in their activities.

As if to prove my point, it took only three blocks to find something that looks an awful lot like a gang activity. Three people were trying to break into a very expensive looking car, and from the way they were circling around it, it looked like they knew what they were doing.

“What do you think?” I asked Sadie, in a hushed voice.

“I think you’re gonna get your butt kicked,” she replied antagonistically.

“I mean, what do they look like to you?”

“They look like people who would kick your butt,” she reiterated.

I sighed. “Do you think they’re just some punks up to no good, or are they in a gang?”

“Oh, they’re definitely in a gang,” Sadie said, clearly expecting it to have the opposite effect. Still, it was good enough for me.

I rolled the ski mask down over my face, pulled the hood up over it, and started to creep up on them. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time, but I also didn’t want to just rush in and, as Sadie had so eloquently put it, get my butt kicked.

The three of them noticed me when I was a couple of metres away, sneaking around the corner of another car. They immediately stopped what they were doing to stare at me.

“What the fuck is this?” one of them said, a little too loudly for my taste. “Get out of here, brat. This is our turf.”

Turf? Definitely a gang, then. Good. I could feel better about disrupting their little party.

“Not anymore, it isn’t,” I said, trying to lower my voice and change my inflection. It didn’t matter what it sounded like, as long as it didn’t sound like me.

Things escalated quickly from there. Sneering at me, the one who had spoken pulled out a knife, and charged at me, fast. Sadie screamed, but thankfully they couldn’t hear her.

I reacted almost instinctively. It was obvious from his body language how he was going to swing; a diagonal slash aimed at my torso. Amateur. I was already moving to the side, just far enough that the knife missed me.

His momentum was still carrying him forward, and I needed to use that. I didn’t have the strength to match his. I locked the side of my right arm against his wrist, and my left just behind his elbow, one fluid movement that kept me out of the path of the knife. Inertia took care of the rest; there was a gross crunching sound as his arm broke, and his shoulder popped out.

The other two were already advancing on me, clearly not intimidated. One of them lunged at me, trying to grab me in a chokehold, but she was far too obvious about it. I managed to duck under her arms, twisting on the spot quickly enough to grab the back of her head, using her speed to direct it into the corner of the car. As she slumped to the ground, the third one grabbed my shoulders roughly.

That was a mistake. My fingers clamped down on his hand in just the right places, and with one well-practised turn I twisted his arm around behind him, hard enough to drop him to his knees. Taking advantage of his surprise, I let go of his arm, cupped my hands and bashed them against his ears. The air pressure forced into them would have ruptured his ear drums, stunning him and leaving him entirely too unsteady to do much else.

Without warning, I felt a biting pain in my shoulder. A rough force crashed into me, forcing me forward and into the car. In the reflection of the window, I could see the woman I’d thought I’d knocked out earlier – she’d grabbed the knife, and driven it into my back.

She pulled out the knife before driving it into me again, and I couldn’t keep myself from crying out in pain. She stabbed me again, twisting the knife, and I started to see stars. My back felt like it was on fire, and it was difficult to breathe.

As she pulled the knife out again, I gritted my teeth, and twisted around just far enough that I could slam the side of my hand into her throat. It wasn’t hard enough to cause any permanent damage, but she staggered back, dropping the knife and clutching her throat.

Blood was pouring down my back, and every movement made the wounds stretch, sending deep spikes of pain all through my torso. She and I just stood there, staring at each other and panting. I realised I needed to get away.

An arm wrapped around my neck, and it took me a few seconds to realise it was the guy with the broken arm. I hadn’t expected any of them to be so tenacious.

I bit into his arm, sinking my teeth in far enough to get a firm grip, then jerked my neck sideways, trying to rip out a chunk of flesh. I didn’t manage to cause him any damage, but it was enough to get him to let go, and I staggered away from him.

I had to keep myself from shouting when I saw his face. A crack ran right down the centre of it, but it wasn’t any sort of injury. His skin wasn’t split, and there was no blood. It was just a crack, as impossible as that seemed.

I ran, ignoring the pain and the dizziness. I needed to get away from them before things got any worse. Thankfully, they didn’t try to follow me. I collapsed under a tree about a block away, breathing heavily.

The wounds on my back were already starting to heal. They hurt less, and I couldn’t feel the blood flowing out anymore. Under any other circumstances, I would have taken those as bad signs, but I knew what my body was capable of. After just a few minutes, I felt completely fine again.

“What the Hell was that?” Sadie demanded, popping out from behind the tree. She must have followed me when I ran. That was good. Even though I knew nothing could happen to her, I still worried.

“Beta testing,” I said, wincing as I stood back up.

“Are you kidding me? Can you take this even a little bit seriously?”

“I am being serious,” I told her. “That was important. I learned a lot.”

“Unless you learned not to do that ever again, I don’t think you did,” she muttered.

“For starters, I’m going to need some padding,” I said, ignoring her. “Because ouch. I may heal, but I still feel bruised and sore. I also need to work on my awareness. This ski mask isn’t actually great for seeing around me. And it’s itchy and hot. Also, I need a better way to subdue people, because that was not pleasant.”

“Not pleasant? Charlie, you probably put all three of them in a hospital. You broke a guy’s arm!”

“I think I also dislocated his shoulder, but that’s exactly my point. Fighting like that isn’t exactly helpful, and they aren’t the ones I want to hurt.”

“They aren’t?” Sadie looked confused.

“Of course not,” I said. “People like that are just doing what they have to do. Or what they think they have to do. It’s the really evil ones that rise up, and end up calling the shots. They’re the ones I need to take care of.”

“And how are you going to do that?” she demanded.

“I’m not sure yet,” I admitted. “It’s a work in progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all that.”

“So you’re going to do this again.”

“Yeah, ‘fraid so,” I told her. “But to be honest, I’m thinking it would be better if you actually didn’t come with me, next time. You were screaming like, the whole time, and it was really distracting.”

“You just got stabbed multiple times, and you’re telling me that I was distracting?”

“It is what it is,” I said.

“You seriously need to work on your priorities,” she told me.

“Right now, my priority is a hot shower. Then as much sleep as I can get before school tomorrow. Any problems with that?”

Sadie just shook her head. I felt unreasonable happy, smiling the entire way home.

 

Next Week: You Don’t Have A Secret Boyfriend, Do You?

Chapter 7 – You May Consider Me Intrigued

One Year Before Impact Day

“I tried to kill myself,” I told her. I watched the words sink in, but the expression on her face wasn’t like Sadie’s. It wasn’t anger, or resentment, or judgement. It was fear.

“What? Jesus, Charlie! Why did you-”

“I don’t know,” I said, cutting her off. “I was feeling really, really low. Like, so deep underwater I couldn’t even see the surface. And the only way out of it that I could think of was, well, suicide.”

Rachel was silent for a few seconds. She didn’t take her eyes off me, and her expression didn’t change.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I didn’t know what to say,” I told her. “I still don’t, clearly, but I felt like I had to say something.”

“You know you can always come to me with stuff like this, right? Even when you don’t know what to say.”

God, she was so hurt. Why did I ever think it was okay to do that to her? What would she have done if I hadn’t survived? I’d thought it was arrogant to think anyone would care, but…

“I wasn’t thinking clearly,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.” Unshed tears were beginning to sting my eyes, and I did my best to will them away.

“No, no, don’t apologise,” she said, shaking her head. “Just… Please, talk to me before you try anything like that again, okay?”

I just nodded, my arms trembling slightly, my eyes still watery. I still hadn’t told her everything, though, and I couldn’t stop there. I knew it was a lot to drop on her at once, but I was going to go crazy if I didn’t say something to someone.

“That’s… kind of what I wanted to talk to you about,” I said hesitantly.

“You’re thinking of trying again?” she asked, not accusing, just patient.

“No. Kind of the opposite of that,” I said.

“I don’t follow.”

Another deep breath. She’d believed me when I told her about Sadie. She’d reassured me when I was worried about our friendship. She hadn’t tried to lecture me about suicide. If anyone was going to know what to say, it was her.

“Rachel, I… I jumped off a bridge. Into traffic. I got hit by at least three cars. And now look at me.”

“That was you?” she exclaimed. “But… you seem fine.”

“I am. Completely. Like, not-even-a scratch fine,” I said, my heart pounding in my chest.

“Are you sure that’s actually what happened?” she asked.

“Yes,” I told her. “And I know it doesn’t exactly help me sound sane, but Sadie was there. She remembers it too.”

“Have you talked to anyone else about this?”

“God, no,” I said.

“Okay, so-”

“That’s not all,” I interrupted. Rachel cringed.

“There’s more?”

“You’re not going to like it,” I warned her.

“I haven’t liked any part.”

I hesitated. She hadn’t stopped me, criticised me, or told me I was wrong or lying. There was no reason to believe that would change, but I was still scared. I gave myself a few moments to psyche myself up, then kept going.

“I was curious,” I said.

“Curious,” she repeated, her tone painfully bland.

