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Story Time Contest: Hero Edition
23rd Jul 2012 at 2:24 PM
Thanks: 38 in 1 Posts
Previously on: Fires devour the countryside around Sunset Valley. Zoe Anderson does her job and hangs out with her best friend and tries her best to deal. But when she realises some of the fires are deliberately lit, she loses control of a deep kept secret as fire flares up through psychic power - hopefully unseen.
Zoe tugged at the dresser drawer. She grabbed an armful of clothes and tossed them onto the bed next to her unopened suitcase, then returned for more. A hint of smoke drifted by her nose; flames crackled on the edge of hearing. She almost stumbled, squeezed her eyes shut, and forced a calmer breath. The hint of fire subsided.
She shuddered. She had lost control.
She caught sight of herself in the mirror. Her bloodshot eyes emphasised the pallor of her skin. Sleep had been a stranger.
Fires broke out around her like hives, sometimes real, sometimes not. She couldn’t tell anymore. She needed to get out of there. Needed to drop herself somewhere no one would get hurt until the flames receded. They would eventually; they always had before.
She blinked back tears and paused her fervent packing. She thought she’d finished with running. She thought...
Her mouth firmed to a stubborn line. She should have known better than to hope. And she could come back, once she was... better. The town would still be there, if battered and grey. Liz and Greg would still be there, bickering in the kitchen. Jill would always be there, with fervour and passion blazing in her face as she tried to take on the entire world. And Matt would always be wherever she needed him.
Zoe’s phone rang, the sound shrill in the silence, and she glanced at caller ID. “Speak of the devil...” She considered not answering, but then Matt would just ring again. And again.
“Hi, Matt.” She tucked the phone between her ear and shoulder and opened the wardrobe door.
“What do you want?” Zoe interrupted before he could continue. She pulled out a canary yellow dress and eyed it dubiously. Bright clothes when she was trying to stay hidden were probably not a good idea. Nor was a dress practical for running around the countryside.
Matt’s silence on the other end of the phone filtered through her scurrying thoughts. “I’m sorry. It’s just now isn’t a good time,” she apologised, trying to keep the panic from her voice. She pulled out another shirt. Polyester. Not a good idea. Clothes did not possess her immunity to the hungry lick of fire.
She shuddered at the thought. She really was a freak.
“Zoe. What’s wrong?”
Maybe she should borrow Matt’s CFA gear.
“Zoe.” Impatience threaded his voice.
“Nothing!” She had an old wool top. Wool was fire retardant. She almost blurted this out to Matt, then realised what she was doing. “I’m just in the middle of something.”
She sat on the bed and stopped thinking about clothes, stopped thinking about fires. She wasn’t normally this flustered. (
she was out of control...
Matt was silent. It was a heavy silence that pressed down on her and forced calmness in her. It was so heavy she almost gasped when he sighed.
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“I wouldn’t lie to you,” Zoe lied, glad Matt couldn’t see the blush covering her face.
“You would. Obviously. And there’s only one thing you’d lie to me about.” He hesitated. Zoe fiddled with the hem of her shirt. “Zoe, look, don’t go anywhere until I get there.”
“You don’t understand,” Zoe whispered, forgetting she was pretending everything was okay. It didn’t occur to her to question how Matt knew she was going somewhere.
“I understand more than you think. You trust me, right, Zoe? You can control this.”
Zoe dropped the phone.
She flushed: fevered red, then pale as death, then red again. He knew. She had to run. Now.
* * *
Zoe fumbled with a CD. Her stereo was probably more expensive than her car, but she was glad for it. The radio repeated news about the fires – a new blaze devoured the western hills. She didn’t want to hear it. She’d had enough of pain and destruction. She’d had enough of death to last a lifetime.
The outskirts of Sunset Valley rolled by and soon gave way to blackened ground and charred trees. Zoe turned off the main road as the soothing tones of Richard Marx filled the car. She inched over the unstable ground and tried not to think. Thinking hurt and encouraged the flames. The music filled her head instead.
Heaven only knows what lies before me
Heaven only knows what all my searching is for
All my life I’ve waited for a miracle
But I can’t ask for anything more
“Yes, I can,” Zoe muttered. She knew that whatever lay before her would mean starting over. The only miracle she’d ever wanted was to be normal. Apparently that wasn’t an option. The dashboard of the car seemed to flicker with flames. Zoe dove back into thoughtlessness.
