EAST – Chapter 18
AS I SLEEP, I DREAM. I see a smiling, gap-toothed Jem standing with both hands on his hips. “Just get on the bike! It’s not that hard!” Once I finally climb over the seat he gives me a hard push, and I shriek as I slide out of control, down the hill…
It’s a memory. At the bottom of the hill Jem puts out his hands to stop the bike; he laughs as I try to kick him, and jump onto his back, beating at him with my tiny fists. “Wanna go again?” His blue eyes twinkle.
I nod eagerly. Suddenly his hair grows longer and his eyes melt to a hazel green, and now adult Dennis is holding me. “You broke our family!” He shouts, and lets go.
I’m falling… The ocean swallows me whole. I drink in the feel of its icy-cold caresses against my cheeks, my arms, my thighs, all the way down to my toes… A current rushes me to the surface—I push myself into open air, and the sun shines bright, rays of golden light…
Rockets of yellow flame… Screams, shouts—“Thea!” The sound of wood, creaking, crackling cracking… I see Jem’s terrified face next to a fallen blue-painted door, arms held high, mouth moving, screaming—“Jump, East, jump!” The rockets look like shooting stars.
I look into my old room, see the girl crouching there over her mother’s body, tears streaming down her face, staring into a pair of emotionless clear-as-water eyes. “Are you here to finish the job?” I hear her say in my voice. I raise a hand to touch my lips and it comes away full of fire.
Ash raises a hand—the flames on my hand dance over to him—he flicks his wrist—a shower of orange sparks zip across the room like arrows, and a second before they reach me they transform into blades of pure white light.
It’s still night. It can’t be more than five o’clock. I sit there in my bed for a long while, blind in the darkness. My breaths come in strangled pants—I can’t get air into my lungs—I’m drowning. I stumble out of bed, pull the curtains away from the window, push the window open, put my head out, try to breathe.
“East?” A low voice calls. I look down. I see Ash’s face peering up at me as he gets up, one hand on the wall of the house.
“Can’t—air—” I choke out, and gasp as a swell of too-hot warmth suddenly surges through my body. Too hot. Stop. No fire. No fire.
I collapse there by the window, and my last sight is of the stars watching coldly from outside in the sky. Some of them look like rockets.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I wake up in my bed, so deeply buried in covers that I can barely move. “Ugh,” I moan, and my voice is hoarse, and my throat hurts. The nightmare comes back to me.
My eyes fly open. There’s an extra blanket on top of my usual duvet; that’s why it was so hot. I push it off, push all of it off, and stumble to the window, and push it open.
There’s not much sun. Most of the light is obscured by dark storm clouds in the sky, and I inhale the scent of incoming rain with a sort of gleefulness. But just that one motion is enough to make me sway on my feet, and I have to sit down, hard, on the floor.
What’s happening to me? I hold my head in my hands and close my eyes when for a moment my vision brightens, then darkens, and I can’t see anything. Then it’s all gone. I’m hot all over. My nose feels stuffy, my throat hurts—I hold the back of my hand to my forehead, like Mom used to do with the twins—the skin is hot, so hot it burns and I yelp.
The door opens. “East? Are you up?”
I hear the sound of a tray being set down, and then footsteps, and Andrew crouches down in front of me. “Making friends with the rats already?”
“Not much—else—to do—around here,” I rasp.
His eyebrows fly up at the sound of my voice. He reaches behind him and comes back with a glass of water. “Here,” he says, and while I do, adds, “this is so déjà vu.”
Andrew takes the glass, then stands up and holds out his hands. I try to pull myself up, but he ends up having to half-carry, half-push me back onto the mattress. “Sorry,” I whisper.
“Don’t worry about it. I owe you.”
I look at him questioningly, too tired to talk anymore.
“Asher said you convinced him to let me see the—where Russ was—where Russ died,” he says haltingly. “So, you know, thanks, I guess.”
I crack a weak grin.