“So I tried again. In different ways. Nothing worked.”

I could see a variety of emotions at war in her expressions. I recognised the winning emotion: curiosity.

“What are we talking about here? Without graphic details, please.”

“Um… Cutting, pills, asphyxiation, ten story drop. And I didn’t just survive. I’m completely unharmed.”

“That’s impossible,” she said. “How is that possible?”

“I wish I knew.”

She fell silent again, processing the new information. I’d told her everything, and I couldn’t take it back. All I could do was hope it wasn’t too much for her.

“That is kind of incredible,” she said at last.

“Incredible?” I asked, not expecting that at all.

“Well, yeah! I mean, how many unkillable people do you know?”

She actually seemed excited, and intrigued. She wasn’t afraid, and she didn’t tell me to pretend it wasn’t happening. Already, I felt so much better than I had.

“Depends on your definition, I guess,” I said. “Also, I don’t think unkillable is a real word.”

“I guess it kind of runs in the family, doesn’t it?” she said. “Except, like, complete opposites.”

I hadn’t even thought about it like that, but in a way, she was totally right. Sadie wasn’t exactly living, but she was still around, experiencing the world, and so far as I could tell, completely unable to be harmed. In a kind of twisted way, we were the same, but also completely opposite.

“What if I’m some kind of horrible science experiment?” I asked.

“Even if the experiment is horrible, it doesn’t mean that you are,” she reassured me. “Plus, there are all sorts of possibilities.”

“Like what?”

“Oh please, like you haven’t considered the comic book angle. You’re a bigger nerd than I am.”

I wouldn’t ever admit it, but my heart was singing a little to hear her say that.

“I do kinda like the idea,” I admitted, a little embarrassed to be called out on it.

“Right?” she said, excited. “And then we have a whole plethora of options to consider. Toxic waste accident, alien from another planet, mutant gene, ancient magic, the list is endless.”

“Magic? Really?” It was the last thing I’d ever expect her to think of.

“Hey, you will never meet a bigger sceptic than me, but if you’re telling me you have impossible healing powers. I am going to consider every possibility open,” she said, somehow managing to make believing in magic sound almost rational.

“You’ll make an excellent scientist someday,” I told her.

“Piss off, I’m an excellent scientist right now,” she shot back, smirking. “So, have you decided on a design for your costume?”

Costume? Wasn’t she jumping the gun a bit there? Taking the idea a little too far? Not that I didn’t see the appeal, but I also wanted to be taken seriously, and that didn’t exactly seem like the way to do it. I did love that her mind went to the same place as mine, though.

“I’m not a superhero,” I said.

“Of course you’re not. You haven’t got a costume. Or a name.”

“You’re ridiculous,” I told her.

“But you’re smiling again,” she said happily.

“Thanks,” I said, with just a hint of sarcasm.

“Thank you for talking to me,” she said seriously. “It means a lot that you trust me.”

“It means a lot that you believe me. And that you’re not freaked out by it.”

“I’m not gonna lie, I am a little freaked out that you tried to kill yourself, mostly because I had no idea you were feeling that way. But I really do think the whole not dying thing is pretty cool. You may consider me intrigued.”

I was relieved I could count on her to be honest about how she was feeling, too. And realistically, it would have bothered me a lot more if the thought of me killing myself didn’t affect her at all. I felt better having come clean to her, and there weren’t a lot of people I felt that way about.

“If I let you poke and prod me, will you promise not to stay mad?” I asked. Rachel just raised her eyebrows, and I realised the room for misinterpretation there, especially given our earlier conversation. I felt myself turning a little red. “Um. I probably need to get home.”

“Yeah, you know Aidan’s gonna be waiting up for you,” she said, stretching her arms out and leaning back a little. “So what are you gonna tell him? Are you going to talk to him about the whole immortality thing?”

“Ugh, he’s like an overprotective big brother and a nosy little sister all in one. I don’t think I’m ready to tell anyone else, though. At least not until I know more. Once was scary enough.”

“Well, you already told me about it, so if you need someone to talk to, you know where to find me,” she said gently.

“Yeah. Thanks,” I said. “Now, do I need to sneak out the back door again, or…?”

“At this time of night? Mum’s gonna be either too drunk to remember, too drunk to notice in the first place, or completely passed out. I think you’ll be fine.”

“So I can use the front door? Wow, how special.”

“Hey, it’s good practice for you, in case you ever need to sneak out of a boyfriend’s house.”

I frowned. For some reason, something about that comment annoyed me.

“Um, yeah. I guess,” I said, opening and closing her door as quietly as I could. As predicted, her mother was passed out on the couch. A deep crack ran through the floor beneath her. I carefully tiptoed to the front door, and slipped out.

 

Five Months Before Impact Day

“Your other best friend was a mechanical genius?” he asked.

“It’s like she was born with an engineering degree or something,” I said, trying not to sound overly proud.

“So, just keeping score here, you had a ghost, an assassin, a mechanical genius, and… Aidan,” he said, sounding almost as if he didn’t believe it, but wasn’t ready to give up on the idea just yet.

I grinned. “You’re just dying to know what was special about him, aren’t you?”

“Among other things.”

“Don’t you have other things you need to be doing?” I asked. “Not that I don’t enjoy our little chats, but I wouldn’t want you neglecting your evil empire.”

“Well, as you can imagine, without you causing trouble everything is actually going a lot better. So I can afford to take a little time off.”

“How nice for you,” I said.

 

Next Week: A Little Pain Never Hurt Anyone

Chapter 6 – Does Our Friendship Ever Seem Weird To You?

One Year Before Impact Day

Getting to Rachel’s house was not particularly difficult. It was well within walking distance, provided you didn’t mind walking for about half an hour or so. The problem was getting in once you got there.

Rachel lived with her mother, who more or less actively hated Rachel. She also got abusive when she was drunk, which was most of the time. Rachel had been taking care of herself from a very young age, and had learned the hard way how to survive in an abusive household.

Her mother didn’t technically disallow guests, but if she knew I was there, she’d make Rachel suffer for it later. I had to sneak in if I wanted to avoid trouble for her. Luckily, I had a lot of practice.

I met Rachel through jujitsu classes, and we more or less ignored each other for the first year. One day, one of the guys made a racist comment about her, and she told him to go fuck himself. He and several friends then proceeded to physically threaten her and I, in the infinite wisdom of youth, jumped into fight alongside her. There was nothing noble about it, I was just in the mood to fight.

The instructors broke it up before it got too serious, and to avoid further fights, paired the two of us together, since we’d effectively made enemies of the rest of the club. We begrudgingly accepted, because we didn’t really have a choice, but it wasn’t until we actually sparred that we felt any sort of connection.

Working with Rachel, practicing moves and sparring, I felt an almost tangible physical attraction, something I’d never felt before. It was like speaking another language, one only the two of us could understand. An elaborate dance, a silent conversation, an intimate connection.

After that, we became fast friends. We discovered that we had a lot more in common than we’d thought, and I found myself telling her things I wouldn’t tell anyone else, not even Sadie. We spent a lot of time together, but always in secret, because of the situation with her mother. Sadie had never liked her, but I didn’t care. Rachel was my friend, probably my best friend, and she made me feel more at ease than anyone else. Which is why it was her I went to see when I needed to feel understood.

I climbed over the fence of their next-door neighbour, sneaking up to the back door, which Rachel left unlocked. It was the only entrance that made it possible to get to her room without going past the living room, which was where her mother almost certainly was. I knocked gently on her door, and slipped inside, closing it behind me.

She looked up at me, sitting cross-legged on the floor, bits of wire and plastic strewn about her, and smile, her perpetually sullen eyes lighting up.

Rachel’s father had been Latino, and though her mother was as white as it was possible to be, Rachel took after her father almost entirely. It was difficult to believe she and her mother were even related.

“What’cha got there?” I asked, keeping my voice low, just in case.

“Hopefully, a police scanner,” she said, her hands still delicately assembling tiny pieces.

“What, like the thing they use in movies to listen to what the police radio is saying?”

“That’s the one,” she said cheerfully.

“You can just make those?”

I can,” she said. “Not sure about other people. And I don’t know if it’ll work or not.”

“And what if it does?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“No idea! I’ll probably feel pleased with myself, then take it apart and try to build something else, I guess.”

“Yeah, that sounds like something you’d do,” I said affectionately.

“I like building stuff,” she said, a little defensively. Her mother was not a fan of the mess. “I like learning how it all works, then proving it to myself by actually making it work.”

“I know. I think it’s cool,” I told her.

I watched her work in silence, her hands moving deftly as she positioned tiny pieces of electronics, then delicately soldered them in place. She was so focussed, so absorbed, and it was entrancing just watching her work.

After a while, she looked up at me again, and frowned.

“You okay?” she asked. “You seem a little… I dunno. Something on your mind?”

I grimaced, not intending to be that obvious about it. Still, I should have known she’d be able to tell. She always could.

“Where do you want to start?” I asked, rolling my eyes.