She parked by the guttered ruins of an old train station, a leftover from the era gone of coalmining. First it had been abandoned, and now burnt. The place was desolate, covered in a thin blanket of smoke; it suited her mood exactly. She left her stuff in the car – she’d drive on once she was under control again. There was no point unpacking. She left the music on too. It was soothing. She shrugged her shirt back onto her shoulder. It was old and stretched, but she didn’t have much choice. How many ordinary people needed clothes suitable for contact with fire? At least she was comfortable and mobile.
She dropped to the ground, ignoring the black smears left on her shorts and the discomfort of the hard-packed earth. She waited.
* * *
“Do you remember when we first met?”
Zoe rocketed to her feet. Shock and fear swamped her, slamming through her with the force of a moving train. She stared unseeing, eyes wide, while every instinct in her screamed to run. She vaguely realised that despite her roller coaster of emotion, there was only the faintest hint of fire in her mind. A surge of relief did little to alleviate the fear.
Then her brain caught up to her ears, and she realised it was Matt who spoke. She jerked her head, almost stumbling, and oddly, anger replaced her fear.
“Matt! What are you doing here?” she shouted, and Matt’s eyebrows shot up. “Why are you doing this? I’m trying to do the right thing. I was just going to leave and I wouldn’t hurt anyone and—”
“I love this place and I thought this was home, where I could be safe,” Zoe barrelled on as if he hadn’t interrupted. “And it was going to so well and everyone here is so good and... and why are you naked?” She stuttered to a confused halt. She sniffed, realising she was crying, her nose blocked and throat tight. Ash from the air smeared her saturated face.
Matt gave a lopsided smile and reached out to gently touch one tear-soaked cheek. “Took you long enough to notice. That’s depressing.”
He was, indeed, stark naked. Charcoal dusted his feet, but he seemed almost oblivious to his lack of clothes. Zoe blinked, anger now gone into confusion and anxiety. Matt was, maybe – definitely – a bit of an exhibitionist, but he normally restricted himself to wandering his own home unclothed, not the countryside.
“Matt, are you okay? Do you need me to call a doctor? Hang on, I’ve got a coat in the car.” Zoe moved to dart away, and Matt grabbed her hand.
“You shouldn’t run around naked, you know,” she said as if talking to a child. “You’ll catch something. Or get sunburnt. And it’s not acceptable behaviour.”
“Zoe, shush,” Matt said gently. She swallowed another torrent of panicked advice. “Now. Again. Do you remember when we first met?”
Zoe blinked at him through fresh tears. “In the park. I – we were fifteen. Two... people... were torturing a cat. Then you jumped in the fountain. Why did you jump in the fountain? The cat was fine. It could swim.”
“You forgot to mention you ran in to save the cat, despite the two fuckwits being twice your size. And you told me to jump in.”
“I did not.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Then why did you listen?” Zoe frowned. She really didn’t remember that.
“You’re scary when you’re angry. Also, you were shooting little flames out of your skin.”
Zoe paled. Now she remembered.
Matt grabbed her by the arms before she could even think about running away. “Don’t faint. Catching you could get awkward. And don’t do anything stupid. I’ve known for ten years, and it hasn’t bothered me. Zoe. Are you listening?”
She wasn’t. She remembered the fire. She remembered the two bullies bolting as if the hounds of hell chased them. She remembered Matt sitting in the fountain with a mixture of caution and irritation on his face. He was scared, but not terrified. She remembered collapsing and waiting for him to either run or turn on her.
“Zoe, don’t look like that. So I was... startled at first. But you were terrified. You looked at me expecting to be attacked. I asked if you wanted me to go. Do you remember what you said?”
Zoe shook her head, slowly drooping, her mouth dropping and eyes half closed. Matt pulled her into a hug: warm, comforting, real.
“I remember you said, ‘Don’t leave me here alone.’”
“That was then. Now you have to leave me alone,” Zoe found the words at the same time she found the strength to step away. “I’m not going to hurt the people I love again. So go away.”
The car window was cracked, and the music still drifted from it. The songs had rolled a full circle.
I’ve always wondered how to know right from wrong
Looking for a reason to replace what is gone
But somehow the road just seems to lead right back to me
“You’re not going to hurt me.”
“Yes, I will. You don’t understand.”
Matt sighed, frustration etching his face. “Okay. I’ll go. But can I show you something first?”
Zoe nodded, stubborn despite the tears still falling. “Only if you promise to go after.”
For a moment she thought he wouldn’t agree.
He sighed again. “I promise.”
Current Plot Point: Heaven Only Knows
Previous Plot Points: Mysterious Past
Word Count: 1699 words / 16 pictures
CC Used: Allowed only.
Yay for working strange graphical hiccups into the story?