Opposing Sides – The Teaser *Short Story*
Here’s the teaser for Aeron. I hope you enjoy meeting her. Grab something yummy to eat, a drink and meet my girl.
[A tale from the Above and Beyond Series]
By Jody Klaire
© 2014 Jody Klaire
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any means electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author.
It ain’t every day that you get arrested by your own father but that’s what happened to me two days before I turned sixteen. I can still see the flashing blue lights pulling up to the house that we lived in, my father and his officers clomping up the steps as I watched from my bedroom window. I knew they would be coming for me. It was always me getting hauled up by the local law enforcement and I gotta confess that most of the time, they were right.
I guess I’ve always been a misfit, always been seen as that weird kid. You know, like the ones on the news channel that the folks being interviewed always say, ‘She was an odd child,’ or ‘Never really fit in.’ There’s always one guy who will add, ‘Never liked the look of her… something in the eyes…’ It’s nothing but ‘twaddle’ as Nan, my grandmother, used to say but I knew that was what the neighbours were thinking nothing nice about me when they saw the police procession.
I can still hear my father’s voice now, you know? “Aeron, come down here.”
Standing at the top of the stairs, I looked down, the whole world felt like a movie playing out in front of my life. Hell, you would think that I’d have been used to those moments back then but this wasn’t just for carjacking or stealing the copper from the signal posts—
“Let me stop you there.”
The words yanked me out of my memory and I glared at Doctor Bison, the head psychiatrist, as he ran a sweaty hand over his red sugar candy hair.
“I was in mid flow.”
“Yes, well… We don’t have all day.” He leaned back in his chair. “You said it wasn’t everyday that your father arrested you.”
I sighed. “I got arrested by the other officers but my father was… is… the police chief.”
Doctor Bison’s elevator didn’t go all the way to the top floor on a good day. The guy despised me and his feelings pulsated off him everytime we got into the story. I don’t know why he kept asking if he had a problem with the subject. “Can I get on now?”
Bison waved his hand to allow it.
Closing my eyes, I went back to that night. My parents house materialising all around me. The scent of sickly-sweet perfume from one of those air-fresheners, the sick-coloured paint on the walls. Nothing, not one thing out of place ever. I made my way down the stairs, I tried not to show my shaking hands by shoving them in my pockets. I know how it looked to everyone because I had been crying so hard that my eyes felt sticky from it. It was so unreal, so horrific that I couldn’t process the information.
“Aeron,” My father said. “Where have you been this evening?”
“She was with Sam again, that’s who!”
Shrinking away from the fury of my mother, I tried and failed to miss the incoming blow. She caught my cheek with her wedding ring and a echoing thwack. If I hadn’t been so dazed from my tears, maybe I would have felt more of the sting. Instead, I lifted my fingers to my cheek and stared down at the blood as my mother continued her attack. “She snuck in here not long ago… as if I didn’t see her.”
“Wow, so you can see… funny how you never saw me walking in the rain yesterday as you drove past.”
“Why would I want to be seen with you, you little—”
“Enough.” My father wasn’t a man prone to yelling but his raised voice silenced us both. “Aeron,” he said leaning in. “Don’t play around with me here. I don’t want any of your nonsense.”
“Then how’d you expect the truth if I don’t say it?”
Grabbing my shoulder, he stared down at me. “Don’t do this now.” His eyes narrowed. “I need to know when you got home.”
“I don’t remember—”
A rude cough pulled me back and I noticed that Bison was throwing a stress ball from one hand to the other.
“You don’t remember?” He scoffed. “Your earliest memory is at aged three… or so you say… and yet you can’t remember the night that changed your whole life.”
Folding my arms, I met his scoff with a glare. “Why do we always go through this?” The guy drove me bananas. “Look, I am supposed to talk through the events, right?”
“Right,” Bison said. “But you always start there.”
“That’s because it’s the first moment that I really remember.” I blew out my frustration through my nostrils. “What do you want from me?”
“The truth, Lorelei.” He squeezed the ball, his knuckles whitening. “How ’bout that?”
“It is the damn truth.”
Bison resumed his mini-game of catch. “If you say so.”
“Are you sure they gave you a certificate?” I asked. “I mean other than one that says you should be committed.”
“Yes, that’s right, Lorelei, try insults because that always works.”
It did work, most of the time.
“So he arrested you.” Bison continued throwing, right to left, left to right. “Then what?”
“I hadn’t got that far yet.”
“You have now.” He made a point of looking up at the clock on the wall. I didn’t want to be there anymore than him. Idiot.
“I got put in the squad car because I couldn’t tell him where I was… because I didn’t remember,” I added.
“So skip to the part where you get to the station.” He yawned. “I don’t want to hear you wittering on about the fact Oppidum is a Welsh community in the beautiful Ozarks.” He put his feet up on the desk. “Everyone knows that the town is full of inbreeds… like you.”
“At least I’m not fawning all over a woman who thinks I’m a creep.” Bison scowled. He hated it when I did this. “You make Susan’s skin crawl by the way.”
I smiled. Stick that, Shrink.
“Get on with the damn sob story.” His cheeks reddened a little. He liked the new doctor on the wing. That made me chuckle, the woman had her mind elsewhere and when he found out, he wouldn’t like it.
“You are in the station,” he prompted. “Now get on with it.”
“Only if you let me tell it and not keep interrupting.”
“Stop boring me to tears and I might.”