“How about we start with why you’re still standing all the way over there in the doorway?” she asked, and I immediately felt self-conscious about it.

“Oh, yeah. Didn’t even realise.”

“Really.”

I sighed, stepping away from the door and perching myself on the end of her bed. “Look, Rachel…”

“Oh, this sounds bad,” she said, putting down her radio. She pivoted, staring right into my eyes. I felt scrutinised, but at the same time, it was a safe feeling. Like, I wouldn’t be able to hide anything, but I wouldn’t be judged for anything either.

“No, it’s not anything bad, it’s just…” I trailed off, not quite sure how to say it. “Does our friendship ever seem weird to you?”

“I don’t even know what that means,” she answered, looking a little affronted.

“I don’t know. We spend a lot of time together, and talk about a lot of stuff, and do a lot of it in secret. I just wanted to make sure you don’t, y’know, mind any of that.”

Until I opened my mouth to actually say it, I hadn’t realised just how much Sadie’s words had affected me. Damn her.

“Why would I mind?” Rachel asked. “I’m an active participant too, aren’t I?”

“So you don’t think that we’re, like, too close, or anything?” God, I sounded like such an awkward nerd. What are you even saying, Charlie?

“What does too close even mean?”

I let myself fall backwards, staring up at her ceiling. Part of me almost wanted her to say yes, to say she did think we were too close, just so I didn’t feel stupid for worrying about it. A bigger part of me was terrified that she would say yes, because I wasn’t sure what I’d do if she did.

“I don’t know. It’s just something somebody told me, and I guess I got worried,” I confessed.

“Are you gonna tell me who said that?” she asked, her tone vaguely threatening.

“Are you going to punch them if I do?”

“It’s a definite possibility,” she conceded.

“It was Sadie,” I admitted. At least she couldn’t punch Sadie.

Rachel was the only person I’d told about Sadie. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, because I had no way of knowing how she’d react. I had no way of proving that Sadie was there, that I wasn’t just hallucinating. Of course, there was always the omnipresent fear that I actually was hallucinating, but despite my paranoia, she had believed me completely. She never once made me doubt myself, or asked me to prove anything.

“Well that’s not fair; I can’t punch her. Is she here now? Sadie, you’re probably just jealous.”

“She’s not here,” I told her.

“Right,” Rachel said, looking slightly embarrassed. “Well, tell her I think she’s being overdramatic.”

“So you’re really not worried?”

“I’m really not worried that we’re too close,” she assured me.

Well, that was one concern I could mostly put to rest. Unfortunately, it was also the easiest one to talk about, and I had a lot more I needed to get off my chest. Still, I felt confident that if anyone would listen and not freak out, it would be her.

“Okay, good. But there’s something else I need to talk to you about.”

“Shoot.”

I took a deep breath, steeling myself against the next part. Then I sat up, knowing I couldn’t do it without looking her in the eye.

“I tried to kill myself,” I told her.

 

Next Week: You May Consider Me Intrigued

Bonus – The Price They Paid

103 Years Before Impact Day

The sound of an unfamiliar voice down the corridor proved too irresistible of a curiosity to Ami, and for the first time in months, she left her bed. Immediately, she was flooded with new information about the room, her new abilities filling the space. Her brother hadn’t moved.

“Kaito,” she said softly. “There’s someone new.”

“I know,” he replied, his voice thick with pain.

“What can you tell about them?”

Kaito grimaced. He was far more sensitive to the thoughts of those around him, and it left him nearly incapacitated most of the time. She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, wishing she could ease his burden. If either of them had known what their new abilities would feel like, they never would have consented to the procedure.

“Nothing,” he said weakly. “Everything is too fast. Whoever they are, they’re different. And they think in English. It… it hurts.”

“Alright, don’t strain yourself,” she said. “I’ll go check it out.”

“I can’t shut them out,” Kaito whimpered. “They’re so loud.”

“I’ll take care of it,” she promised.

Leaving her brother in their room, she crept up the corridor, feeling ahead for any clues as to the identity of the newcomer. They seemed masculine, tall and athletic, and well-dressed. Their features seemed Caucasian. Ami stopped before entering the room, listening to the conversation.

“How many have you created?” the newcomer asked, with a strong pre-outbreak accent. Despite what Kaito had said, though, he was speaking Japanese.

“So far, only two,” one of the researchers said. “We’re working on-”

“Where did you learn the technique?” the newcomer demanded.

“We developed it ourselves.”

“Impossible,” the newcomer said. “Don’t worry, this won’t affect your payment. We’re just trying to identify possible leaks.”

“It wasn’t from you,” the researcher said. “The technique is a little different, allowing for more versatility in metaphysical capabilities.”

“That doesn’t answer the question.”

“I’m afraid we can’t disclose the source,” the researcher insisted.

“Very well. Talk me through the metaphysical abilities, then. What do you believe is possible?”

“Well, we’ve already demonstrated telekinetic and telepathic abilities, as complementary evolutions. We also have promising schematics for ferrokinesis, hydrokinesis and, though unstable, polymorphism.”

She felt the newcomer tense up, though it would have been invisible to anyone in the room.

“Tell me about your two successful prototypes,” the newcomer said. “What’s their count? How much have they been told about the procedure? What side-effects have you observed?”

“The girl’s count is about one-hundred thousand,” the researcher said. “Her brother is about twice that. They were briefed on the entire process, and the expected results, except for that part, which I’m sure you can understand.”

“Of course.”

“As for side-effects, it’s hard to say. They’re still adjusting to their new abilities, both of which have led to intense sensitivities. Beyond that, there’s not much we’ve had the opportunity to observe.”

“I see,” the newcomer said, still very tense. “I’m assuming you have more extensive notes in their files?”

“Absolutely. Now, would you care to meet the prototypes? If they meet your expectations, we can begin discussions on providing the service to your soldiers, and the costs involved.”

“I’d love to meet them,” the newcomer said.

The researcher gestured in the direction of her room, and both he and the newcomer began to walk her way. She scampered back to her room, where Kaito was waiting. He was sitting up, his hands pressed against the sides of his head.

“They’re coming this way,” she said. “I think whoever it is, is here because of us.”

“Right you are,” the newcomer said, standing in their doorway. She hadn’t felt him approach. How had he done that?

“Hello,” she said timidly. Kaito only grunted.

“They’re teenagers,” the newcomer said. “You did this to children?”

“They were bred for it,” the researcher said. “We’ve been working on this for a very long time. Physiologically speaking, seventeen years of age was the ideal time for the procedure.”

“He’s angry,” Kaito said.

“That I am,” the newcomer said. Then, switching to English, he continued, “I’ve seen everything I need to see. Haylie, you in?”

An English voice with a different pre-outbreak accent to him spoke through the lab’s PA system.

“I’m in, Gabriel. I have all the files, and I’ve isolated everyone to their chambers.”

“Thank you, Haylie,” the one Ami now knew was Gabriel said. He turned to the researcher, and spoke to him in Japanese. “What you’ve done here is unforgiveable, all of you. What you’ve created is monstrous, and the price was not yours to pay.” He turned to Ami and Kaito, and nodded to them both. “I’m sorry for what’s about to happen.”

In a movement almost too fast for her to follow, Gabriel pulled out a pistol, shooting the researcher right between the eyes. Kaito flinched, Ami screamed.

“Stay here,” Gabriel said, turning and running down the corridor.

Ami stared at the researcher, a man whose name she never knew, but who was still, in some small way, a part of her family. Now dead, blood splattered across the walls. Murdered by a stranger who’d called her a monster. Called her brother a monster.

“What’s happening?” Kaito asked, his voice trembling.

“We have to stop him,” Ami said.

“How?”

She didn’t know how to answer him. They had power, but neither of them knew how to use it. This murderer, this demon, was something they didn’t understand. All Ami knew was that she had to try.

She closed her eyes, focusing on the room around her. All she needed was something she could use as a weapon, something to stop the demon, something to save her remaining family. In a cupboard, buried under old clothes and discarded toys, she found what she needed.

Throwing open the cupboard doors, she rummaged, digging until she pulled them out, turning to show them to Kaito. He shrank back, shaking his head.

“Ami, those are…”

She tossed the smaller sword to him, keeping the longer for herself. Kaito gripped his tightly as she unsheathed hers.

“An eye for an eye,” she said darkly. “I swear, Kaito, I will kill him.”

“You’ll die trying,” he said, staring deep into her eyes. “Please.”

“I can’t do nothing,” she said. He just shook his head, sitting back down on his bed.

Ami walked towards the door, but it slid shut, closing her in. Irritated, she pressed the button to open it, but nothing happened.

“What the-”

“Please remain safely in your room,” the feminine voice from the PA system said. Ami recognised the voice as the one who’d spoken to Gabriel before. She was with him.

“No,” she snarled. The voice didn’t say anything more.

The door was staying shut, then. Even after the procedure, Ami knew she didn’t have the strength to force it open. At least, not the physical strength.

