Authors: Rochelle Maya Callen
Table of Contents
ASHES AND ICE
Rochelle Maya Callen
Copyright © 2013 (Rochelle Maya Callen and C&C Legacy Publishing)
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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Book Cover Design by Damonza.com
Interior Design by Benjamin Carrancho
Editing by Annetta Ribken and Jennifer Wingard
First Edition: (February 4, 2013)
For my sister and best friend, Martina, her faith, spirit and laughter keep me grounded and keep me smiling. Her twinkling brown eyes remind me that miracles are possible.
For my mother, Erin, who is my hero in all ways. She took the broken pieces of our lives and made a masterpiece. Her strength was our fortress. She gave me wings when I was afraid to fly into the wide open sky.
For my daughter, Juliette, who is my sunshine. She is my life, my joy. Her existence challenges me to be better than who I am and to soar and dance in the moonlight, because I hope that one day she will reach for her dreams and dance with me.
I love you.
The stars are ours.
The girl’s glassy, dead eyes stare into me, through me, pierce me with a fierce urgency, with a wicked accusation. The blood is still on my hands.
Red hair, blue eyes, a constellation of freckles on pale skin. She was fragile and innocent, a lovely thing. That is what I think until I see the gashes on her wrists and throat. With her blood spilling out, she looks delicious. She’s mine. Possessiveness shocks me, stabs into me. I run, tearing away from a craving I don’t understand.
Breathless, I grit my teeth and run harder, faster.
My feet pound against the earth, away from the lifeless body and toward the lights of the city lingering on the horizon. Rot and death linger in my nostrils. Unscarred skin stretches taut over my freezing bones. Echoes of an empty memory reverberate in my mind, taunting me. The ice chases me, clutches me, and bites at my heels, sending shivers up my spine. The ice wants me back, but I run forward, toward the lights, toward the heat, toward a world that burns me, because I have no other choice.
The lights are so close. Heat scalds my skin.
Images race through my mind, paralyzing me. I skid to a stop, my boots digging into the mud. The vision’s blurred edges materialize into solid shapes.
A new horror rakes my insides. Desperation propels me forward; the pictures nagging at my seams threaten to tear me apart.
Scorching fire licks over my skin. In my vision, I contort like a vile, ugly creature, eyes as black as decay. My frame hunches over the small, dead girl, like a demon looming over a defenseless child. Her blood drips from my mouth.
I lick my lips and taste only salty sweat.
I run, desperate to trample the vision under my feet, to crush it deep into the ground.
I refuse to believe the image, refuse to acknowledge the monster within me demanding to be unleashed—and the possibility it has already been unbound. An unrelenting tide of fear washes over me. Past the denial, the fear, and the hope, I think I can still taste her.
The cold stillness inside me cracks open just as the lights of the city slam into me.
Tears burn. I never realized it before, but they do. Tears reach down my throat and settle in my gut until the pain cripples me. I clutch my stomach as I look into the casket. His face doesn’t even look the same. Bloated like a Mardi Gras float, discolored like a mannequin. This isn’t my father.
But it is.
If I have learned anything in my short life, it is this: funerals are bullshit. People dress in carefully pressed black suits. Parents give me “meaningful” nods as if that could ease the grief. It doesn’t.
Then there are the kids from school, the ones dragged along by their parents. People drag their kids along as if filling the church was a necessary thing. As if the more pews filled somehow expedite the dead’s trip to heaven. I doubt it does. Maybe some of the girls went shopping to buy just the right outfit so their cleavage to respectability ratio was just right, or their ass to waist ratio was cinched properly.
People sit in the pews dressed in their finest let’s-go-pay-our-respects-to-the-dead-guy-we-never-knew wear, smacking the gum in their mouths, cupping cellphones so they can LOL any comment buzzing in, and drumming their fingers because the pastor is going on too long. All they want to do is go home, sneak in a make-out session with their girlfriends, eat their dinners, and maybe catch a 7 o’clock movie.
I hate these kids. The ones who stare at me, roll their eyes, and yawn. The ones who trip me at school and slam me into lockers. The ones who sit in a pew, contributing to the headcount, while I sit up here in front, holding back the tears fighting to make their appearance. I swallow them down. I won’t cry. Not here. Not with these people.
Dad’s funeral should be an empty church with mom, his three brothers, and me. It should be the five of us having a messy, sloppy, sobbing affair where we cling to each other because we are all we have left. The marble floors should be slick with our tears. It isn’t. We sit here, straight backed, completely composed as if death is just a passing expiration date and our small, insignificant world has not been split open and left gaping.
I’m in my room, staring at the ceiling. The funeral service was hours ago.
The house feels empty and cold. I hear a stifled whimper from down the hall.
Probably crying into a pillow so the house can’t hear, but it can. It seems unfair she can’t wail aloud, so loud the house’s hundred-year-old studs tremble.
She doesn’t. I don’t either. We cry in our own rooms, remembering a man who will never be here again.
The house creaks. Maybe it feels the weight of our grief, maybe the floorboards are buckling because the burden is too heavy.
