Principium- Chapter One

Deep breaths. That’s how all my mornings started out.Shower, cereal, and deep breaths. This was my mantra that helped me get through the arduous task of living in this cookie cutter society. A society where they glared at me, and have done so for seven years since I almost burned down the neighborhood. Not that I meant to, but regardless of intent they didn't understand. I'm not a pyromaniac hell-bent on reducing everything is sight to ash, nor am I a masochistic psychopath. If I told them the truth they wouldn't  tolerate me with the  snide glares as they do now, they'd tie me to a stake. Every day was a mix of taunts, whispered or otherwise, and skittering glances. Today was no different, and neither would tomorrow. This truth doesn't bother me much anymore, even less today considering this would be my last day.I would leave this state all together at the end of the summer, to the opposite end of the country in fact. The University of San Francisco would be my salvation, and hopefully a place where I can better control my"condition". Still, that bliss is three months away, and for today my usual habit of hiding behind the shining curtain of my blonde grey hair would have to suffice as a makeshift refuge.

 Only seven hours left between me and the three blissfully lonely summer months, and the harsh Carolina heat that burned my skin with the same intensity as the heat in my chest. I was more than happy to greet the unyielding June weather to get rid of the scorching inward burn that lingered at the edge of my control. I was ecstatic for the scorching summer, even if it was off to a rather strange start. As a native Carolinian I am accustomed to the eccentric weather North Carolina has to offer, yet this year has been particularly unpredictable.The summer days were often humid and still, the wind was a fickle mistress in North Carolina, but lately a chill managed to escape the watchful eye of the southern sun. It always seemed to arrive like the night often does, slowly and almost unnoticed, then suddenly engulfing. Sometimes it happens so fast I almost believe it is my imagination, though deep within I could feel unease growing.

    It felt more teasing as it tickled my back with its icy fingers, as if trying to taunt me into banishing it, taunting me into feeling the heat grow and boil to combat the icy intruder. Part of me begged for the stretching of hot muscle and the other part knew the danger that could pose for those around me. So, when the tendrils of cold playfully nipped my hands outside the school doors, I thought nothing of it as the steel doors slammed shut behind me. 

It's become routine now, no longer strange and unknown. It has been persistent in its pursuit for the last two weeks, and letting it rile me up was likely to end in tragedy. I thought even less of it now that the faces of classmates crowded into the halls like sardines, if they had access to Gucci knock offs and a Hollister. I internally begged for the day to be over, and would continue to so throughout the day.

                                                                                               ****

"Vesta O'Hare?" I raised my hand heavily under the accusatory glances of my classmates. Mr. Olander marked me in his little blue book and resumed his inquisition.

    I had made it through lunch and two agonizingly slow classes, and since fourth period was a farewell pep rally (a.k.a, an excuse for the school to allow students to leave early), my sentence was over in a mere 1 hour.  As soon as he was done spouting vague facts about Shakespeare and Frost, I was free from these suburbanite cronies. I was itching to get to kickboxing today. Arthur had arranged to let me teach the younger class today. Arthur has always been unbiased in his judgment of me. Even though he knew of my incident, he saw me as a protege and nothing less.

    I watched the clock tick, if that's what you would call its seemingly nonexistent movement. I could feel the heat radiate from my palms as my desperation for freedom grew.The last seconds passed quicker than the first thousand, and the bell was merely a fading shriek in the dust of my footsteps. My lungs were burning with anticipation by the time I cranked my rusty Camry. The car made a jerking start, almost stalling as I reached my max speed of 40 miles per hour to peel out of the parking lot.  

 

    The gym smelled of men’s deodorizer and chlorine. The locker rooms were blissfully empty this time of day so changing into my sweats was peacefully lonely. The town gym wasn’t exactly state of the art. The pool was thick with chlorine and unidentified fluids, and the floorboards throughout the building creaked. The vents pummeled you with stale air that had been recirculating since the gym was built in 1954. The boxing area was really just a corner of the basketball court that they dragged punching bags onto every Tuesday until 5. My favorite battered and slightly scorched bag was at the front of the designated class square. I gave it a playful slap before my warm-up. I liked imaging the face of my tormentors, and placing it on the torn canvas. Today, my mental pictures took the likeness of a particularly hateful suburban sheep appropriately named Jenny Foul. She had dubbed me "the Flaming bitch" freshman year and now, I was beating her imaginary teeth out. She was nothing but pulp in my mind when the class finally began trickling in. They were all nine or ten, and no doubt had heard of me through the grapevine:“Crazy fire lady". It didn't matter if they thought I was crazy or not,because they were all scared shit-less of me now. Under normal circumstances I would feel guilty for causing this fear, but I had heard their whispers when they came in. They thought I couldn't hear when they whispered exaggerated tales of my past to each other.