“Stand back,” she ordered her brother.

Closing her eyes, she focussed on the door, letting her awareness slip through and around it. She could feel the mechanisms that held it closed, all the structurally weak points, the electronic systems that commanded it to open. She took a deep breath.

Without moving a muscle, Ami tore the entire door out of its frame, slamming it against the opposite wall. Kaito whimpered, and almost immediately, an alarm rang out.

“Wow,” Ami muttered. “Maybe I won’t need the sword after all…”

She raced out of the room, trying to figure out where Gabriel would have gone. Doors continually closed in her way, giving her plenty of practice removing them. Wherever she went, she saw evidence of Gabriel’s rampage, blood and corpses leaving her a grisly trail to follow.

“It had to be done,” he said, surprising her. He was behind her? How had he managed to sneak up on her?

“You killed everyone,” she said, turning and holding the blade towards him. He didn’t even flinch.

“Not everyone,” he said. “Just the guilty.”

“What did they ever do to you?” she demanded, fighting back tears.

“I’m not the victim here,” he said solemnly. “Just an avenger. I wish you could understand that I’m doing this for you.”

“They’re all dead. You killed my family, my friends… For me?”

“For what they did to you,” he said. “For the price they paid. One day, you’ll understand. I just hope that isn’t any time soon.”

“Well, now you have a price to pay.” Her grip on the sword tightened. “I won’t let you leave here.”

“Be careful, Gabriel,” the PA voice warned him. “She’s-”

Ami lunged forwards, thrusting the sword right through his chest. He didn’t even try to avoid it. He just stood there, looking down at her.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his expression looking almost like affection. “You deserved better.”

In a movement too fast for her to follow, he broke her grip on the sword, pulled a gun out from somewhere, pressed it against her head, and pulled the trigger.

 

Next Week: Does Our Friendship Ever Seem Weird To You?

Chapter 5 – You Could Make A Difference Too

One Year Before Impact Day

I held my wrist over the sink, hand clenched into a fist, the tip of the knife resting against my soft flesh. I took a few deep breathes, trying to tell myself it wouldn’t hurt, even though I knew it would.

“Remember, down the street, not across the road,” I muttered to myself. Who’d have ever thought that little phrase would come in handy?

“What are you doing?” Sadie asked, standing right behind me. I cringed.

“Testing a theory,” I told her, meeting her accusing gaze in the mirror.

“You promised me you wouldn’t do this.”

“I promised you I wouldn’t try to kill myself,” I corrected her. “And I’m not.”

“What do you call this?” she demanded, staring pointedly at the knife in my hand.

“Like I said, testing a theory. Or a hypothesis, or whatever.”

I could tell Sadie wanted so badly to grab the knife out of my hands, but of course she couldn’t. She couldn’t do anything, no matter how hard she tried. I hated making her feel that way.

Sighing, I put the knife down. Sadie visibly relaxed, if only a little.

“I don’t think the distinction is really what’s important here,” she said.

“Look, I already know this isn’t going to kill me,” I told her. “I just need to prove it.”

“How do you know?” she demanded, almost frantically.

“Because nothing else worked, either,” I said. Her expression turned from hurt to horrified.

“What else have you tried?”

For a few seconds, I just stood there, debating whether or not I should actually tell her, after trying so hard to keep it all from her. There was no way she was going to take it well, but would good would lying have done?

“I’ve taken four lethal overdoses of medication, held my breath underwater for twenty minutes, jumped off a ten story building and drunk pretty much every chemical under the sink,” I confessed, and immediately wished I’d lied to her. She looked like her entire world was collapsing around her.

“How?” she asked, her voice trembling. “I never saw-”

“You do sleep sometimes, you know,” I told her.

“I don’t understand. Why?”

“Because of what I can do.”

“Do?” she asked, confused.

“Sadie, don’t you get it? I can’t die. Think of the possibilities!”

I already knew she wouldn’t understand. I doubted anybody would, but for the first time, I felt like I’d found something that gave me a reason to keep trying.

“Like ending up in a lab for the rest of your life? Which, for all you know, could be forever?”

“Only if someone finds out,” I said. “And they won’t.”

“How do you know?”

“I’m going to have a secret identity,” I told her.

“What?”

I took a deep breath, knowing what her next reaction was going to be. Still, she was going to find out sooner or later.

“Sadie, this makes me the closest thing this world has to a superhero.”

“So, you’re going to dress up and fight crime?”

“Wouldn’t you?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“No.”

“Look, Sadie. I grew up reading comic books. I grew up wishing that I could be more like Barbara, or Kara, or Diana. Reading those stories, it made me wish there really were people fighting to make the world a better place.”

“But those stories aren’t real,” she said. “I read them too, remember? They aren’t even realistic. You can’t just act them out and expect to get the same results.”

I shook my head, wishing I could make her understand.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying.”

“Then what do you mean?” she asked. I knew she was trying to understand, even though she wouldn’t.

“Those stories may not be real, but I am,” I told her. “And I can make the difference in this world that those stories made for me. I can be someone that people are inspired be. Something to hope for.”

She shook her head, looking at me like I was the craziest, stupidest person she’d ever met. Maybe she was right. I didn’t care.

“Please tell me you’re not serious,” she pleaded.

“Why not?” I asked. “What else am I gonna do with this power?”

“You mean apart from live a long and healthy life?” she said. “Donate your blood anonymously. Let scientists figure out a way to use it to help people.”

“Or make an army of immortal super soldiers,” I said cynically.

“Charlie, real life is not a comic book,” she said, exasperated.

“No, it’s not. It’s uglier, and more chaotic. We live in a world where a person like me would throw herself off a bridge because it was a genuinely more appealing option than being a part of it any longer.”

“You really believe you can make a difference,” she said, her tone almost accepting.

“I don’t know what I can do,” I confessed. “But I know that I can try.”

Sadie just looked at me, sad and tired but less distraught than she had been.

“You are such a nerd,” she said.

“You could help me, you know,” I suggested, speaking without thinking.

“How? I can’t do anything. I can’t even lift a sheet of paper.”

“Not, but you can see, and hear,” I pointed out. “And nobody can see or hear you.”

“So you want me to spy for you?”

“I’m just saying, you could help. You could make a difference too.”

For a while, Sadie was silent, her expression pensive. I just looked at the two of us in the mirror, marvelling at how different we were.

Even when she was alive, Sadie had been my polar opposite in just about every way. Where I was antisocial and rude, she was shy but very good natured. Where I was athletic and a little short, Sadie was thin and frail, in an elegant sort of way. She had long, straight brown hair, whilst mine was always short and messy. I was aggressive, and she was compassionate to a fault.

“I think you need help,” she said, at long last. “I also think you need to talk to somebody about the way you’re feeling, instead of coming up with insane plans to avoid facing the fact that you’re struggling.”

Her words hit me harder than a slap in the face would have. I knew she wouldn’t understand, but for her to go that far…

I left the room in silence, heading back to my room. Sadie followed, looking a little regretful. I aggressively pulled on a pair of sneakers, then reached up to open my window.

“Where are you going?” Sadie asked. For a moment, I considered just ignoring her, but if I didn’t answer her, she would have just followed me.

“To talk to Rachel,” I said bluntly. I knew if anyone would understand me, it would be her, and I needed to feel like somebody understood me, or at least supported me.

“It’s close to midnight,” Sadie pointed out.

“She’ll still be up.”

“So call her.”

“I don’t want to call her,” I told her. “I want to see her.”

“Video chat, then.”

It felt like Sadie was going out of her way to irritate me. I just wanted to yell at her to leave me alone, but even just talking to her was risky enough. I was always worried somebody would overhear me.

“That’s not what I mean,” I snapped. “What are you so worried about, anyway?”

“I just… I think the two of you are a little too close, sometimes,” Sadie said. “It’s not healthy.”

I felt my stomach churn. That was so unfair, and so unlike Sadie, I didn’t even know what to say. I knew Sadie had her issues with Rachel, but that…

“What the Hell is that supposed to mean?” I demanded.

“Nothing,” she said. “I just don’t think she’s good for you. And I don’t understand why you trust her more than Aidan or Liz.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but I like spending time with her. She’s easy to talk to, and she actually understands me. She doesn’t try to lecture me, or smother me.”

“Fine, whatever,” Sadie said, backing away. “It’s not like I can stop you, anyway.”

 

Next Week: Does Our Friendship Ever Seem Weird To You?

Chapter 4 – You’re Not A Very Good Liar

One Year Before Impact Day

When I woke up again the next morning, there was someone else in my bed with me. I didn’t even need to roll over to figure out who it was, and I knew I could blame Aidan for letting her in without waking me up. I could probably also blame him for her presence in the first place, since he’d almost certainly messaged her about what had happened.

“What are you doing in my bed?” I asked, not really needing an answer.

“Stealing your body heat,” she said, smiling gently.