I sat back and made a show of staring past him out the window. He really hated silence, for a shrink, he was terribly easy to wind up. It was so much fun that it had become a sport, if I had to be in there for a whole hour, why not?
“Lorelei, tell the story.”
“Uh uh… not until you promise.” I saw a flash of him throwing the ball at me. “If you throw it, you know I’ll crush it.”
Bison narrowed his eyes. “Stop with the freakish behaviour and tell the damn story.”
Bison slammed the ball down onto his desk.
“Not a word more till you promise.”
“Fine.” He picked up the ball again. Right to left, left to right. “Now get on with it.”
“Seeming as you asked so nicely.” I smiled, loving that his ego had just taken a battering. You see, I’m kinda different and it riles folks up but sometimes, it’s just too hard to resist.
I sat there in Bison’s office, the sun faded in through the barred window making patches on the plastic-looking floor. It was kinda like somebody was up there in the clouds switching it on and off as I stared up at Bison’s pride and joy displayed on the painted brick wall. It was of him and some famous movie star, she was one of those ladies whose face seemed to be everywhere. Unfortunately for her, Bison seemed to have cornered her for the picture resulting in a shot where he looked like the prime peacock and she looked like she had stepped in something nasty.
“Lorelei, I don’t know why you have that stupid grin on your face but get on with your sordid story.”
Bison was kinda protective over that picture and I’m pretty sure that he didn’t have one iota that she found him repulsive. Almost made me feel sorry for the guy… almost.
“Yeah, yeah… Gee, I’ll think that you care.” His scowl was a reminder that he sure-as-shoots didn’t.
“You were in the interview room…” He flicked his hand forward to tell me to get on with it.
I closed my eyes and took myself back. You know, I could still smell the stale sick as I was booked in, my father standing over my shoulder like he was some kind of examiner. The guy who booked me in felt it. I could feel his nerves jangling, his face all hot and blotchy. I remember it because it was the first time that I really understood that I was feeling what he was going through. You see, I was standing there in a t-shirt and jeans, the breeze whipping through and making my hairs stand to attention yet I felt an overwhelming sense of embarrassment and my face felt like it was on fire.
Reason I knew that it wasn’t my own feelings is that I don’t never get embarrassed. To feel that, I guess you need to have fitted in at some point and know what it’s like for folks to look at you like you mean something. Embarrassment was for people with social skills and I sure didn’t have none of those.
The little epiphany didn’t really last all that long as my father was soon leading me down the little corridors to the interview room. Hell, I can still see myself back there, my hands shook so much that they felt like they had a life of their own. Being in that room, it made everything so real and yet so beyond surreal that it was all I could do not to blubber.
“Don’t I get a lawyer?” I asked when the officers left my father and I alone.
“I asked your mother.” His tone told me everything I needed to know.
“What was it this time… she need to get a manicure?”
“Don’t talk about your mother that way.”
The fact he was defending her gave me the clarity I needed. I was on my own, I had always been and would always be alone. No one was riding in to my rescue. Striding over to the table in the centre, I took up a chair.
“Let’s just get on with it, Chief.” I almost spat the words and didn’t miss my father flinch as the venom of it hit him full on. He closed his eyes for a moment and I wasn’t sure whether he was going to scream at me or dissolve into tears. I could never read him, never understand what was going on in his mind.
“Were you with Sam this evening?” I’d noticed that he hadn’t turned on the tape recorder. “Was he with you all the time?”
“Yes.” I’d already told Sam to deny it. I was going to take full responsibility for my own actions. There was no way that anyone would believe me over him. Sam was the golden boy, the son of the mayor. He had a future to live.
“When did you meet him again?” My father asked. I knew that he was trying to figure out a way to get inside my head by starting at the beginning. I’d seen him use it on the neighbour’s brat-of-a-son Jimmy. He’d flat out denied smashing the windshield on my father’s car one summer but by the end of the little chat, he was confessing to pretty much every sin he’d ever committed.
“You know where I met him. He stopped me getting my butt hung from the janitor’s room ceiling back in high school.” I stared my father full in the eyes. “You know, where you sent me for my own good.”
Rubbing his hand over his tight-cut hair, he scowled at me. “You needed proper schooling.”
“I never got the chance… spend most of my time hiding from hunting parties.”
The edges of his lips dropped downwards as he glared at me. “Don’t be so dramatic.”
“You’re always the victim aren’t you,” he said, leaning forward like he could intimidate me. “If you act like one… you’ll always be one.”
His words stung deep and I felt the last shred of respect I had for him snap. How blind was he? “Maybe I learned that from my pathetic excuse for a father.”
I slammed my chair back, got to my feet and stormed towards the door.
“Aeron, get back here. I’m not done.”
I spun on my heels. “If you’ve arrested me, I get a phone call and we are done.” My words carried the weight of so much more and judging by the vein bulging in his forehead, he got the message loud and clear.
“How very sad,” Bison said lifting me from my memories. “Daddy’s girl becomes an exile.”
There were times I wanted to impale that decrepit slime bucket on his mechanical pencil and this was one of them. “I was never a Daddy’s girl.”
“Ah, so it’s his fault that you turned out like you did?” Bison’s taunting tones made my stomach knot up even more than the memory.
“It ain’t nobody’s fault but my own.”
“No blame for your seemingly inadequate parents then?” He smiled at me, his teeth were all crooked up the top and always made me want to straighten them.
“No more than you blame yours.”
