It was a distraction; the entire thing had been a distraction. The lights, the disappearing people, everything was an effort to draw my attention away from the Shadow’s main purpose.
I kicked the ashes at my feet. It was all that remained of the demon that had tried to brutally capture Phoenix. They flew up and got caught in the wind; the grey fragments were blown away into the distance.
Phoenix was sat on the floor beside our rickety van, a cigarette in hand, tears stains on her face. She coughed, “Ow,” The word was barely a croak as it left her cracked lips.
I span round, panicking, “What’s wrong?” I snapped.
She met my eyes, “Nothing’s wrong, I’m just shaken up that’s all.”
I frowned. “Are you sure?”
“It’s just my throat, from all the screaming,” She shrugged, rubbing her neck tenderly, “And my leg, but that’s nothing unusual.”
“I should check that,” I rushed towards her. “The Shadow could have upset the healing process.”
She just laughed dryly, shaking her head, “It’s fine Ivy, I promise.”
“Are you sure?” I said again, I felt she was putting on a brave face.
“I’m fine,” She stressed, the way she said it made me want to believe her but I couldn’t, I knew every time my back was turned she winced, without a sound. She was suffering.
The smile I returned was strained, I was worried about her.
Alexander threw his head out of the van window, “Hurry up, I want to get out of here.”
Phoenix docked out her cigarette butt. I held out my hand to help her up but she shook her head and struggled to her feet. That’s when I heard it, the sound of ripping flesh. Phoenix cried out, a heart-wrenching sound, clutching at the bandage on her leg. She fell to the ground, grabbing her leg, screaming and sobbing in excruciating distress.
I immediately dropped to my knees, “What is it?” I gushed, staring down at her.
Phoenix was biting her lip hard, tears creeping out of the corner of her eyes.
“Alex!” I yelled, frantically unwrapping her bandages with jerky movements. I didn’t have time to be gentle.
Phoenix convulsed under my touch, squirming away violently.
“Phoenix?!” I shouted at her uselessly because I got no answer. She was shaking ferociously and her eyes rolled back into her head.
Alexander appeared beside me with the first aid kit.
I fumbled with the clip, my fingers trembling ruthlessly. I couldn’t undo it. I tried, desperate, but hands were throbbing numbly and I couldn’t stop them. “You’ll have to do it, I can’t. I –” But Alexander was already taking over, he seized my hands and placed them in my lap.
He met my eyes with control and authority, “Calm down,” He commanded directly, “Pull yourself together.”
I wrapped my arms around my chest in an attempt to calm myself. He was right, panicking would achieve nothing. I closed my eyes, forcing myself to focus on anything other than the sound of Phoenix’s wails. My breaths began to jerk and I gasped desperately for air. This couldn’t be happening; she was fine just a minute ago.
I should have known. I should have known something was wrong. This was all my fault.
It seemed like forever before Phoenix stopped howling out into the night. I peeked through my lashes at Alexander and Phoenix. She was shivering hard on the ground; I recoiled away from her deathly pale body. I refused to watch as Alexander picked her up carefully and placed her into the back of the van, he rummaged around in there for a long time, then came out and slumped himself down on the ground alongside me.
“It’s not looking good,” He spoke in monotone, Phoenix was like a sister to Alexander, I didn’t know what either of us would do without her. “She’s losing strength, and fast.”
I couldn’t meet his eyes. I knew I would burst into tears if I did. I wouldn’t let that happen. I had to be strong for her.
“What’s… what’s wrong with her?” I whispered, my voice hoarse.
“Her wound is terribly infected.” He stated bleakly, “It’s gone septic. We might not be able to save her.”
I turned my head away from the news, my eyes clamped shut to avoid a rush of tears. “What can we do?”
“Nothing, we can’t do anything. We don’t have the medicine or the equipment.”
I refused to accept this. “There must be something we can do.”
“We can’t, she’s going to die.”
I got to my feet, sprinting over to the van. I needed to hold her, to be with her, to stroke her hair. I heard the scuffle of Alexander getting to his feet and running after me. I could not accept Phoenix, the girl whom had been my friend for years, was going to die.