I’d met Liz on my first day of high school, and grew to like her almost immediately. She gave off the impression of being antisocial almost to an extreme, though it wasn’t antagonistic. She just didn’t seem interested in anything that the people around her were doing. I felt like we were kindred spirits. She must have seen something similar in me, because I became the first and last friend she ever made. With the exception of Aidan, I suppose, but that was more a matter of convenience than anything else, since he was always around me.

In the years that followed, Liz’s detached coolness actually drew more people to her, though she never really seemed to notice. She was one of the school’s top sports stars, a high academic achiever and incredibly attractive by just about everyone’s standards. Her Eurasian features could have led to a future as a model, and she had the most captivating bright green eyes, silky black hair and the sort of athletic build that might have been intimidating, if not for her heart-melting smile. She literally had a fan club, and she couldn’t have cared less.

Probably about half the people in our school would have killed to wake up with her in their bed. In my case, it was nice, but I also knew it was going to come with a drawn out conversation about the night before, and that was something I definitely did not want to deal with.

Meanwhile, Aidan was reclined on my couch, lazily reading a book. Sadie was sitting behind him, reading over his shoulder. That was more or less the only way she could read, since she couldn’t pick up the books herself.

“So, do I need to ask what you’re doing here?” I asked.

“What, I can’t cuddle up with a friend in bed on a Saturday morning?” Liz complained, dodging the question.

“Alright, well, I’m gonna go for a run,” I said, hoping to escape before she had a chance to start interrogating me.

“That’s a good idea! I’ll come with you,” she said, effortlessly dashing those hopes.

“I’ll be here,” Aidan added, not looking up from his book.

“You can get out while I change, though,” I told him. He blushed, then recovered by rolling his eyes and closing the book, much to Sadie’s disappointment.

“What, you’re actually going?” he complained.

“Well, yeah. I could do with some exercise, anyway.”

“And some fresh air?” he asked snidely, parroting my excuse from the night before. I glared at him, and he sprung up from the couch. “Fine, I’m getting out. I’ll go amuse myself somewhere else.”

Sadie followed him out, presumably hoping he would continue his book. Liz and I got changed, her borrowing my spare athletic gear. We left together, jogging towards the park I’d lied about being at the night before.

I tried to set a pace that would be too hard for Liz to maintain and still be able to talk, but she was probably in better shape than I was. We picked up the pace a little more, running in silence for a while, but she started talking before I could get too comfortable.

“So what happened last night?” she asked, all pretences of subtlety dropped.

I sighed. “What did Aidan tell you?”

“That you were evasive,” she said. “So I’m asking you directly.”

“It’s really not a big deal,” I insisted, jumping over a crack that Liz didn’t even seem to notice.

“Maybe not to you.”

“No, seriously. I was restless, so I decided to go for a walk. It was dark, and I fell down a hill. I got a bit dirty, but that’s all.”

It wasn’t that I wanted to lie to her. I just didn’t want to upset her, and if she knew the real reason I was out, she would have freaked out. Plus, if I told her the truth about what I was doing, I would also need to explain why I was fine, and there was no way I was going to tell anybody about that. Not yet.

“You’re not a very good liar, Charlie.”

“Liz, look at me,” I said. “I’m running. You saw me before; I’m unharmed. Shouldn’t that be enough to tell you that everything is fine?”

“Just because your body is fine, doesn’t mean you are,” she said. “I’m worried about why you were out in the first place.”

We came to a stop in one of the more isolated areas of the park. Neither of us were out of breath, but it was obvious she wanted to focus on talking, not running. There was no easy way out of it.

For a brief moment, I did consider telling her, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not yet.

“I just needed some space,” I lied. “It’s been eleven years, and sometimes I still don’t feel like I belong in that house. Sometimes, I just feel like I need to get out.”

“Charlie, you know they both love you, right? You’re as much a part of their family as they are, and you know they’d say the same.”

Liz wrapped her arms around me, hugging me gently. I hugged her back, trying not to feel guilty for manipulating her. It was for her own good, I told myself. I didn’t need to burden anyone else with my problems.

“I’m hungry,” I said, after enough time had passed to safely change the subject.

“Me too,” she said. “Let’s go back and bully Aidan into making us breakfast.”

“Just bat your eyelashes at him,” I told him. “He’ll grumble, but I guarantee he’ll do it.”

“Is that what you do?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Nah, bullying him is more fun,” I said. “And I’m not really the eyelash-batting type.”

“And you think I am?”

“You’re pretty enough to be,” I said. She blushed a little, and turned away.

“Let’s just go back,” she said, and started to jog back the way we came. I smiled, and took off after her.

Bullet dodged, I congratulated myself.

It didn’t feel like a victory, though. It just made me feel more lonely.

 

Six Months Before Impact Day

“I’m not sure I understand the relevance,” he complained.

“You mean you’re not interested in heart-warming stories about my friends?” I asked sarcastically, fidgeting in my bonds. They weren’t exactly comfortable.

“I warned you about wasting my time.”

“Fine, spoil the surprise,” I said, sighing. “Are you familiar with the Effe family?”

“They’re assassins,” he said. “Contract killers. Some of the best in the country.”

Of course he knew them. I’d expected as much.

“At least,” I confirmed. “Liz was one of them. Well, in training. She was only seventeen, after all.”

He raised an eyebrow at that. “One of your best friends was part of the most respected family of killers in the country. That seems awfully convenient.”

“Like I said, you don’t know the half of it.”

“Well, that’s why you’re telling me your story,” he said. “Now, is it safe to assume that this Aidan will also be important at some point?”

“You could say that,” I said, shrugging.

“How?”

“I’m getting there,” I snapped. “Trust me, it’s all important.”

“It had better be,” he said. “You can tell me more next time. Right now, I need to make some calls. Your friend, Liz… you referred to her in the past tense. Is she still alive?”

“I don’t know,” I said darkly.

 

Next Week: You Could Make A Difference Too

Chapter 3 – That Doesn’t Make You Invincible

Six Months Before Impact Day

I didn’t see him again for what I’m pretty sure was a week. It was hard to know for sure, given the lack of daylight or any timekeeping device, but it felt like a week. I only slept twice, but that wasn’t unusual for me. Part of the immortality deal seemed to be not needing a lot of it.

I spent most of that week being subjected to a battery of tests. They took vial after vial of blood, cut samples of my hair and fingernails, scrapings of my skin, saliva… other things I’d sooner not think about. I got crammed into every x-ray type machine I could think of, which worried me at first, but when they didn’t start ringing any alarm bells, I figured they somehow hadn’t noticed. Guess I lost that bet.

I was almost excited to talk to whatever-his-name-was again when he finally opened my door. Not because I had any sort of misplaced affection for him, but just because talking was a lot more fun than being poked and prodded.

“I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me,” I said to him as he led me to the same interrogation room.

“I’m a busy man,” he replied. “I have a lot of damage to undo, thanks to you.”

I was beaming with pride, but I did my best to make sure he didn’t see it. By the time I’d taken my seat opposite him, my face was completely blank.

“So, what do you want to hear about today? My sixteenth birthday? I played laser tag. I won, but I think that’s because Liz let me win.”

He held up a hand to silence me. I considered ignoring it, but remembered I was supposed to be playing nice.

“Six months ago, you tried to kill yourself. I want you to tell me how you went from that to trying to single-handedly dismantle the largest criminal network in the city.”

“It wasn’t single-handed,” I said, enjoying the shock on his face. “I had help.”

“More like you?” he asked, his eyes lit up with a combination of hope and fear. He would not have made a good poker player.

“There’s no-one like me. But they were special.”

“Special how?”

“I’m guessing you want another story?” I asked.

“I want answers. If a story is how I get them, I will listen. But if you waste my time…”

“Point taken,” I said. “Okay, let’s go back to the night I tried to kill myself.”

 

One Year Before Impact Day

Half an hour later, I was crawling in through the window to the basement, which also happened to be my bedroom. The second my feet touched the floor, the light turned on, in the most clichéd reveal I’d ever been a part of it. I had to smile at that. Aidan was leaning against the wall, a concerned look on his face.

Like his father, Aidan was thin in that bony sort of way that made him kind of look both like a stick figure, and also taller than he actually was. The blonde hair and fair skin added a somewhat spectral element to his appearance, though I wouldn’t have described him as unattractive. His grey eyes rarely settled in one place, but when they did, they stared with an intense focus that was almost unsettling, which was exactly what was happening.

It didn’t surprise me that Aidan was waiting up for me. I was even grateful that it was him and not Mark, my adoptive father, but mostly I was just irritated. I wasn’t exactly in the mood for conversation, and there was no way he was going to leave without a long one.

“Oh my God, what happened to you?” he asked, his expression mortified.

It hadn’t actually occurred to me that I looked like I’d been in an accident. Obviously I was fine, but whatever had kept me alive hadn’t done the same for my clothes. They were pretty badly torn up and covered in dirt and dried blood.

“Huh? Nothing,” I said, knowing he wouldn’t accept it but unable to think of a convincing lie in time.

“You look like Hell,” he said.