His face drained of colour. I sat back to admire my handiwork. Being a freak has it’s good times, being able to read into his damaged past was just one of them. Folding my arms, I smiled. “You want to go there?”
“What the hell did that boy see in you, I’ll never know.” Bison was ranting now, you could pretty much plan our confrontations like a little map. The guy needed way more therapy than me. “Good thing for everyone that you ended up here.”
“Everybody but you.” I needed to get that in. Bison hated me, it was common knowledge but then, that was nothing new to me. “Think of how much easier life would have been if I hadn’t been in your hair.” Drawing Bison to think about his red curly fluff on his head only added to the satisfaction. He hated his hair.
“So where the hell did you meet Sam Casey?”
I smiled, two-zero to me. “I was hiding out because the hunting party were after me.”
“The hunting party?” He rolled his eyes. “Is there anything you don’t dramatise?”
“They were a hunting party.” I nodded, making sure he couldn’t look away. “Jenny was the head of the ‘crows’… the cheerleading team and she had plastered the school in wanted posters.”
Raising his red fluff of an eyebrow he spun the ball in his hand nearly dropping it in the process. “Where were the teachers?”
“I’m pretty sure they were with her.”
I closed my eyes and drifted back to those horrible days. I mean, looking back they seemed so dark but at the time, I was too focused on surviving to notice. Before Sam strolled into my life, I had spent most of the high school year hiding out in any space big enough to hold me as Jenny, Miss Crow herself, made it her life’s mission to seek me out and batter me. It was towards the end of that school year and spring had arrived. Actually it had pretty much leapt out like one of those Jack-in-the-boxes sending flowers shooting out of the grass like missiles. It also meant that our storm season was gonna be a lot more severe than normal. I wanted to make sure that my hiding place was storm-tight too.
“There she is!” Hearing Jenny’s voice as I crawled into a duct made me drop back out and a sprint for it.
The sound of ten or fifteen pursuers’ footfalls echoed over the sound of my own clattering heart. I was so weedy back then and pretty short, so I didn’t stand no chance against Jenny and her mob. Dashing around a corner, I saw the one place that looked like I could lock myself in. The Janitor’s little room off the main hallway was nothing more than an old boiler room where he pretty much lived. I only hoped he didn’t mind company.
“Catch the freak!”
I grabbed the door, wrenched it open and slammed it shut on one of my pursuer’s hands.
“Son of a—”
I bit my lip, wedging myself against the door and the desk opposite, praying I could hold out long enough for whoever was out there to scare them off.
“It’s old Jackson!” Someone called. “Split!”
Old Jackson was the Janitor, a guy that scared pretty much everyone he met. There was no way I could get out of his place without running into trouble. I searched the dingy surroundings. I was up in the stairwell, he had his desk with all his work stuff on it—well, now some of it was on the floor stamped with my footprints—and to my right was a darkened staircase.
I heard Jackson’s heavy footfalls stop outside the door and glanced at the dark. At least I could hide down there. It took until he turned the door handle for me to actually move and I bolted down the steps clattering into someone at the bottom.
A hand clamped over my mouth and I reflexively jerked my knee upwards, hearing the whine as the person dropped to the floor. Obviously a guy.
“Freakin brats!” Jackson hollered, I guessed seeing the muddy footprints on his desk.
“What the hell d’you do that for?” a hoarse whisper sounded in my ear.
“Why’d you clamp my mouth?”
Jackson stopped his yelling and I felt the taller figure behind me tense.
“Hell, he heard us… Hide!”
A torch flicked on, the beam hit me in the eyes making them water. “You!”
I shoved my fellow captor out of the way and nodded. “Sorry Jackson, they were chasing me and I had nowhere to hide.”
He started limping down the stairs towards me, shining the torch all around the room. I noticed there was no sign of anybody else and hoped that Jackson wasn’t some vicious killer. My heart pounded so hard that I could hardly hear his clomping boots as he lumbered closer. He frowned down at me. “Why they have it in for you anyhow?”
I stared up into Jackson’s big brown eyes and felt a connection. He was shunned as much as I was. “I’m a freak.”
He ran a hand over his shaved head. “Why you a freak, girl?”
“I see stuff about people sometimes.” I shrugged, pretty much expecting that he was gonna take me for a nutcase. “I know stuff about them that they don’t want me knowing.”
“Ah,” Jackson clamped a large mitt on my shoulder and I winced, waiting for him to string me up. “People don’t like being told the truth.” He led me up the steps to his desk. “I guess you were up against it trying to keep them out.” He pointed to his soiled papers and I hung my head.
“Tell you what,” he said, pulling up my hand and placing a cold metal key in it. “If they come looking for you again… you just use the lock instead.”
Swallowing back a weird lump in my throat, I smiled up at Jackson who’s facial tic made his left cheek jump—
He was on the Lav25, it was too quiet. Such a stillness that only meant trouble was coming. Three men down in the last tour. Good men. A flashbang popped to the right, light erupted, whined, whistled, screeched… ears… crap, the pain. Ringing… that damn ringing… never stopped, even now, even in the darkness. Gunfire… crack, crack, crack… weeeeee, the bullets zipped past… haunting dreams, haunting every damn moment. Friends dropping, Frank, Billy, Jonny… the ground hurtled… closer… the Lav25 flipped into the air. Darkness… fire… blood… pain… whistling… whining… never ending—
“Hey?” Jackson was keeping me upright as somehow I’d lost my knees. My whole body rattled with the flashes and I was sure he’d kill me for seeing. “You okay?”