Alexander grabbed my upper arm in attempt to stop me. I was so overwhelmed with fear and sadness I simply crumpled to the ground and wept uncontrollably. This wasn’t happening, it couldn’t be happening. I didn’t want any of this to happen, I didn’t ask for any of this to happen. Why me? Why Phoenix? Why was any of this happening to me? I wanted to go home, to live my life the way a normal eighteen-year-old should.
Nobody should be subject to such desolation.
Alexander cradled me in his arms until my eyes became stiff and my throat so sore it wouldn’t make any indication of sound anymore. I had cried for so long that my lungs ached and it hurt to breathe.
“Come on Ivy,” Alexander helped me to my feet, supporting my arms so I didn’t topple over.
I observed the flat, depleted land around me, the glow of the moon highlighting the dead trees and dry river beds. I listened out but was greeted with nothing but a heavy silence. I began to walk and the sound of gritty sand crunching now filled my ears. I hoisted myself up into the passenger seat and closed the door firmly behind me.
I looked ahead at the night’s sky, longing for home, longing for something I could not have. This shouldn’t have happened to me, to any of us. I twisted my fingers around my hands and stared into my lap solemnly. I faced Alexander to see worry submerged into his brow, “Let’s get her the hell out of here.”
The van lurched forwards and crawled across the ground, away from the bar and out into the hours of darkness ahead of us.
The shack stood alone against the landscape of sand. It looked abandoned, left here to rot away, a figment of my imagination.
It was the perfect place to hide a wounded soldier like Phoenix.
Alexander pulled sharply on the handbrake, it groaned unwillingly but the vehicle ground to a halt. With squinted eyes I peered out of the windscreen, surveying the charcoal horizon for any signs of danger.
“Do you think someone lives here?” Alexander said in a low voice, as not to disturb the slumbering Phoenix behind us.
I shook my head solemnly, “No, it looks empty.” I scanned the area once more. The shack was too big to be called a shack; it was more like a barn. I was so exhausted the frame of the building blurred under my weary vision, I forced myself to concentrate. “Go and check,” I tilted my head towards the wooden structure, “See if the coast is clear.”
Alexander reached for the door handle hesitantly, reluctantly following my orders. He shut it behind him inaudibly and with light feet, cautiously made his way towards the shed. I watched him go, memorizing the slink in his walk, almost feline – like mine.
I sat back against the head rest and sealed my eyelids together. I missed home. Home. It was so far away, too far away. I missed Elle, I missed the way her bright blonde hair would always be a tumbleweed of mess and how her blue eyes shone with excitement every day. To be greeted by a smile as beautiful hers every morning was breath-taking. I remember how we used plait each other’s hair when the other was upset and laugh about silly things, normal things – her laugh was contagious, I missed her laugh. I missed laughing.
I even missed David and his stubborn attitude, his determination and unwillingness to back down when he believed he was right. I missed our normal conversations, our normal Saturday walks in the woods, our normal life. I longed for it back, to get up every morning and go to school instead of constantly running on fatigue. I was completely exhausted.
Abruptly the sound of someone tapping on glass caused my eyes to fly open and brought me back to the present. Alexander’s face was staring at mine tenderly, adoration in his tawny irises. I glared back at him for scaring me.
He inclined his head towards the hangar, beckoning me to come with him.
I opened the door and hissed, “Is it safe?”
“Just follow me,” He replied vaguely.
I drew my eyebrows together. It was very unlike Alexander to be so unclear and it made me doubtful. Was the coast clear? Was it safe? I felt wretched for leaving Phoenix alone, even though she was unconscious. I almost couldn’t bring myself to leave her. Would she have left my side if the circumstances were reversed?
However, I did as I was told. I warily left the van behind me and ambled alongside Alexander to see what all the fuss was about. He stopped when we reached the door to the shack. It was rickety and I wondered what would happen if I touched it, would it fall apart in my hand?
“What’s the problem?” I asked, confused. Everything seemed legitimate. No sounds came from the other side of the door.
Alexander didn’t say anything, he just gestured to the door with his hand, as if he wanted me to open it myself. I was hesitant. What was so shocking? I gazed over to his blank expression. I felt uneasy, what was going on?
I pushed slightly on the door and it swung open with a long, low creak.
My lips parted with a gasp of wonder. I didn’t know what I was expecting to see inside but wonders greeted my eyes. Instead of the expected straw bales or tools, the content of the shed was furniture.