Rude,” I told him, even though I knew he was right.

“Not like that,” he said. “Your clothes are all torn, your hair’s a mess, and you’re filthy.”

“Oh,” I said, as if I’d only just realised. “Yeah, I took a bit of a tumble.”

“A tumble.”

“In the park. It’s dark, and I fell down a hill. I’m fine though, really.” At least that part is true?

“What were you doing in a park in the middle of the night?” he asked, still sounding unconvinced.

“Just taking a walk,” I said, still lying through my teeth. “I just needed some air.”

“Charlie, it’s not safe,” he said, and I knew he wouldn’t ask me any more questions after that. He was too protective, and once those instincts were triggered, that was all he would focus on.

“Oh, please,” I said, rolling my eyes. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

I had to keep myself from smirking as I watched him bristle. When you’ve known someone for the vast majority of their life, you tend to figure out exactly how to push their buttons. Aidan had been my adoptive brother since the accident, and we were best friends even before then. I knew everything about him.

“Do I really need to say it?”

“Aidan, I can take care of myself,” I insisted. “I have like, three black belts.”

Mark had signed me up for aikido classes years ago in a vain attempt to give me an outlet for all of the aggression I was feeling. It didn’t work, but I enjoyed it so much that I also took up jujitsu and karate. I’d never actually been in a real fight, but I still felt pretty confident I could take care of myself.

“That doesn’t make you invincible,” he said, and I struggled to keep a straight face. “If anything, the overconfidence only makes it worse.”

“You are such a worrier. Trust me, I’m fine.”

“Try telling me that when you haven’t just come home looking like you were hit by a car,” he said, and for a moment, I hesitated. That was a little too close to the truth. There was no way he could actually know what had happened, right?

“God, you’re such a nag,” I teased.

“And proud of it,” he said. “Alright, go and have a shower. I’ll make you some food. Custard?”

If there was one thing Aidan was good at, it was taking care of people. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t get much of an outlet for that, living with Mark and me. We much preferred to take care of ourselves. That said, I wasn’t about to turn down custard.

“That’s cheating. You know I can’t say no to custard.”

“I’m just looking out for you,” he replied, smiling innocently.

I grabbed a clean t-shirt and underwear from my closet, then pushed him up the stairs so I could get to the shower. As he made his way to the kitchen, Sadie followed me into the bathroom. I started the water running so that we could talk without anyone overhearing me, and began peeling off my ruined clothes.

“Are you going to tell him?” she asked, perching on the side of the bath.

“I’m not going to tell anyone,” I said, wincing as I realised how badly my clothes stank.

“You can’t keep everything to yourself, Charlie,” scolded me, as I stepped into the shower. The hot water felt amazing, and almost immediately I could feel all of my muscles beginning to relax. After only a few minutes, I felt like myself again.

“Just watch me,” I told her.

“Aidan’s worried about you, too. Don’t you think it’s unfair to lie to him like this? If you can’t trust him, who can you trust?”

I wanted to say nobody, but there was one person I felt like I could actually trust. I wasn’t ready to talk just yet, but when I was… I felt pretty sure I knew who I was going to talk to.

I turned off the water, ignoring Sadie’s question. She stared at me as I began to towel myself off, and it was obvious she was checking for any sign of injury. I just kept ignoring her, pulled on the baggy t-shirt and fresh underwear, and threw the ruined clothes in a plastic bag. They were going right in the bin.

The smell of custard lured me back into my room, where Aidan was waiting for me, bowl in hand. He offered it to me and I snatched it out of his hands, suddenly very hungry.

“Okay, yes, this is delicious,” I told him, my mouth full of hot custard.

“Feeling better, then?”

“I told you, I’m fine,” I insisted. “Look, not even any scratches.” I pulled up the t-shirt to show him, smirking as he turned red.

“I see that,” he said awkwardly.

“Oi. Eyes up front, pervert.”

“Put some damn pants on, then,” he snapped, looking away.

“Shouldn’t have to,” I retorted.

“No, I didn’t mean-”

“Relax, I’m kidding,” I assured him, enjoying his embarrassment. It felt harmless and natural, which was just what I needed. I also needed sleep, though. I was going to get precious little of it as it was. “Thanks for the custard. Mind if I sleep now?”

“Yeah, I’ll leave you in peace,” he said, collecting the bowl from me. “Just take care of yourself, okay?”

I stuck my tongue out at him as he left the room. It was nice to feel loved. It was nice to be able to recognise it. Even a few hours ago, I hadn’t felt that way at all.

 

Next Week: You’re Not A Very Good Liar

Chapter 2 – Don’t You Know What This Means?

One Year Before Impact Day

I lay on my back, staring up at the sky, stars twinkling peacefully above me. There was grass beneath me, cool and a little wet. A weak breeze ruffled my hair. My body felt weak, and far away.

I remembered jumping, and then… nothing. I jumped, then I was just lying on the ground, looking up. My head ached.

Complaining loudly as I pulled myself into a sitting position, I started when I saw Sadie sitting beside me, her expression completely unreadable. We were on the side of the road, not far from the bridge I’d jumped from. I knew that something had happened, because most of the lanes were blocked off, and the flashing lights were blinding.

“Why am I on the side of the road?” I asked Sadie, holding my head though I was already starting to feel better.

“You were unconscious,” she said, her tone icy. “I dragged you here.”

She dragged me? She’d never been able to do that before…

“How?”

Not that that was the biggest question on my mind, but I had a feeling she wouldn’t be able to answer the one I really wanted to ask. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to cope with the answer.

“I don’t know.”

“I feel fine,” I said. “Why do I feel fine?”

It shouldn’t have been possible. The height that I jumped from, even without the cars, should have seriously injured me at the very least. I patted myself down, but as far as I could tell, there wasn’t a single injury on my body.

“You must have gotten really lucky,” Sadie said, not making eye contact.

“There’s no way,” I insisted.

“Well, how else do you explain it?”

“I don’t know,” I said, as hazy memories began to return. “I remember falling, I remember getting hit, knocked around. I remember the pain. I was hurt. I should have died.” So why didn’t I?

“But you didn’t. Shouldn’t that be enough?” Sadie asked, almost pleadingly.

“This has happened before,” I realised, my entire body suddenly feeling cold and very heavy.

“What?”

“The accident,” I said. “When you died.”

“Charlie, don’t-”

“No, I remember,” I said. “Not everything, but there are pieces that are definitely true. We were all in the car. You, me, Mum and Dad, and there was no way any of us could have survived. The car was hit by a train going at full speed.”

Sadie cringed. “Can we please not talk about this?” she begged, but I ignored her. I needed to say it out loud.

“I was dying. I was in so much pain, and then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t. They pulled me out of that wreckage, and they couldn’t believe I was alive, let alone unscathed.”

“Charlie, please…”

More pieces were falling into place. Something was different about me. There was no other explanation.

“No, Sadie, don’t you know what this means?” I said, my fingers digging into the grass beneath me.

“That the world is completely unfair?” she said, disappointed and a little irate.

I sighed, beginning to calm down again.

“You. You’re right. I’m sorry,” I said, feeling a little bad.

“It’s fine,” she said sharply. “Just, please, don’t talk about it anymore. Any of it.”

“Yeah, okay,” I said. “Let’s just go home, okay?”

I tried to stand, but she placed her hand on my arm, stopping me.

“Wait,” she said, her expression severe.

“What for?”

“I want you to look at the road,” she said, delivering it almost like an order.

“I thought you didn’t want-”

“Just look!” she snapped.

“Okay.”

My eyes adjusted to the bright, flashing lights, and for the first time I could actually see what had happened. Several cars were strewn about the blocked-off section, all at odd angles. One of them was even upside down. There were multiple ambulances, police cars and fire trucks, and overhead, I could even hear a helicopter. News crews crowded around the edges of the barricades, filming everything.

“Thirteen people died because one person threw herself off a bridge,” Sadie said. “Just because you get to walk away, doesn’t mean any of them do.”

I couldn’t look away. All of that was my fault? I hadn’t even considered the impact that my jumping would have. At least, not the physical impact. I’d killed thirteen people, and for what? I hadn’t achieved a damn thing, except to make the world an even darker place.

“I-”

“No. Don’t say anything,” Sadie said. “Even if you had died, even if you’d gotten what you wanted, it wouldn’t change the fact that they all died too.”

“Sadie, I-”

“Charlie, I get it, I do,” she said, shaking her head. “Life is hard even at the best of times, and yours has never been easy. I know. I was there, remember? And if you really wanted to walk away from that, well, that was your decision. But those people who died? Their families? Friends? Your family and friends? None of them made that decision. So if you ever, ever try something like that again, whether you live or die, just remember that you’re not the only one it affects.”

I didn’t know what to say to her. I felt ashamed of myself, but at the same time, I felt angry. What right did she have to lecture me? She never had to think about whether her actions affected anybody else. She never had to worry about anything at all.

Where did that anger come from?