“Why didn’t nobody help you when you came home?”
Jackson looked at me, his eyes hard, his hand around mine, crushing it with his fear.
“I don’t mean you no harm, Jackson,” I said. This man was a hero, why the hell was he living in a high school cellar? “Why didn’t they fix your ears?”
His eyes softened and he released me. “I ain’t no use to nobody no more, Girl.”
I reached up, not caring that Nan had told me not to. She’d warned me never ever to place my hands on nobody. That in no circumstance should I try and meddle with folk’s ailments. I placed my hands on his ears and in seconds, I was out cold.
Bison’s eyelids were conspicuously heavy as I opened my eyes to look at him. Smiling, I lifted my chair upwards, the bolts creaking as I did so. He yawned, the ball in his hand rolling to the tip of his fingers. His eyelids drooped further, I waited, the ball on the very tips, his head lolled to the side… I slammed myself and the wood chair into the floor.
Bison flew out of his chair, eyes wide and hands up in surrender as I howled with laughter. God, I loved torturing the lunatic. “How’s it going there?”
Bison leaned on his desk, panting as the sweat dribbled down his patchwork freckled cheeks. “Lorelei!”
Between sobbing chuckles, I wiped the tears from my eyes. I wasn’t mean by nature but Bison seemed to bring out the worst in me. “How’s the heart?”
Rubbing his hand over his chest, he picked up his desk chair and slumped back down into it. “I bet you’d love it if I collapsed. It would all be yours then.”
There are some people who have such warped ideas that the only way you can respond is with a ‘huh?’ and Bison was one of those folks.
“I know you want me out of the way.” He scowled. “You would get your run of the place then.”
“Are you sure they didn’t let you wander out of a nice little padded cell?”
Bison’s scowl grew so deep that I was pretty sure his forehead must have ached. “So you didn’t explain why Sam Casey would bother with a freak like you.”
“Well, that’s kinda simple.” I relaxed back into my chair. “He was up to something in the dark. I ain’t sure what but knowing Sam, it was something he weren’t meant to be doing.”
“You’re talking about the boy who was the Mayor’s son?” Bison shook his head. “Why would he do such things?”
“Are you kidding me?” Bison was being exceptionally dull, maybe the shock had made his brain dribble out of his ears? “Sam hated his dad. Anyhow, after Jackson cut me loose, Sam caught up with me.”
I hadn’t expected the mystery figure in the dark to track me down and express gratitude. I’d convinced myself that I’d imagined the whole thing but as I snuck around the corner of the old silos at the back of the school, Sam jumped out and got another meeting with my knee.
“Wait,” he whined as he bent double wheezing out the air. “Aeron, wait.”
Hearing somebody call me something other than ‘freak’ got my attention. I’d never seen him before. I’d heard of him, sure thing, but I hadn’t ever met Sam until that moment. Everybody knew Sam Casey. He was the dream guy for most of the girls, well every one of them but me.
“It’s Sam,” he said in a hoarse whisper. I recognised it as the same one from back in the Janitor’s room.
“I know who you are.” What I wasn’t sure was why the hell he was talking to me. Was it a trick? Were Jenny and her cronies gonna launch an ambush at any second?
“Thanks for what you did back there.” His big brown eyes met mine and I instantly got this image of a puppy dog. That’s what Sam looked like, floppy brown hair in curtains, big brown eyes and charm in buckets. “You didn’t have to protect me.”
“No problem.” I was still checking every corner for Jenny. “What you want?”
He looked around too as if trying to figure what I was doing. “That was it… why you so worried?”
“Like you don’t know… you seen the posters.”
Sam shrugged, his brow furrowed. “I ain’t in school all that much. Hate it.”
I nodded my agreement. School sucked. “Don’t your father get mad?”
His eyes narrowed. “Sure, but only when Jake, my squirt kid brother, snitches.”
A chorus of yells cut through our introductions. I went to sprint from Jenny’s pack only for Sam to catch hold of my arm as his other hand protected himself. “Just stand behind me.”
I stopped struggling only ’cause he was way to strong for me to break his grip. “She ain’t gonna like that.”
Sam cocked his head at me then flashed a toothy grin. “Like I care what that crow-face thinks.”
His insult made me laugh and I hid behind him. Sam was a little older than me and was what most folks would call a big jock. Not so much a football star or nothing but more from all the hunting, water sports and climbing that he did. He was also tall, at least six foot and back then I was five four at best. It felt kinda nice to have a big brute of a shield to duck behind.
“Sammy!” Jenny called, her gaggle of crows all giggling at the sight of Sam. “I see you caught me my prize.”
Everybody in highschool, even a freak like me, knew that Jenny had the hots for Sam. She weren’t the only one, I’d heard enough from airducts and dark spaces to know that most, if not all the girls, felt the same.
Sam puffed his chest out, giving my arm a quick squeeze. “You think you’re so damn special, don’t you?”
Jenny stopped at the tone of his voice and the girls with her quietened. She watched him for a minute, blinked a couple of times then laughed. “Oh, Sammy… you are such a hoot.”
“A hoot?” He shook his head. “You think picking on Aeron is cool?” He stepped forward. “She got more guts and beauty than you’ll ever have.”
Jenny’s face contorted into all sorts of shapes. I could sense that she couldn’t figure out if it was all some elaborate joke or he was serious. With her the whole way, I realised that I couldn’t even figure out Sam’s mood. He was unreadable.