I ache, desperate to forget the long battle with cancer, the blood sputtering out of his mouth with his last words—what where they? I can’t remember because the fear in his eyes overshadowed anything he said. Now the loss. I don’t want to feel this loss. Some divine entity has taken dull scissors and cut out a piece of my life and now I have jagged scars to remind me I lost too much. Too much.
I want to forget, because it hurts to remember.
I bury my head in the pillow, hoping to suffocate the memories, to choke out the pain.
I have no breath left.
I tumble forward, my palms scraping the hard pavement. I look at them, scratched and bloody. Pain throbs in the center of my hands. Then the throb dulls and the blood and cut skin heal, leaving soft, flawless flesh. I hate these hands. I don’t gasp, because I have seen it before and it always feels just as unnatural.
A scramble of noise, lights, and laughter scuffle around me. I pull myself up, feeling claustrophobic standing amidst concrete, people, and noise.
I snap my head toward the tinkling voice. A girl with too-blonde hair, ruby red lips, and silver hoops lining her earlobes and eyebrows stares at me, brow furrowed.
Stepping back, I stare at her and itch to run away. I swallow hard. She blinks at me, waiting.
BEEEEEEEEEEEP! Two bright lights screech towards me. I freeze, eyes transfixed on the shining orbs screaming toward me. My mouth gapes open just as I am yanked out of the beast’s way. My sharp inhale sticks in my throat and I forget to let it out.
“What the hell are you thinking? You can’t just stand in the road and wait for a car to flatten you!”
Car. The wheeled, zippy, bright-eyed beasts are cars. I stare toward the street where cars roll past each other. I cock my head to the side, a memory shifting in and out of place. Wagons? Horses? Wheels?
I blink, then shift my weight and gaze back to the oddly shiny, silvery girl.
Her bright lips tip into a lopsided grin. “So what look are you going for? Medieval pirate?” She scans me head to toe. “Because you nailed it.”
Confused, I open my mouth to speak, eyeing her neck-to-ankle black dress and the strange collar of spikes around her throat. Before a sound escapes me, she leans out, grabs my wrist, and drags me back into the darkness of the store behind her.
Her hand is warm, so warm—not the scorching heat I felt a few moments ago and not the icy chill I usually feel—just warm. It feels…comforting. Being touched makes me feel uneasy though, and I am relieved when she lets go.
The music from the store blares out with screaming and drums. I look at the racks of clothes and chains and strangely decorated tops. “We are totally your style.” She chimes, “but let me help you sex it up a bit.”
I crinkle my nose. This is all wrong. Ugly, dead things claw at the back of my mind. I blink them away, breathing in walls, living people, sweat, and energy. So different from the woods I wandered for so long.
The girl’s bright, odd face looks back at me, grinning. “Well, c’mon!” She motions for me to move further into the store. I step forward, really unsure what else I should do.
“You are so beautiful!” She says as she drapes some pieces of fabric over my shoulder and into my arms. “Oh, oh, oh!” She leaned over and picked up a pair of tall leather boots. “Oh yeah, definitely. You. Have. To. Wear. These.”
I am surprised how she can make a sentence break up into individual pieces. I stare at the boots—sleek, new, and black. Then I eye my own: muddy, worn, and brown. “I—I don’t know. Maybe I should leave…” But I have nowhere to go.
“Nonsense.” She said. “You are in desperate need of a makeover; otherwise, some renaissance festival is going to snatch you up.”
She doesn’t make much sense to me, but I don’t want to argue and show just how ignorant I am. How lost and unsure.
When we walk back into a tiny room with a mirror and a hook, she leaves me there with a pile of clothes. I stand in the middle of the room, staring at a piece of netting in my hand. The holes are too big and the weave is too weak to catch anything. I poke my fingers through and frown as I realize pulling at them only make the nets look like gloves.
“You almost done in there?”
I jerk upright, my arms tangled in the two long pieces of netting. “I… I. No. What do I do with these?”
I wait for the door to open. When she enters, she laughs so hard a bit of spit smacks my cheek. I flinch back and wipe my face on my shoulder, my hands still otherwise occupied with the net.
“Whaaaat are you doing?” She says and starts to peel the netting off my arms. “These are fishnet stockings. How do you not know what to do with these? Half the girls out there are wearing them.”
I don’t want to tell her the only girl I have ever seen other than her was dead in the mud, bleeding out of slashes all over her body. I don’t want to say I remember the smell of her skin and the vacant look of her eyes.
“Will you show me?” I ask.
She rolls her eyes, but smiles. “Well, before I come in here and help you put on stockings, we may as well introduce ourselves properly. My name is Clara. What’s yours?”
The question stabs me. What is my name? I try to reach back, to grasp at something, anything.
I think back to that first day, the first day of my everything, the first day I remember. I woke up ruined—aching, raw, and empty. The sun burned through my eyelids. My fingers grasped at the soft grass beneath me. It was familiar and comforting, anchoring me to the earth when the rest of the world blinded me with stark yellow.