A bed, clean and comfy looking, was in the far corner of the room adjacent to a bookshelf packed full of withering hard backs. A huge, round table had been placed in the center of the room over a complicated woven Aztec rug.
Neither of these two things are what caught my eye.
Next to the naked light bulb, weird things were strung up to the ceiling; a string of garlic, a dream catcher over-ridden with bronze feathers swaying in the breeze, a human skull with rubies for eyes, a dried bunch of sweet-smelling herbs. Jars were lined up along the top of the shelves and they contained ugly things such as goat ears and I’m sure I spotted one full of human eyes.
On the round table there were assorted candles, one of every colour you can think of, and beside them was a mortar with ground up powder in it. There were leaves drying on what I wouldn’t call a window – more like a plastic sheet covering a vast hole in the wall – but that seemed to be the case, and there was an over-powering aroma of sage in the atmosphere.
A chest sat snugly in the opposite corner to the bed. It was made of dark wood, pictures of clouds and the sky carved into it, clearly etched by hand. It almost beckoned me over to touch it, to open it. I wanted to open it, to reveal the secrets hidden inside.
“It looks like someone lives here,” I said flatly.
Alexander raised his eyebrow to suit his already crossed arms, “It’s two o’clock in the morning. I don’t think anyone will be staying here tonight.” He winked to lighten my mood but it was emotionless, “It’s perfect, and we could look in one of those fancy books for something to help Phoenix.”
I nodded, “Bring her in and I’ll get started.”
Alexander sunk away into the gloom whilst I continued to linger in the doorway. This was all very strange. This was clearly somebody’s house, someone’s home in the middle of nowhere, in a shack. I dithered for a couple more seconds then entered over the threshold.
The room was weird, but a good weird. It reminded me very much of Phoenix’s bedroom back home. I headed straight for the bookshelf, as not to get distracted by anything, as not to get distracted by the chest. The room was bursting with so many wonderful and interesting items. I knew if I fell into its trap I would be lost forever. I grabbed a book that looked apothecary-like; I opened it and ran my fingertips over the crisp pages. I had missed books.
I pulled back a chair from the round table and discovered it was actually part of a tree trunk, dark rings signalling the years of its former life. I smiled. This room was amazing. To my surprise it was also warm, my skin glowed with heat. This room made me feel almost happy again.
Alexander came through the doorway, clasping Phoenix in his strong arms. He staggered over to the bed and laid her gently under the sheet, she didn’t stir but sweat glistened on her pasty skin under the light.
“You’re right,” I said flatly, “She’s not looking good.”
Alexander’s mouth formed a very thin line, “I know,” He took a book off the shelf and placed himself on the chair beside me, “I don’t think she’s going to make it.”
I peered over at her, a lump formed in my throat. “Why do you keep saying that?” Slamming the book shut in my hand with a thump, “She can’t die Alex, she can’t.” I blinked away tears, “I won’t let her.”
“I know you won’t,” He said, “I’m just saying, prepare for the worst.”
I refused to listen to him. He kept hinting that Phoenix was going to die. I refused to admit this. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. Phoenix had always been there and without her where would I be? Who would I be? Obviously, Alexander was right, but I was unable to let myself believe that my friend, my Phoenix, wouldn’t be here for much longer.
I thrust my chin up into the air, my face was tight, “She is not going to die. Not while I’m here.” I spat bitterly at him.
I re-opened the book in front of me and began reading, determined to help save the life of my friend.
I was awoken to the sound of Alexander bellowing loudly followed by the sound of metal slashing against metal and then swiftly by the sound of items crashing to the ground.
The Shadows. They were here.
I was instantly on my feet and sprang into action, flinging myself on the shape in the darkness. To my surprise I collided with something solid and cushion-y, something human.
I tumbled to the floor with a tremendous thud, scrambling backwards. I glanced around and saw Alexander lying comatose to my right, blood dribbling from a head wound. I was on my own, with no back-up and no weapon.
A colossal figure towered over me and my ears met with a deep voice roaring at me, “Get out of my house!”
I noticed in the hand of this person was a long, sharp object which glinted in the moonlight.
A flash of silver, I slammed my eyes shut and waited for the end.