She stamped a heeled foot on the ground and flicked her hair back behind her ear. “Just hand her over, Sammy.”
Sam squared his shoulders. “You lay one freaking finger on her and I’ll wipe that make-up clean off your ugly face.”
It was the one and only time that I ever heard Sam talk to anybody like that but Jenny took it hard. She exploded into tears and fled, her group standing around looking at each other for some kind of explanation.
“Same for anybody who so much as looks at her sideways.” He walked back over to me and stuck his arm around my shoulders. “Aeron Lorelei is under my protection now. Anybody got a problem with her?”
The girls all shook their heads, the fear in their eyes, the confusion pulsed off them. Turning, they hurried after Jenny, dark whispers fading as they left.
“Why’d you do that?” I asked gazing up at him. “Why’d you make everybody hate you?”
Sam laughed, his laugh was always full of mischief, like he knew something you didn’t. “You think I care what some dumb clucking hens think?” He shook his head squeezing my shoulder. “Now on, Aeron… you and me is gonna be buddies.” The fake southern twang he mimicked made me chuckle.
“Why thank you, kind sir.” I did my best to curtsy like a lady. “Honoured to meet your acquaintance.”
A mischievous glint shone in his brown eyes, one I’d come to know as a sign he was plotting something. “Say, I know something real fun. You up for something not so legit?”
I cocked my head at him. From knight in shining armour to villain in seconds. “Like?”
He leaned in closer, the grin on his face charm personified. “You see there’s a load of copper in those rail signals up a ways. Fancy relocating them to somewhere more appropriate?”
I folded my arms. “Appropriate? You some kind of Robin Hood?”
Laughing, Sam shook his head. “I ain’t planning on helping no hobos.”
“Should I be thanking you or running for the hills?” Sam was a confusing guy to know at first. He always had that inbuilt streak for causing trouble, it was something I understood. Neither of us really liked our fathers and they were in public positions. What better way to get their attention than causing havoc?
“Well, if you are running for the hills,” he said flashing another winning smile. “Why don’t I come with and we’ll hit the railroad on the way?”
I had to admit, he had everything worked out to the tiniest detail and it beat hiding from Jenny for the afternoon. Besides, his mood was contagious and he did go an’ rescue me. “Sure, I guess you could come. I mean, that’s if you can keep up?”
That sparked the first of many foot races between me and Sam. He always let me win but then, Sam was always my hero.
Bison actually made the effort to look like he was taking notes. It would have been a flawless plan had I not asked him a question only for him to carry on.
“I said, are we done yet?” I was pretty sure that our hour had been and gone. I couldn’t see the clock as it was up on the wall behind me.
After a few more long minutes of silence, he looked up. “Still got thirty minutes, Lorelei.”
“Are you freaking kidding me?”
He carried on writing, waving his pen. “You think I want to be with you any longer than I have to?”
“Good point.” For once we agreed on something.
He rolled his hand around in the air. “So you met Sam… He’s a delinquent, you’re a delinquent… a perfect match.”
“Oh, we weren’t never like that.”
Bison raised his eyebrows and looked up. He actually looked interested. “You’re telling me that the most eligible, rebellious boy in school didn’t get anything out of you?”
He looked almost disgusted and it made me chuckle. “He got my company… Ain’t that enough?”
Bison searched my eyes as if he was trying to figure if I was lying to him. “Oh come on… he was a teenage boy. They always want more.”
I folded my arms. “I didn’t say that Sam didn’t try but I made it crystal we weren’t nothin’ but buddies.”
It was the first time that Bison actually made real notes, not just little doodles.
“Anyhow,” I said, not liking him actually working. “Jake was always with us.”
“His little brother?”
He knew damn well who Jake was. “He was a couple of years younger than me but he pretty fast became like family.” It was still hard to even think of those days. I guessed it would always be that way.
“So Jake Casey was part of your little crime spree?”
It’s funny that when you’re a dumb teenager, they don’t seem like crimes. Stealing a truck or two, selling copper lifted from the local railroad, it just seemed like fun. Looking back on it as a adult made me cringe and made my stomach burn with the stupidity of it. Dumb bored kids. “Jake always had a curfew, he had to be in at nightfall… Sam never paid no mind to his.”
Again, he looked way too interested. I liked him better grouchy. “And you?”
“I’d have to have parents who were home or cared to give me one.”
I could see by the twitching on his bristled top lip that he wanted to launch a snide remark. He wouldn’t though ‘cos he’d learned never to press my buttons where the Casey’s or Nan were concerned. For all his bravado and sniping, Bison was scared of me.
“So when did theft become assault?” he asked.
Bison mock-yawned. “Lorelei, you were never convicted… thanks to your father.” He mouthed ‘Daddy’s girl’ at me. “But you assaulted your so-called bully.”
I flexed my biceps as I tensed. “It weren’t assault.”
He tapped his notes. “It says that you pushed her through a glass door.”
The whole thing sounded bad to read out but it weren’t something I intended. No matter how mad I get at folks, I ain’t ever wished nobody no harm. It was a couple of weeks after I’d met Sam when it happened. Life had gotten so much easier, there were no more hunting parties and nobody paid me no mind.
Pretty soon after meeting Sam, I’d met Jake and he was the opposite of Sam in every way you could think. The hair on his head was sparse and thin, he had a funny way of listing to one side when he walked. He was so weedy that I looked like a jock next to him. Jake weren’t popular like his big brother and most looked on him with pitying eyes. They were dumb, Jake was the kindest, sweetest, most generous soul that I ever met.