“I’m not going to do anything like that again,” I said weakly, painfully aware of just how pathetic a response it was.

“Alright, well, we really should get moving,” she said. “We’re not directly visible here, but they will start spreading out soon, and it would be pretty difficult to explain what you’re doing here.”

As I got to my feet, I thought I saw someone watching me, sitting atop the bridge, completely ignoring everything else. She had bright blue hair, and a long black coat. Then, a second later, she was gone, leaving me wondering if I’d really seen anything at all.

Six Months Before Impact Day

“Wait, that’s it?” he asked, frowning at me from across the table. “Who was the girl with the blue hair?”

“No idea,” I lied.

“Then why mention it at all?”

“It’s my story, isn’t it?” I said irritably.

“Fine, fine. So that’s it, then? You jumped off a bridge and realised you had magic healing powers?”

“How else did you expect the story to end?” I asked him.

“I didn’t expect that to be the end. How did you go from that to… where you ended up?”

I laughed. “Oh, you want the whole story. You should have said so.”

He shook his head, pushing his seat away from the table. He got up, and knocked on the door.

“We’ll continue this again next time,” he said. “Right now, I have some tests I want to run on you.”

“Can’t wait.”

 

Next Week: That Doesn’t Make You Invincible

Bonus – How Do You Do It?

Sabrina

One Year Before Impact Day

Sometimes I wonder if Charlie notices how often I stare at her. If she does, she certainly doesn’t say anything. I don’t think she really knows, though. She doesn’t seem to care that much about school, or what happens there.

I’m not really even sure if she considers me a friend. She’s friendly, but always distant. Elizabeth and Aidan are a lot closer to her, but something about them always feels off to me. Whenever Charlie isn’t around, they seem… different. I can’t quite put my finger on how.

Most people don’t like her, and I entirely understand why. When she’s not withdrawn, she’s irritable, abrasive, even standoffish. She barely engages with those around her, and when she does, it’s always for the minimum possible length of time.

She’s not really pretty, though I think most of that is deliberate. She keeps her hair short and messy, doesn’t wear much makeup, has an ill-fitting uniform, and scowls a lot. I think she wants to seem unapproachable, though I don’t really know why.

She’s got a weird mixture of being both athletic and a little chubby, intelligent but not expressive, empathic without any apparent compassion. None of which would be noticeable if I didn’t spend so much time watching her.

I wish I could explain my bizarre fascination with her. She’s magnetic in a way I don’t understand, and don’t know how to express.

Veronica thinks it’s a crush, and teases me about it constantly. I can’t say I blame her. It sure looks a lot like a crush, even if it isn’t. It isn’t anything. I’m just captivated.

I remember one time I was hanging out with Veronica and her younger sister, Ashley. Veronica decided to give me shit about it, and it was the first Ashley had heard of it.

“So when are you gonna tell Charlie you like her?” Veronica teased, which causes Ashley’s ears to perk up.

“Ohmygod, do you have a crush?” Ashley asked, her mouth forming an O to go with her giant round eyes.

“It’s not a crush,” I muttered, glaring at Veronica. “And I don’t like her. I’m just… curious.”

“Who is it? Who’s Charlie?” Ashley demanded.

“Just a girl we go to school with,” I said.

“What’s so special about her?”

“Nothing,” Veronica said. “She’s just grumpy all the time.”

“Sounds boring,” Ashley said.

“This whole conversation is boring,” I insisted. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“Not a chance,” Veronica said. “I wanna know why you’re always staring at her.”

“I don’t know!”

“You don’t know why you stare at her?” Ashley asked, tilting her head like a dog might. “Isn’t that a little creepy?”

“Oh it’s so creepy,” Veronica said.

“Shut up,” I snapped at her. “Look, I really don’t know, okay? It’s just something I find myself doing.”

“Sure sounds like a crush to me,” Ashley said.

“It’s not a crush,” I repeated, frustrated.

“What else could it possibly be?” Veronica asked.

“It’s like…” I sighed, and stared up at the ceiling, trying to find the right words. “Gravity, I guess?”

“You’re in loooooove,” Veronica teased.

“Yeah, that’s pretty gay,” Ashley agreed.

“Ashley! What have I told you about using that word?” Veronica snapped.

“What? Seth basically counts as a girl,” Ashley said defensively. “So if he likes a girl, that makes him gay.”

“There are so many things wrong with that sentence, I don’t even know where to begin,” Veronica muttered, but I noticed her very distinctly avoiding my eye.

I’m so not ready to have this discussion, I thought anxiously.

“Sue me,” Ashley said. “I’m twelve, I can’t be held accountable for what I say.”

“Oh you’re so very wrong about that,” Veronica growled.

“Fine, fine, I’m sorry,” Ashley said. “Can we go back to talking about Seth’s crush now?”

“It’s not a crush!”

“Explain ‘gravity’ then,” Veronica challenged me.

“I can’t!”

“Try?” Ashleigh asked.

“Ugh, you’re so annoying,” I complained. “But fine, okay. It’s like… It’s like she’s the centre of the universe, and we’re all just orbiting her.”

“Um,” Ashley said.

“Dude,” Veronica said.

“What?”

“You so have a thing for her,” Veronica said.

“You so do,” Ashley added.

“I don’t know why I bother talking to either of you,” I complained.

The conversation more or less ended there, but that idea stuck with me. Not that I thought that Charlie was the literal centre of the universe, but I couldn’t shake the idea that she was significant, somehow. Maybe not to everyone, but definitely to me.

Maybe it was a karmic thing? Maybe I was drawn to her because one day, in the future, our destiny was intertwined? Maybe we knew each other in a past life?

Whatever it was, I decided that there was only one way to find out. So one day, I decided to approach her. I waited until she was alone, and walked up to her during lunch. She looked up at me with a sort of casual disinterest, then smiled.

“Hey,” she said. “I was wondering when you’d actually come talk to me.”

“You noticed, then.”

“You’re not exactly subtle.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“Don’t be,” she said. “You weren’t creepy about it.”

“It’s not, uh…”

“I know. Don’t worry,” she assured me. “Wanna sit?”

“Sure.”

I sat down beside her, and she smiled again. It was bittersweet, and at the same time as I felt my heart flutter, my stomach twisted around.

Why does she make me feel like this?

“I’m glad you decided to talk to me,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if we’d get the chance.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, but I couldn’t dismiss the turning of my stomach, or the growing sense of anxiety and dread.

Ask her, a voice shouted at me in my head.

“Are you okay?” I asked, not sure what else I could do.

“No,” she said, more pain in that one word than I’d ever heard in my life. A second later, she smiled, all traces of pain gone. “Sorry. Just one of those days, you know?”

“I have some idea,” I agreed, though I wasn’t entirely sure what I was agreeing to.

“How do you do it?” she asked, and without her needing to clarify, I knew exactly what she meant. “How do you deal with… everything?”

How does she know?

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I wish I was as strong as you,” she said, and I wanted to cry.

With that, the bell rang, and people began shuffling back to classrooms. She gave me a look, a sad, grateful, melancholic smile, and it broke my heart.

“Goodbye,” she said.

Chapter 1 – You Truly Are Insufferable

Impact Day, Volume 2: Dead Girls Don’t Cry

Part 1 – It Runs In The Family

Charlie

Six Months Before Impact Day

I woke up with a splitting headache, completely disoriented. My throat felt parched, and every bone and muscle in my body ached. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what had happened, or how I’d ended up here.

Groaning, I forced myself upright, and took in my surroundings. A heavy pair of handcuffs around my wrists, and a chain connecting my ankles made that a little tricker than expected. That did not bode well.

Alright, Charlie. Time to take stock of your situation.

I was in a small room that seemed to be made entirely of plain concrete walls, with no windows. It smelled like a construction site, which was probably not the worst odour one could expect from a small concrete room.

I was perched on a raised steel slab that was bolted firmly into the wall. It was the only furniture in the room, assuming your definition of furniture was generous enough to consider it in the first place. A large crack ran down the wall beside me, the only sign of age in what otherwise appeared to be a recently constructed room.

There was a door in the opposite wall, also solid metal, with no openings and no handle. A security camera was perched in the top corner above the door. Evidently, I was in a prison cell of some kind. Fucking fantastic. What I was doing there still eluded me, and I doubted there was going to be a reassuring explanation.

Something is missing. My head was still throbbing, my thoughts were a mess, but I knew there was something that was supposed to be here. Something that wasn’t. Panic began to settle in. It was wrong.

Sadie.

Sadie was nowhere to be seen. That’s what was wrong. Sadie was always with me. She wasn’t now. That terrified me. It wasn’t as though anything could happen to her, but still…

No, she was fine. Of course she was fine. It was literally impossible for anything to have happened to her. Wasn’t it?

I slowed my breathing and closed my eyes, trying to calm my mind. She was out there somewhere, I just needed to…

There. I felt fear, almost on the verge of panic, mixed in with love and concern. That was Sadie, alright. She was fine. Relief flooded over me, relief that was very quickly dashed as the cold, hard bench I was sitting on reminded me of my present situation.