“Oh. Here’s your breakfast.” He slides off the bed, and brings back up a plate of toast, two boiled eggs, an omelette, a bowl of oatmeal, and orange juice. “You better eat it. I have to show him the empty dishes or he won’t take me out.”
I shake my head. “Not—hungry.”
“What? I spent all morning making this!”
“Nauseous,” I try to say, and it’s true, but what’s more terrifying is the idea of trying to swallow anything—I wonder if my throat would simply fall apart—it hurts so much. “Water?”
Andrew hands me the OJ. “I’ll go get you some more. But you have to eat; I have to go see this,” he urges.
I look despairingly at the food as he leaves the room. Taking a gulp of juice, I try a little bite of egg. It burns a little, but nothing too painful. So, for the sake of Andrew, I keep washing down bits and pieces of omelette and toast between huge gulps of orange juice.
“I heard you’re sick.”
I look up slowly. Callia has her arms crossed, frowning with obvious suspicion. “You certainly look it,” she adds.
I go back to trying to chew and swallow the food. It all hurts, feels so exhausting. I can’t talk to her right now.
She comes closer to the bed, and continues to glare at me. When I break down into coughs again, she even scoffs.
“You can drop the act,” she says. “Asher isn’t around, and he already bought into your little story anyway.”
I take a small sip of juice. It’s almost all gone. Where’s Andrew?
“I can’t believe you’d fake being sick just to get out of having to use your fire.” She shakes her head in disgust. “Jesus, is this about how you ‘almost killed’ me? Don’t listen to Asher. He’s paranoid. I knew what I was doing and I could’ve stopped you anytime.
“Look,” she sits down on the bed. “If you’re really what I think you are, you could have a special gift. There’s…” She hesitates. “There’s a prophecy, about a gold who’s able to find others through her fire, who can gather a ‘storm’… That can really help us, you know.”
Callia looks at me for a moment, then looks away and shrugs. “Asher and I talked last night,” she says abruptly. “He explained a lot of things. Besides, now that I’m going back to Edgecliff—” She leans in, right in my face. “—it won’t be hard to look you up, dig into your past, find some of that irrefutable evidence he likes so much to prove that you’re not so innocent after all.”
“Get—a—life,” I whisper, rather lamely, “and—stop—obsessing over—mine.”
Callia snorts. “Well, then, get your ass better so I can get your fire back, and we’ll never have to see each other again.”
“Not really—in a condition—to light any-anything,” I gasp out.
“Err…” comes Andrew’s voice. “You might have to.” He steps to the side of my bed, cautiously holding out his phone. “The Prof is on the line. She wants to talk to you.”
“Water,” I demand, and he finally hands me the glass. I take it and chug the entire thing and thrust it back into his hand, shooing him out of the door before I take the phone, breathe, and say, “Hello?”
“East!” The Professor’s voice is warm, and a welcome sound. “How are you feeling? Andrew told me that you’re sick?”
“Um—yeah, a little sick.” I cough. Callia gets up, makes an I’m-watching-you motion with her fingers, and leaves my room. “I’ll be fine soon, I’m sure.”
“What are your symptoms?”
I suppress a sigh, and describe them to her. Thankfully Andrew comes back near the end of it with another glass and a whole jug of water. I nearly cry at the sight. He takes the plates away, mouths “Get well soon,” and slips out the door.
“East, listen to me,” the Professor is saying urgently. “You have to be careful. You have to activate your fire. I’ve heard of these symptoms before; it has to do with your fire—it’s been suppressed for far too long, so long that it’s starting to turn on your body.”
I wince. Well, that certainly sounds like what it feels like. “I’ve already activated,” I try to explain. “I just can’t do it again.”
A pause. And then—“You activated?”
I nod, then realize I’m on the phone, and say, “Yeah, just yesterday.”
“My dear East!” She exclaims. “Congratulations! Didn’t it feel good?”
“It felt great,” I admit.
“Didn’t I tell you?” I can practically hear her grin. “You have to do it again, East. It should be much easier the second time. Ask Callia to help you again, and do it soon. I am absolutely certain that it will help you get better.”