Anyhow, after school one day, Jake and I were walking through Oppidum. I quite often joined him on the journey home. Any time with little Jake Casey was a blessing. We’d hang out down by the river not far from Casey Lodge until his curfew, then Sam would lead me on one of his devious missions. Jake and I had stopped outside Mrs Stein’s cafe, but not out of choice. My shoulders tensed just standing near the place even though I knew she was out of town. The woman was a ratbag, she had a mean-streak a mile wide and a scowl so prominent that I swore it’d cover her eyes completely some day.
Reason we were lingered was that Jake had just taken a tumble over a split in the sidewalk and nearly nose-dived into the asphalt. I’d managed to catch him in time but we’d ended up in a giggling heap on the floor. Jake was always getting his feet in a tangle.
Our good mood was cut short by the sound of Jenny’s nasal barking. “Why if it ain’t the freak and her friend.”
Normally that kind of insult wouldn’t bother me at all but since I’d relieved Jackson of his ails back in the janitor’s room, my mood had been prickly at best. Nan had warned me never to take on other people’s pain. Hell, I wish I’d have listened to all her advice when she was still around.
“Back off, Crowface.” I got to my feet, pulling Jake to his. Never in a million years would I have hurled an insult like that but the way she was looking at Jake jarred my already jangling nerves.
“Don’t you think you’re something special now my Sammy has taken pity on you.” She stepped forward, tapping her heel on the ground. “He’ll get bored of you one day… Freak.”
Jake raised his eyebrows at me, I was pretty sure he was clued up as to how Sam felt about Jenny. I put myself between Jake and Jenny. “Why don’t you just go play with the Quarterback?”
She scowled and I used her focus on me to usher Jake to the side. I didn’t want him getting hurt. “Sammy or not… you asked for it.”
Jake stumbled and I dived to get him only for Jenny to push him and send him clattering to the floor. Something dark and angry pulsed through me and I spun around to glare at her.
“Bitch.” I could see the fear flicker across her eyes but I just wanted her gone so I could help Jake. “Get the hell away from him.”
Jenny raised her hands to grab for me and that energy pent up inside burst out from my hands as I blocked her. The second my hands touched her, the world got silent, waves like shimmering heat in my vision. Jenny screamed. Gripped hold of her ears. She staggered. Her heel caught in the split in the sidewalk. I tried to grab her back. She fought me off. Howled. She spun as if to stop her fall. Her face hit Mrs Stein’s glass door. The force shattered the pane. Shards burst through the air, catching me in the arm as Jenny landed through the doorway. Blood pooled out from her as she lay there, silent.
“Aeron!” Jake was cradling his arm. I helped him to his feet. His eyes wide and locked on Jenny. “We gotta leave… we gotta run.”
“You run,” I told him.” Go to your Ma, get your arm fixed and tell her that Jenny had an accident, okay?”
Jake shook his head. “No way, they’ll blame you… it ain’t fair… it ain’t your fault—”
“I touched her,” I said looking down at my hands. “If I hadn’t…” I didn’t know how to explain but somehow the pain from Jackson had ended up with Jenny. The dark mood evaporated and replaced itself with sheer panic. It was my fault. “I gotta help her… go.”
Jake pulled at me. “She ain’t moving… you gotta run.”
I took hold of Jake, mindful of his injured wing. “She’ll be just fine, you’ll see… go get your Ma.”
Jake sighed but scrambled away towards his mother’s shop. I turned back to Jenny, praying that she was just gonna get back up and swing for me. “Jenny… you okay?”
A whimpering sound reached my ears and I was thankful that she was alive. I looked at the jagged glass lining the door and tried to figure how I was gonna get through it without losing a limb.
The sound of my father’s voice made me want to bolt. The panic hurtled through my veins and I was sure the world started swaying.
“Aeron, are you hurt?”
His hands on my arms made me look up at him. I felt sick, my knees felt like they’d buckle. “No… she went for me… I tried to stop her… she just fell.”
“Fell?” My father stared at the devastating scene. “Aeron, she looks like you threw her through the damn thing.”
“I didn’t…” I wasn’t sure now but it was my fault for touching her, my fault for helping Jackson. Look what I’d done. “Jake… she pushed Jake.”
My father’s face blanched and he shoved me out of the way. “You go home, you hear?” His eyes hardened up. “Not a word of this to anyone… not a damn one.”
I ran so fast away from the scene but I didn’t go to my parents’ house. Home to me was the Cabin, a watermill that Nan had lived in. She’d passed away the summer before I had started highschool. Although I knew that she was gone, it didn’t stop me sitting on the bank of the river beside the locked up place. Alone, I stared down at my hands. I knew I was too different then, too dangerous to get close to anybody.
“So, you’re going to tell me that you have mystical powers now?”
Opening my eyes, I could see Bison was ready to take another powernap.
“It ain’t mystical. If it was then it would just help people… nobody would get hurt.”
“Sounds to me like an excuse.” I flashed him a glare and he flinched. “What would you call it?”
Looking down at my sizable mitts, I asked myself the same question that seemed to haunt me. I was nothing like teen-Aeron. Now in my twenties, I had grown a foot and I worked out… a lot. In some ways, it was to remove any trace of that frightened brat. I tried to forget, forget everything but somehow, she would lurk in my quiet moments to taunt me.
“Lorelei?” Bison knocked on his desk. “Try answering the question.”