Outside the door, I heard footsteps echoing. I focussed on the sound, holding my breath when they stopped outside the room. Whoever it was, they were almost certainly here for me. Well, at least I’d probably learn something.

I pressed myself against the wall beside the door, hoping to get the drop on whoever opened it. Moving with my wrists and ankles cuffed was difficult, but nothing I couldn’t handle. In fact, I was kind of itching for a fight. That was good, because I was willing to bet whoever was on the other side of that door was not going to be friendly.

There was the tinny sound of someone clearing their throat, played through a speaker. A voice filled the room. I didn’t recognise it, but it spoke with a contemptuous familiarity that grated at my nerves.

“Miss Farrow? Would you move away from the door, please?”

So they knew who I was. That wasn’t good. They weren’t giving me any room to surprise them, either. I was at a disadvantage. Still, no sense in giving up just yet. There would be plenty of opportunities.

I walked over to the opposite wall and turned around, leaning against the wall. I adopted the most nonchalant pose possible, giving my bindings. The last thing I was going to give them was the satisfaction of seeing me subservient.

The door made a heavy clanking sound and swung open slowly. A middle-aged white man walked into the room, dressed in an expensive suit and wearing an openly curious expression. He was looking at me like some kind of exhibit at a zoo. Seeing his face, I was a little more certain how I’d ended up here, and it sent a chill down my spine.

“I’m glad you’re finally awake,” he said, speaking with the slightest trace of an accent I couldn’t quite place. “I’ve been waiting for the chance to speak to you. Please, would you follow me?”

I didn’t move as he gestured to the door. He didn’t seem at all surprised. Instead, he just pulled out a handgun, pointing it at my head. I didn’t even flinch.

Rolling my eyes, I decided it would be easier to just do what he wanted. For now, at least. Following him seemed slightly less painful than being shot, and it was the best chance I had at figuring out what was going on.

He led me out into the corridor, gun never pointed anywhere but my head. We walked, slowly, through more dull grey concrete and passed countless metal doors. The whole place felt lifeless and just a little suffocating, probably by design. No windows anywhere, and only a minimum of lighting.

I followed him into another room, slightly larger than my cell, with a table in the centre, and a chair on either side of it. He gestured for me to sit down, and I begrudgingly did so.

“Well, I have to admit, you’re not quite what I expected,” he said, sitting down opposite me. I noticed that he still held onto the gun, but at least it wasn’t pointed at me anymore. The table seemed to satisfy the same need, keeping me at a safe distance.

Did he realise he wasn’t safe, there? Did he know the gun wouldn’t stop me?

“You thought I’d be taller, didn’t you?” I asked. “I get that a lot.”

He smiled, though there was no humour in it. He reminded me a little of a shark. I wonder, if I knocked his teeth out, would they grow back?

“I’m glad you can still maintain your sense of humour. But no, I was referring to the fact that you’re, well, a teenage girl. A scrawny one, at that.”

Scrawny? Why you miserable, condescending-

His tone was dismissive, and I couldn’t help but to take it personally. He was surprised that someone like me could do what I did? That I was capable of challenging him? Fuck him.

“Now you know why everyone is scared of teenage girls,” I said, smirking. He didn’t seem amused at that. That was just fine. Neither was I.

“Indeed. Now, I do hope you’ll forgive me, but I’m afraid I’m going to need to see it for myself.”

My eyes flicked down to the pistol again, resigned to my fate. If it was going to happen, there was more painful ways. My heart thudded once, wanting to panic, but I forced myself to remain calm. My lack of visible fear seemed to be eating at him, which was a nice bonus.

“Sorry, I’m not that kind of girl.”

“I’ll give you the choice,” he said, ignoring my quip and pointing the gun at my chest. “Where would you like the first one?”

“In your head?”

He sneered. “You are truly insufferable, you know that?”

“I might feel worse about that if you weren’t threatening to shoot me,” I said dryly.

“So in the head, then?”

“Just get it over with,” I said.

“As you wish,” he replied, and pulled the trigger.

I didn’t hear the gunshot. There was the briefest of flashes before the bullet ripped through me, and then everything went black. I felt my body go limp and slump backwards, somehow managing to stay seated as all the life left my muscles.

Then, what felt like seconds later, my eyes fluttered open again, my headache considerably more pronounced than before. I had no idea how much time had passed, but I knew from experience it was longer than it felt.

He was still sitting opposite me, a marvelled look on his face. I hated having given him even the slightest bit of pleasure, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. Coming back from the dead wasn’t something I ever chose to do. It just happened.

“Uuuugh, my head,” I complained. I couldn’t wait until I got the chance to kill him.

Patience, Charlie.

“Incredible,” he said.

I glowered at him. “So glad I impressed you. Can I go now?”

“Not until you’ve answered some questions,” he said. Right. Questions. Like I believed that.

“And then you’ll let me go?”

“No,” he said. “But I can make your stay here more comfortable. Or less. It’s up to you.”

I actually considered my options. Outright defiance would feel better, but would also probably end up being a lot more painful for me in the long run. I had a lot of time to kill, and if playing his game got me a more comfortable bed and fewer bullets in me, I could wait it out. I just had to be very careful about what I told him.

“Fine, fine. What do you want to know?”

“Huh. I was expecting more resistance,” he said.

“I’m only going to tell you because I know you won’t believe me.”

He leaned over the table towards me, and I had to fight the urge to punch him. Patience, Charlie. You’ll have your chance.

“I just shot you in the head, and the only thing you have to show for it is dried blood. You may consider me open minded,” he said.

“Whatever you say.”

“So, how did you discover this… power of yours?” he asked.

I hesitated, not sure if I should answer honestly or not. It didn’t really matter, but I really hated to talk about it. Still, it would make for a better story if I told the truth, and a better story would buy me more time.

“I tried to kill myself,” I said. The memory felt distant, almost like it had been someone else. So much had happened since then.

He scoffed, and my rage intensified.

“You? A middle class white girl in an expensive school? What could possibly have been so bad?” His condescension was expected, but it still pissed me off.

It bothered me that he knew so much about me, though. Even if I obfuscated major details, I was worried he’d be able to figure things out. Maybe not everything, but enough to put people at risk I really didn’t want in the line of fire.

I shrugged, playing up a nonchalance I didn’t really feel.

“The world was a mess. It’s still a mess, but back then, I couldn’t see a way to change it,” I told him. Not entirely true, but not a lie, either.

“What, and you felt like it was your responsibility to change the world?”

“Am I telling a story, or is this therapy?” I snapped, not wanting to tell him that the answer to that question was a resounding yes.

“Fine. You hated the world and wanted to leave it. Could it also have been, and I’m taking a wild guess here,” he added sarcastically, “heartbreak over some boy?”

Condescension aside, it was the first real emotional engagement he’d shown. A sign of weakness. I logged it away for future use.

“A girl, actually,” I said.

“Oh. Should have guessed,” he said insincerely, and I felt my lips curl into a snarl.

“My sister, you idiot.”

“Your sister broke your heart?”

“More than ten years ago,” I said.

“What happened?”

“She died,” I told him. “So did my parents, but I’ve made peace with that.”

I could remember the accident so vividly, even now. The four of us in the car, stopped at a level crossing. A drunk driver behind us, colliding with our car, pushing us forward, into the path of the oncoming train. The horrifying, dizzying sensation of the car being thrown sideways.

The others had been killed instantly. The paramedics had told me they wouldn’t have experienced any pain. They also told me I was incredible lucky to be alive. There was no reason I shouldn’t have suffered the same fate. At the time, I hadn’t understood why I’d survived, but even then, I knew better than to feel lucky.

There was nothing lucky about it.

“You made peace with your parents’ deaths, but not your sister. How was that different?” he asked.

“Why do you care?”

“You never know which details will be relevant,” he said.

“Alright then.”

“So, your sister. You couldn’t move on. Why?”

“Because I can still see her,” I told him. “I can talk to her. I can feel her. And nobody else can.”

I remembered seeing her standing there, surrounded by the chaos of the car wreck, terrified and confused, and everybody was ignoring her. I’d tried to get her help, but nobody could see her, nobody believed me. To them, I was just a traumatised kid.

“You’re saying you can see ghosts?”

I muffled my laugh. Given what he’d already seen me do, it probably wasn’t that unreasonable an assumption, but thankfully, it was also inaccurate.

“Ghost. Singular, and I don’t even know if that’s what she is,” I said. “But for the sake of simplicity, yes. I can see my dead sister’s ghost.”

“You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it,” I said threateningly.

“Not yet. Why don’t you tell me about the time you tried to kill yourself?”

I sighed. It was going to be a long night. Or day. I actually had no idea what time it was, but I supposed it didn’t really matter.

I leant back in the chair, resting my feet on the table. He looked amused, and just a bit annoyed. It was a good start.

“If I must.”

 

Next Week: Don’t You Know What This Means?