I have to hold back another sigh. We chat about other things for a while, and I give her a quick rundown of what Ian has told us since he came back, leaving out most of the details since she’s already talked to Ash and Callia. I don’t tell her about the forest yet, just say that the boys seem to have found where Russell was killed; there’s still a bit of sense of lingering shame that I snuck out so recklessly—and got caught.
Now I owe Ash one. That can’t possibly be a good thing. But last night… He’d seemed to sincerely care, and he did, presumably, get me off the floor and back into my bed.
Stop thinking about it, I chide myself. The Professor ends our phone conversation with a promise that she’ll be back soon to check on me.
“Rest, and work on your fire,” is her last admonishment. So once we hang up, I get dressed, climb out of bed, and stumble downstairs to find Callia.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“Are you sure she should be doing this?” Parker says dubiously.
Callia barely spares him a glance, just flicks her wrist and does her usual trick of orange sparks at him. I flinch, remembering my nightmare.
“Focus!” She snaps her fingers in my face. “Ready?”
I nod. But I can’t help glancing at her fingers again, and then her wrist…
“Close your eyes.”
I close my eyes.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“Well, that failed.”
I open my eyes groggily. “What…”
“You just fell asleep,” Callia says with disbelief. “I can’t believe you just fucking fell asleep on me.”
“Like I said, maybe she shouldn’t be doing this,” Parker argues. He props me up to lean against the banisters of the porch. “Asher said she should stay in bed today. Look at her, she’s so pale.”
“I’m fine,” I say defensively, and then I clear my throat and continue in a hoarse whisper, “Whatever. I’ll try again. Callia, I’m sorry. Can we please try?”
She huffs. “If you’re just going to—”
I sneeze loudly.
Her eyes narrow. “If that was—”
Cough, cough, cough.
“S-Sorry,” I choke out. “N-N-Not intentional, I p-promise.”
“Yeah, right,” she scoffs, but sits up straight again. “We’re done here.”
“With this,” Callia clarifies. “We’re going to do what I do best. What worked last time.”
I suck in a breath. “What do you mean?”
“I’m going to piss you off,” she says confidently.
Parker raises a hand timidly. “Uh, isn’t that sorta dangerous? And might I just remind you that Maggie is upstairs sleeping in this very house…” He pokes the wall of the house with one finger as if to demonstrate.
Callia rolls her eyes. “That stuff is fireproof, remember? Anyway, East just has to channel her anger into making a fire, and we’ll be fine.”
“I do? You will?”
She shrugs. Parker and I share a look, but her method, however unpleasant, had worked last time.
“Fine,” I sigh. “But you know, making me angry would’ve worked a lot better if I wasn’t expecting it.”
“Nah,” Callia says. Suddenly I realize that she doesn’t just look smug, she looks gleeful—no, spiteful. “I’ve got plenty of material. Have you ever wondered why Asher was in Edgecliff for so long, but never told you that you were a lighter?”
I hesitate.“Sure,” I say finally, and then I remember the way he’d helped me last night, and feel a burst of irritation at Callia’s many mood changes. “Maybe he knew I’d think he was insane?” I add sarcastically.
“He activated when he was 16. That’s just after he met you, honey,” she says mockingly. “He could’ve proved it to you at any time.”
“And?” I refuse to stand down. But my head is starting to ache just from looking her in the eye.
She smiles, and it’s not a nice smile. “This house has been here for many, many years, East. Nearly a century, in fact. And we—the Professor, Asher, and I, and then Ian—have been living here ever since I was born.”
A cold feeling settles in my chest; there’s no way this will end well. “So what?”
“There was a different lighter running the safe house when Asher first got here. Her name was Idris, and she was nowhere as nice as the Prof. We called her the Witch.” She smiles grimly. “She was demanding, harsh, pedantic. She would’ve taken one look at you and thrown you out.