“I guess I displace them.”
He rolled his eyes. “As mystical powers go, that’s pathetic.” He was teasing me. The guy didn’t believe a word I said about nothing. As far as Bison was concerned, I was a nutcase with a penchant for harming people. “Thievery to assault… is it any wonder what came next?”
The panic from back then thudded through me even as I sat staring down at my hands. “It weren’t like that.”
“Yes, it was.” He leaned forward onto the desk, like a terrier with a tasty treat. “Jenny was disfigured for life.”
I hung my head.
“And,” he continued, the delight in his voice making it sing-song. “She lost the prom queen, the modelling contract and her way out of the cesspit that is Oppidum.”
“It ain’t that bad.”
“Wasn’t Jenny set for big things?” He smiled at me when I looked up, a sickly smug smile.
“Look, what happened to Jenny sucked.” I gripped the hard wooden armrests of my chair to ground myself. “But I didn’t mean her no harm and I was protecting Jake.”
He waved his finger in the air. “You said yourself that she made you angry.”
“No, I said I was in a dark mood… ‘cos of the healing.”
He tutted. “You were angry at her for pushing Jake, so you shoved her through the glass door.”
“I told you what happened.” I shifted in my seat and Bison moved his hand to the panic button. What the hell did he think I’d do? Bison took a few moments to steady his breathing, making a show of looking down at his doodles.
“Ain’t we done yet?” It had to have been an hour by now.
“Oh no.” He regained his mean-streak scowl. “Now we come back to the beginning and why your father had arrested you.” He tapped the desk with his stress ball, clunk, clunk. “Don’t hold back, Lorelei.”
I sat in the interview room waiting to be grilled, given my phone call, or get put in a holding cell but nope, I was left to stew in the little room. I guessed that it was a tactic my father used. If they thought it would work, they were wrong. Thing is, I was too much like my father… stubborn. That, and I was used to being alone. It was about two years after Nan died and my little collection of indiscretions had grown into a bumper record. Looking back on it now, I was so angry and lost that I’d been on a collision course with trouble since I’d found myself alone. Sure, Sam and Jake were like brothers but sometimes I missed the gentle wise energy of Nan.
In the silence, I tried to run through what I could remember about that night. I couldn’t understand why everything was so fuzzy. What was clear was that Sam, Jake and I had hung out by the river until nightfall, which was late into the evening as it was the beginning of June. Sam had suggested that he and I do some copper relocation later on. It was something that had become like second-nature to us. On those nights, I would head to my parents’ house, so my mother could see me, and go up to my room. Then, I’d sneak out my window and join him down the road a ways. He used to have a ‘borrowed’ truck ready and out we’d go to the railroad.
The last thing that was clear was the argument I’d had with my mother. You see, unless I engaged her somehow, I couldn’t count on her seeing me. Hell, it was a dumb argument too. I’d gone for the one thing that I knew would send her into a rage. I spilled my drink all over her court papers. For my ‘accidental’ sabotage of her life. I was sent to my room and grounded. Perfect. I lay there on my bed staring up at the ceiling waiting until Sam would flash the lights through the window on a drive past.
I guess when he did, I must have been in a daze because I don’t remember climbing down to meet him. I don’t even remember what truck he had stolen or hanging out the window to look at the stars as I always did. Everytime before it I could, but not this night, I guess shock does funny things to you.
At the railroad, Sam and I weren’t really chatting, which was unusual as Sam would rattle on constantly when he was with me. That night however, he was lost in his own thoughts but I did hear him mumble to the track about the high-speed train being moved up an hour.
“You accuse Sam of rattling on?” Bison asked, again ripping me from my memories.
“Yeah, he was always talking up how he was going places.”
Bison shook his head, attempting to twirl his stress ball on his finger like he was in the NBA. “And you never talked about yourself?”
“Why would I?” I figured even Bison would have gotten that by now. “There was nothing much about me I wanted to share.”
The ball flew off and onto the desk. “You love telling anyone who will listen now how much of a pathetic loser you were… and are.”
I shifted the chair beneath me again which shut him up. “Look, you want me to get on with the story or not?”
“Just skip to the part when the brother shows up.” He looked up at the clock. “All of it or I’ll give you another hour.”
That was incentive enough for any fool.
Taking a deep breath, I focused back on my memories. Jake wasn’t allowed out at night and he was pretty bad with his vision. I had toyed with trying to help, I wanted nothing more than to fix him and make him strong. I hated that he had so much pain but after Jackson, I couldn’t bear the thought of the consequences.
“You ain’t allowed to do that.” Jake peeked out from behind the truck. “It ain’t right.”
“What the hell you doing here?” Sam’s rage was fiery at the best of times when it came to his brother. He had no time and no patience for him. If I’m honest, I would say he was a little jealous too. Jake was different from him and I think that Sam wanted some of Jake’s joy. Sam was always intense when he thought no one was looking. I think he wished he could find academic stuff as easy as his kid brother.
In the distance the train rumbled, it was early like Sam had said.
“It’s stealing.” Jake turned to me. “You ain’t allowed to steal. It’s wrong.”
His foot caught in the dirt. The rumbling now a roar as the train flew around the bend.
“Jake… Jake… NO!”
I reached out to help him, his eyes wide as he fell, the world fuzzy as I desperately tried to grasp him.
“Oh for the love of—” Bison hurled a tissue box at me. “You cry every damn time.”