    Arthur trailed behind the group, giving me both an apologetic and impressed look.

"I see you've been practicing your right hooks.Probably not a good thing for anyone who crosses you." He gave a genuine smile. Arthur was probably my only friend. Even if he was thirty something, he didn't look a day over twenty four. He had always judged me solely on my dedication to practice. 

    "Then you better not piss me off." I gave him a playful punch on the arm, quite the feat since I was five three and he was six nine, without shoes. He feigned surrender and we both laughed while the kids looked at us with faces contorted into question marks. Arthur seemed to suddenly remember he had a class to teach and explained I would be their mentor of the day. Some gave excited gasps while others looked at me like I had just stomped on their pet kitten.

    After Arthur gave a ten minute speech about respect, a speech we all wanted to be over, I started off with a few kicks and gave them all partners and focus pads to practice with.I was watching one ten year old girl who seemed to be doing extremely well when I felt a shift in the 60 year old air. A sudden chill. Barely there but yet oppressing with its familiarity. I shook it off but there was a lingering feeling of being watched. I should be used to prying eyes by now, but these seemed to be observing rather than the usual daggers of glaring hatred. It should have felt creepy, really creepy, instead it made me frustratingly curious. The cold contrasted the sensations of my innate heat, but almost seemed to have the same origins. Maybe I was going crazy.

    I turned from the grunting, sweating mass of prepubescence and searched the room. Nobody there except Arthur packing his stuff for today. The glass wall that allowed people to observe the class was opaque and dingy, but for a split second a shadow passed the pane. With a certainty that made me ache with fear, joy, and curiosity all at once, I knew that whoever was watching me so closely had something to do with the unnatural chill that pursued me.

    Arthur was calling my name as I ran through the doors. Kids were crowding around the glass as I stared down the empty hallway. The lingering tendrils of frosty air confirmed that they were still close by. I could taste the iron-like winter that seemed to engulf whoever was "observing" me. I was desperate to find them. My subconscious screamed at me to find them, that whoever possessed this cold was cursed like I was. My throat pounded with the rush of steaming blood pulsing through me. I couldn’t quell the thoughts that I wasn’t alone in this, yet my sanity seemed to have its doubts. This wasn’t a movie full of “gifted” people seeking others like them. I was simply “different” and this chill was nothing more than my desperation for companionship. At least, that’s what my Psychology teacher would tell me.

In the end, my curiosity faded to give way to irritation. I had lost the motivation and pride that came with being trusted to instruct the next generation of ass kickers. I finished with a weak left hook and observed as the students gave up on paying attention and were now completely devoted to watching the last five minutes tick away on their phones. Harboring a slight annoyance towards myself, I dragged the bags to the supply closet and shoved the gloves and focus mitts  into a dark recess where they would probably never be found again. The “schlick” of shoes on eternally sticky floors, that seemed to come standard in every gym, signaled to me that the class was officially over.While the Cadillac’s and BMW’s filed up outside to take children for frozen yogurt, my chest filled with guilt. Arthur had trusted me to guide the class and I chased an imaginary companion.

“Artie, I’m sorry for running off like that. It was a distraction and I know you always preach about discipline during practice.” At first, he didn’t seem to hear me, too preoccupied with locking up the supply closet and the back doors.

“Vee, you have been very devoted to your training, I can let this one mishap go. What were you running after? You looked more like you were hunting than simply distracted by a passerby. Cute boy perhaps?” He gave a sideways smile and a wink that gave me the sudden urge to show him how good my right hook had gotten.

“You know better than that Arthur, boys here are too sliced bread for my taste. Identical and stale.” I turned off the lights and waited outside the doors while he finished locking up.

“Oh excuse me. Perhaps a croissant or biscotti will be more to your liking?” Our cars were the last in the lot, and parked right beside each other, as always. The gym wasn’t exactly the choice hangout so we are usually the only ones there past 5:30.

“You better be nice to me Artie, you’ll only get to see me for three more months. After that you’re all alone with the adolescent hoard.”

He gave an exaggerated look of horror and crossed himself for dramatic effect. I laughed at his sarcastic nature and realized this is the last three months I’ll see him too.