“Idris was old, but powerful, and unwilling to give up her position. She had this idea that she was the best thing that had ever happened to this place.” Callia sneers, and I get the feeling that she’s getting lost in her memories. “Everyone knew that Asher’s mother had more than enough potential and done more than enough good for our community to replace her, but Idris refused to budge. Until Asher came up with a brilliant plan.”
She looks at me. “You know the prophecy I mentioned? About the gold who’s said to have the power to find others through her fire? I wasn’t kidding. There is such a prophecy, and it says that this gold might just be the most powerful lighter this world has ever seen. It’s also centuries old, however, so many people regarded it as superstition. But then, on his birthday, Asher activated. And he was the first gold born in decades.
“You should’ve seen his face, East. He was ecstatic. He was determined to use his power to help his mother take over, to prove to Idris that he and his mother were ready for the job.
“But Idris didn’t believe he was the gold in the prophecy. She was obsessed with all those ancient myths and shit, and also with genealogy. She thought that the real lighter in the prophecy was someone from another family. Someone hidden away by her real parents in a little town called Edgecliff.”
I suck in a breath. Callia smirks, but keeps going. “That’s why she’d sent him to Edgecliff, you see. I didn’t even hear about this part of the story until last night. We all knew Idris had sent him on some sort of secret assignment, but I had no idea that his task was you. Asher never even said a word.” She sneers. “He hated the whole thing, how Idris could just wave her hand and make him and his mother do whatever she wanted. Of course, eventually, the old hag died, and he came back immediately. He couldn’t care less about her delusions, or the prophecy, or you or any of your ‘brothers.’”
I shake my head. No. Ash and Jem and Dennis… That friendship was true, it must have been.
I’m only lying to myself, of course. You knew this from the first—you knew he wasn’t true, you knew, you knew, you knew.
“And you know what the irony is? That gold in the prophecy? That is you, East,” she says in a distinctively nasty tone. “Your fire flipped white near the end of that nice display the other day. He’s never done that. That power is yours. So it looks like old Idris’ gamble paid off, all of Asher’s years stuck with you and your damn family in that stupid little town paid off.”
“Sh-Shut up,” I say shakily, breathily. My throat feels hoarse again, my skin too hot, my skull full to bursting. “Stop.”
“He could care less about your family,” Callia snarls. “Your precious ‘Ash’. You’re nothing to him.”
“I fucking knew that!” I snarl right back at her, and she leans back in surprise. “You think I didn’t know after—after the fire? After what he did to us, what he left? A-And—” I’m shaking, my body is shaking, and I stare at my hands, my palms. “Why am I not on fire? Wasn’t all that mind-fuck supposed to get me back my fire? Why am I not on fire?”
Callia frowns. “Uh, I…”
“East.” Parker stands up again, and strides over to me. “Calm down, you really shouldn’t have tried to do this, we can try again tomorrow—”
“No!” I shove him away, and stalk right up to Callia. “No. Make it happen,” I say to her, feeling lost, wild, unravelled—lost and raw. “Find my fire. Draw it out. Do something, make it happen. What was that memory thing you had me do the other day? Imagine a scene, imagine it burning?”
“No, East, don’t do it, you can’t go that far—”
I spin away from Callia, already remembering her words from that day, whispering them to myself frantically… Stay relaxed… Create an image… Imagine it burning… A pool of fire, red and orange and gold flickering greedily, reaching to swallow… The rose bushes…
And I squeeze my eyes tightly shut, and I try to breathe, and I think about those rose bushes, see the two pear trees in the backyard, burning bright, branches raised like arms, begging… I stand in front of a blue door that crackles, cracks, and falls…I breathe and I imagine the whole world on fire… And I feel something hot in the back of my mind—a small spot, at first, that then grows, expands, until there’s a pain in my chest, and then my head, and then my arms, my fingers—
I gasp and open my eyes, and all I see is red, orange, yellow, fire everywhere—am I on fire yet?—black streaks over my vision—white—then grey, grey sky, grey clouds, no fire, but pain everywhere, everywhere.