I caught the box in mid air and didn’t bother to answer. My throat ached, my heart ached. God, if only I could have reached him.
“So you both ran?” Bison was irritated. His eyes scoured mine for some big confession.
“Yes, when I got home, I rang Sam on the landline…”
Bison raised his eyebrows.
I blew my nose. “Electronics and me make an explosive combination.”
His eyes twinkled with his sadistic smile. “You colluded about Jake’s death?”
My breathing hitched as the tears trickled warmth down my cheeks. It was the only point I ever cried. Ever. “It was my fault, I should have seen it happen. Sam had a future… I couldn’t let him suffer for my crime.”
Bison sat back, huffing out a breath. “And what did your father say?”
It was a good few hours by the time my father came to interview me. By that point my head ached with the crying and all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and sleep. He brought with him a lawyer, some guy in a wrinkled suit who looked furious to have been dragged into my mess.
“You want a minute to talk?” My father asked the lawyer but he shook his head.
“Why don’t you take a minute?” My father rephrased, his temper flaring his nostrils.
“I don’t need a minute, Captain Lorelei.” The lawyer looked me up and down. “It won’t take long, I’m sure.”
“Wow, you make me feel a hell of a lot better.” The lawyer glared at me but I folded my arms. “Let me guess, one of mother’s?”
His cheeks coloured a little and I scoffed. “She hates me enough to send some guy who she’ll just fire in a month or two?” I searched my father’s eyes only for him to look away. It was cold, even for her.
“What do you mean—”
“I don’t care about your career.” My father cut the whimpering idiot off. “Let’s get on with it.”
Taking a seat, I was pretty sure the lawyer would sit on the other side for all the help he would be. Unfortunately, he plonked down next to me, sweating and stinking of B.O.
“You know why you’re here,” My father began after running through the interview obligatories. “You said earlier that you were at the railroad?”
I nodded. “Sam and I were up there.”
Knowing I’d prepped Sam to deny the whole thing made it easier just to tell the truth. I couldn’t lie a bit and under pressure, I would only tie myself up in knots.
My father flicked through his notes. No doubt he’d gone to see Sam already. “Sam denies being there. He says you don’t talk anymore.”
“So he was with his dad then?”
My father nodded. No doubt with Mayor Casey lurking over his shoulder, Sam would say what he’d been told to.
“Jake came to tell us off.” I continued like it had happened, recounting the argument until it got to Jake falling. “He stumbled,” I said. “The train hit him.”
With all the tears, the shock and the exhaustion, I sounded like I was recounting the daily news not the death of a brother.
“Why didn’t you try helping him?” I glared at the lawyer beside me. Wasn’t that a question I’d asked myself over and over.
“I got scared. It was a high-speed train… what was the point?” I didn’t mean that for a second but if I didn’t sound cold, they’d take Sam down with me. It had to look like it was my fault.
“The point?” My father leaned on the desk. “Aeron, the damn boy died in agony a mile down the track… I was the first on scene.”
I kept my eyes glued on the table. Oh God, poor Jake. I blinked away the threatening tears.
“The train driver is so traumatised that they sedated him,” my father said.
Jake’s face flashed over and over before my eyes.
“This a push like Jenny?” He grabbed my hand across the table, his voice full of anger. “What the hell happened, Aeron?”
Jake, I’d let him get killed, I’d run. I was my fault. I was supposed to look out for him, supposed to keep him safe. “I killed him.” I snapped my hand away. “It’s my fault.” I should have reached him. I should have saved him. Jake needed me and I’d failed. I’d failed Sam, I’d failed Jake.
I took a deep breath, it was my fault and Sam wasn’t going to lose his future ’cause of me like Jenny had. “I killed Jake Casey.”
Bison tapped on the desk with the stress ball again. “Time’s up, Lorelei.”
Blinking away the past, I felt the guard grab my shoulder and prod me. I stood, my knees wobbling like they had then, the look in my father’s eyes as he took in what I had said. The agony in his words when he charged me with murder.
The guard led me from the room, shoving me along the long corridor.
Mayor Casey, Sam, my father and mother all watched on as they convicted me of manslaughter. You see, they couldn’t prove that I’d pushed him and even bringing in Jenny as a prosecution witness hadn’t swayed the jury that much. The verdict wasn’t unanimous neither.
I did as I was ordered, the guard unshackling my feet outside my cell.
The judge had asked me some of his own questions when I was up on the stand. I’d told him about my burdens, about the energy in my hands. He’d decided Serenity Hills was the best place for me.
The elbow to my back jolted me to walk into my cell. The door clanged shut behind me. Serenity Hills was a maximum security institution for the criminally insane.
The judge felt it was for my own good when he had sentenced me to eight years. The public venom launched my way had become explosive. The media had really milked it for every paper, every second of prime-time until I’d become a monster.
I sat on the hard metal bed and stared down at my hands. I’d read every paper, tortured myself with accounts of how Jake faded away in agony, how the train driver had been committed unable to cope. Over and over I replayed Jake falling, every dream, every moment, every regret. Life in Serenity was a battlefield. A small weedy kid had grown and worked out because I didn’t have Sam to hide behind in here. That, and it made it easier to look in the mirror sometimes but when I got close enough, enough that I could see my own eyes, that girl was there. The girl who let Jake Casey get hit by a high-speed train. The freak who knew too much.
Thanks for reading – Let me know what you think.
If you enjoyed meeting Aeron, The Empath is OUT NOW!!!
© 2014 Jody Klaire
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