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 Witches and Warders 1, a new series
XANDER
 Posted: Oct 13 2016, 12:19 PM
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Chapter 2.1 →
________________________________________


Her heart was about to burst in her chest. She was running as fast as she could from a group of masked men in all black - when she looked over her shoulder, the fear in her eyes was shining back at her in the glass eyes of their masks. She was running through a wide green field towards a line of trees, and Marielle was up ahead of her, running too, slowing down sometimes to reach back and call out, “Faster! Faster!” She didn’t understand how Marielle could run so fast. She didn’t understand why Marielle never seemed to get tired, even though she was running faster and longer.

Suddenly, the earth split in front of her, dividing her and Marielle. Marielle stopped on her edge as the chasm opened up, clumps of sod and rock falling into the emptiness below. She leaned back and reached out her hand. “Jump!” Marielle screamed. “Jump! I’ll catch you!”

She stopped. The men were gaining on her. Marielle stared out at her with horror and desperation in her face, reaching with red fingernails. Lila stepped back from the edge. The footsteps of the masked men thundered in her hears. “I can’t,” she whispered. “I can’t—” She felt the hands of the men on her shoulders.

*

She woke up.

There was no field or forest. The hotel room - if she stretched to call it that - was sad and dingy, with the wallpaper peeling at the bottom corners. There was a permanent ring in the toilet, and the glass in the bathroom mirror had a crack in the corner. When she opened her eyes, she could feel the springs pressing up against her back through the thin mattress. More than that, she could feel the headache that signaled it was time to get up and take her medicine, if she didn’t want problems to start.

Of course they were already starting. When she reached a hand to rub the sleep from her eyes, there was a tiny ivy vine trailing from her fingertips. Was there even a reprieve in sleep anymore?

It was cold in the room too, and she was only in her underwear. She sat up and wrapped her blanket tight around her shoulders, and opened the drawer in the bedside table. The orange plastic bottle rattled and rolled. When she emptied its entire contents into her palm, she counted ten of the small, square purple pills. Ten pills - that was five good days, or three bad days, or two and a half awful days. Was today going to be a ‘good’ day, a ‘bad’ day, or an ‘awful’ day? She popped one into her mouth and swallowed it dry.

She got up to go to the bathroom, and smoothed her black hair with her fingers. If she tried hard enough, she was able to imagine that there was some artistic merit to this - she was a model, made that much more beautiful by an uglier backdrop. The bad days hadn’t ruined her yet, hadn’t taken away the doe-like quality of her brown eyes, hadn’t stolen the glow from her brown skin. She was still beautiful, if not exotic, in a place like New York City. She lived this gritty life to give herself more character. She washed her face, brushed her teeth, and smiled wide into the mirror. Yes, this was all part of the adventure.

The adventure broke down in the hallway, when she found that the elevator was out, and she had to walk down seven concrete flights. She could smell vomit in the stairwell. It didn’t feel fun anymore as the old receptionist glared at her from behind her cherrywood slab of a desk. By the time she stepped onto the street, the dream was gone, and she was just Lila Salhab, lost girl, wanderer. She was just nobody, and she had nothing to do for the rest of the day.

*

She took the train down to Central Park, where there was a witches and warders group participating in a charity fundraiser for some children’s cancer society. They were out there to help raise money, to perform in little shows for the kids and to reassure the adults that they meant no harm, that they were good. It was always like that, Lila thought bitterly - it was always about reassuring the unpowered that the powered were good enough, that they didn't need to be collared and caged.

She stood on the edge of the crowd, outside the rows of white plastic chairs, and watched the show on the makeshift stage. The witch was a girl barely out of her teens, with cropped blue hair, and her warder was an older man in fifties or sixties, with a salt-and-pepper beard. The girl was making light come out of her hands, and the warder was helping to bend it into many different rainbows. ‘See?’ the show murmured. ‘Nothing to fear here!’

The girl had a headband microphone, and she explained aloud, “As you can see, I’m twice as successful with the help of my warder, Jonathan! When you work together, kids, there’s so much more you can accomplish.”

Lila looked around. There were a few other people standing on the outskirts of the crowd, declining to sit down. Near one oak tree, there was a pair of men in black standing with their arms crossed. They were staring at her.

Lila blinked once. Suddenly, they were wearing the same masks as in her dream. She blinked again, and the masks were gone.

She turned away from the show on the stage and walked out of the park. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end. Her head was hurting. She looked over her shoulder, and no one was following her, but small weeds were springing up from the cracks in the sidewalks in her trail. She crossed the street and walked until she found a coffee shop, where she ordered a mocha latte and curled up in the corner. She reached into her pocket and took out the pill bottle again. Today might be just an ‘okay’ day.

*

The time seemed to pass on fast-forward, a blur of color and sound and touch until she came to her senses at 4 a.m., in a stranger’s bed in a loft apartment. When she closed her eyes, she could retrace her steps - from the coffee shop to a museum, from the museum to her hotel room for a nap, from the hotel room to a cheap diner, from the diner to a bar, from the bar to a club. It felt like her body was slipping away from her at the coffee shop, like she was driving a car and being pushed from the driver’s seat. When she woke up from the nap, she was a mere passenger, watching neutrally as someone else went through the motions - as someone else did her make-up, picked out a dress, and went out into the dark. Someone else danced in her body, smiled at strangers, accepted their drinks. Someone else took another purple pill, and then an entirely different pill, a white round one stamped with a little bumblebee. Someone else went home with the girl that was sleeping beside Lila now. Someone else did all of this, and left Lila with the mess.

Had it felt good, earlier that day? Yes, it had, for a while. When she was in the passenger seat, she didn’t have to worry about anything - she could just float above it all, and contemplate each experience with detachment and amusement. It felt good to be wanted, to be touched. Now, her head was throbbing, her mouth was dry, and she did not know the name of the girl who was next to her.

She heard a soft ‘meow’ in the dark. A black cat jumped up onto the bed, and came towards her, purring. Lila reached to stroke its head, then its back. The cat purred and purred. The girl next to her slept on.

Lila slid out of the bed, then reached to pick up the cat. Unlike some cats, who hated being held, this one was content enough to be cradled in her arms like a baby. Lila carried it out of the bedroom and into the tiny living room. She sat naked on the couch and held the cat, who purred against her chest, and cried.

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