“You deserve to get out of this town. I can handle the wee ones knowing you’ll be getting a fair chance in San Fran.” I didn’t acknowledge the remark. I’m not too good with emotional comments. My first response would be to make a bad joke about him saying the word “wee” followed by an awkward snort/laugh. Instead I nudged him with my elbow and went to unlock Cesar, my trusty Camry. I thought it suitable after I hit my 26th inanimate object. It was a trashcan if I remember correctly. As I threw my bag into the back seat Arthur stopped to give me a stern look.

“I hope you find your croissant in California Vee. I really do.”Forget three months, I’ll probably be too embarrassed to see him again after tonight. The comment was meant to be friendly, but came across as more of a verbal prayer for my love life.

“Er…thanks Artie?” It appeared to dawn on him how  fatherly he just sounded, and with one last blush of his ears he retreated into the safe enclosure of his Daewoo.

                Cesar groaned to life after the third turn of my key, and I made to pull out of the parking lot. I looked in my rearview mirror, more to make sure it was still attached than as a precaution, when I noticed my back windshield was beginning to frost over. This was North Carolina in June, it was easily 80 degrees outside. Yet,there it was. A creeping frosty web reaching toward the edges of the glass. I was almost too enthralled in the icy advancement to inspect. Almost.

My door was one creak away from breaking loose from the chassis as I pushed my way out. Steam escaped my fingertips and my skin began to pulse with heat. I could feel the warmth spread through my stomach as I let my rage grow. I hated this feeling of being stalked, observed and visually prodded for another’s amusement. I searched the perimeter of the gym and could see nothing but overgrown hedges and crumbling steps. The glass doors to the gym shone with moisture. I didn’t bother running to inspect it, my stalker was already gone, I could feel it somehow. I ran my fingers across the glistening surface of the gymnasium doors: Frost. It was already melting away but there none the less. With an iron weight growing heavier in my chest, I knew with certainty now that I wasn’t playing a psychological game with myself. There was another being with a defect such as mine, and it was of a different variety.Could there be more varieties? Could my abilities simply be me exaggerating an abnormal biological process completely explainable by science? Am I just wishing I was something more than a strange girl with a strange “issue”? I didn’t even know what I was and now there was someone else adding questions to my list of “What the hell is this?”.

Out of frustration I placed my hand on the glass and wiped the remaining frost from the panes. My windshield was now a completely standard issue ,totally mundane hunk of glass leaving me to again question my sanity.

The ride home was full of curse words and plenty of Metallica.

 

****

The pulsing rays of an aging tv set penetrated the sheer living room curtains. Mom was still up, or passed out on the couch under a blanket of beer bottles, only two options there. Considering she didn’t say anything along the lines of “Oh, you’re still alive huh?” when I walked in, it’s a safe bet she was passed out. She’s never really liked me. You figure a mother would inherently love their child. Well not my mother, always reiterating how  she tolerates me in her house. Maybe it was the fire when I was younger, or maybe she has always felt I was different. Either way it was clear she wouldn’t miss me too much if I were to leave. Dad on the other hand, he always made sure I was taken care of. He’s been gone two years now and it still aches to not hear his “Good Mornings” at 6 am every day, even weekends. He would always keep dinner warm on nights I had to work or had practice. Now I just grab a frostbitten toaster strudel or a bowl of raisin bran, without milk. Dad never cared about the fire, he was just glad I was alive. He never questioned what had happened, even though his being a fireman provided him with the answers. 

“When you leaving?” great, the beast was up. She gave me a one eye open glare as she rubbed her head and took another swig of stale Coors.I wonder what her life would be like when I left. Would she stop drinking?Would she wish she weren’t alone?

“Three more months’ mom.” I plucked a bruised apple from the table and shuffled through the bags of fast food and lottery tickets that were a permanent fixture in our tiny two bedroom bungalow. It was the kind of house that was beautiful once, but seemed to absorb the personality of the current tenants. Dusty wallpaper, uneven blinds, chipped counters. All the traits of an unstable woman with holes in her identity. Which, come to think of it, can refer to my mother and myself.

“That’s how long your father had left before he could retire. See how that worked out?” She slurred and sipped, a cycle that never ended. I had no desire to discuss my life or anyone else’s with her. Not tonight.

“Good night mom.” She gave a dismissing wave and changed the tv channel.

I had already packed most of my things. The bare walls and empty closet were good omens in my mind. It meant I would be calling somewhere else home soon, my band t shirts and faded jeans would soon litter the closet and immediate surrounding area of a dorm room. My twin bed creaked as I laid down. The aging springs as excited for my leaving as I was. My apple was unsatisfying but took the edge off my post workout hunger. I could feel my arms getting heavy and my legs began to tingle as sleep took hold of me. I had enough time to ponder the mystery of my icy stalker before I couldn’t feel anything through the haze of slumber.

*****

Morning came late for me. Dozing throughout the early morning, I waited until I heard mom leave to buy her daily lotto ticket to grab jeans and a stretched Skynard shirt. My ten dollar Wally World slip on's are reaching their limit. Maybe I’ll splurge and grab a fresh name brand pair from the mall. Maybe I’ll buy a pair of boots this time. Why not, I had been saving from my fried chicken job all year to afford food and luxuries in Cali. A new pair of shoes would start the summer off right, I might even buy a shirt that doesn’t represent a band or fandom. But maybe not.

I shoved my bulky flip phone into my front pocket before emerging into the blinding daylight. I don’t know why I keep a cell phone, the only numbers I have is are the  Chinese place in town that delivers and my boss. I ration that I keep it to feel a connection to the world that I would otherwise lack. 

I opted to walk to grab lunch. The scorching sun was a welcome sensation. The summer heat  was almost equivalent to the sizzle that radiated through my core. The equilibrium of the two made me feel nonexistent,as if I could simply dissipate into the air around me. Kind of like those sensory deprivation tanks they use for science experiments in fancy labs.

The sun was especially harsh today, almost making me sweat for the first time since I can remember. Looking around, everyone who braved the outside was wearing shorts, some pushing the fine line between shorts and underwear. They all looked miserable and agitated by the blistering heat that plagued our town every year. I loved to watch the heat waves dance in the air out of my periphery. I feel as if this Is going to be rather pleasant beginning to my summer. Everyone was too busy applying sunblock and trying to see their phone screens through the glare, that I went completely unnoticed. I could feel the twitching corners of a smile and thought it would be nice to be able to smile simply out of happiness. My moment of bliss was fleeting as I can already feel the slight drop in temperature. I stopped walking and the cold grew. The heat was reluctant to leave but eventually the icy wind was too strong a foe.The heat within me stayed, and grew stronger with the chilly presence. It was different this time. Closer, almost like misty fingers clawing at my arms and neck. The hairs on my arms were wet from melting ice crystals that had formed on my seering skin.

Not wanting to cause a scene on the street, I quelled the fire growing in my gut and veered off onto 9th street, known for vacated buildings. I ignored the plume of steam that accompanied my exhalations. I sought out the old Baker building. It didn’t have a door and the inside was perfect for private meetings, peaceful or otherwise. Being sure to take a sharp left to enter through the back I felt the ebbing of the cold. It was still present but faltering. I almost felt a rush of pride at outrunning my pursuant, but obviously I haven’t given them enough credit. I could hear steps resonate from the front of the single story structure, slow, probing. “Alright,either 007 wants me to join the MI6 or I’m already dead because someone has obviously hired a supernatural hitman”. My internal ramblings didn’t make my sneaking any more effective. I’ve never snuck anywhere, let alone among discarded cans and broken glass. The walls were almost all completely destroyed or full of gaping holes, bullet shaped now that I am hunkered in a corner and close enough to observe them. I can see a shadow passing from wall to wall,doing a formal sweep of all the debris as if I have somehow dissembled myself and now live among the garbage. They are getting closer, kicking cans and unidentified crumbly bits. They turn as if to question whether I am here a tall. Refusing to acknowledge the fear that is making me want to throw up, I“grow a pair” so quickly biologist and macho men alike would be surprised, I vaulted the crumbled half wall that was my sanctum. The cold stings my throat as I go in for the linebacker tackle. My stalker turns just in time to brace for impact, but they have underestimated my strength. I lift them for a split second, enough to put them off balance. They counter with an ill placed punch,which I respond in kind with a right hook Arthur was so proud of. I feel the impact of my skin and the sizzle of heat on ice. The grunt from my sparring partner was definitely male. Desperate to get him on the ground I gave a roundhouse kick to knee cap and a jab to back of his hip. With a speed I didn’t know I was capable of, I put my elbow on his throat and forced his spying ass to the ground. Using my knees to secure his arms and my iron elbow to push his chin upwards.

With the heat of the fight over with , his hands go up in surrender, and mine were steaming. Everything that was touching him was steaming.
“I surrender, you are victorious.” His voice portrayed more sarcasm than someone in his position had a right to.  


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sunsdarkness
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