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Ashes

By Amanda Turner Crum All Rights Reserved ©

Horror

Ashes

The moon is patient in the sky as they drive across town. The car’s engine purrs in the dark like a living thing being touched.

Something is bothering her, but she can’t quite find it. It’s like fumbling around for clothes on the floor of a sex-drenched bedroom, like a tickle in the chest that won’t burst into a cough. She can feel it but she can’t bring it out.

Jem is as quiet as he’s ever been in the seat beside her, white hands splayed like starfish on his thighs. He’ll want caffeine soon and then she’ll have to deal with his mind on full blast, something she’s not ready for in the confines of the car. It’s been three days since either of them slept and she feels fine, but his nerves are fraying gently. She can almost see them, waving softly red over his skin like a cord that’s been cut.

Jem took his name from the book To Kill A Mockingbird; he thought it sounded small-town and grateful, like a good human should be. She rarely ever gives a name anymore, had tired of playing the game. Jem still calls her Ofelia on occasion, and though it is a bastardization of her given name--Ofa (The Destroyer)--it suits her just fine.

Crows bitch at each other in the forest, an impatient sound that reminds her of a graveyard. She can hear them over the engine sounds and wonders, not for the first time, why their voices are so much louder than the others. Perhaps they share a bond with her, this fellow creature of old who enjoys warm blood.

“I don’t want to stop again,” Jem says. His voice is shivery with secrets, and still she doesn’t catch it. Her mind is on other things: her guitar, the journal she lost in Prague and has been itching to write in, her need to touch herself. It has been weeks and her body fairly vibrates with it; even the rumble of the engine is almost too much to bear.

She can go a long time without sleep, but the price she pays is distraction.

“It was your stop last time,” she says coolly, sliding the window down a bit. Night-air streams in on a pine-scented wave.

“I know that.” His voice is a stretched rubber band. “I’m saying we should drive through the night.”

“Better make those cigarettes last, then,” she says. It is a dig at him and they both know it. The last stop was at a diner in Kentucky with a sleek silver cigarette machine and one too many bearded country boys. She had locked eyes with one and could almost feel the scratch of his whiskers on the insides of her thighs, such was the intensity of her need. Jem had frowned magnificently.

They drive on, towards the peanut butter-machinery smell of the Jif factory on the edge of town, and in the dusky October light they speak of humans and their penchant for petty emotions. The things that form them as toddlers shape them as adults. Jealousy is the worst. Wanting something someone else has just because it isn’t yours. Jem is jealous, too. He’s been living with them too long.

She's doing most of the talking, she realizes, and looks over at Jem, glowing green in the dashboard lights. He keeps his eyes on the road and fingers the crucifix at his neck, his mouth a tightrope she can't walk across.

"Can I have a smoke?" she asks, more to cut through the silence than because she really wants a cigarette. He mumbles something into the window.

"What?"

"I said I'm out," Jem says quietly.

"You can't have smoked the entire pack already, " she says, and then it is upon her.

He didn’t like the look of the human she’d been eyeing in the diner. No matter. Dead in the trunk of the car just for looking at her. Appropriately, his eyes had been scratched out of their sockets and lay on his cheeks like underdone eggs, seeing nothing, seeing the interior of the Cadillac and the death rattle-scratches on the underside of the trunk lid. She’d felt it as an itch in the back of her throat when the ride first began but ignored it, and now she knew: Jem had killed the boy in the diner’s bathroom, perhaps as she was paying for gas. There had been no time for cigarettes. He was quick, but not that quick

She looked at him as the road unwound itself before them like a ribbon from a spool, her mind clamping down on what she knew to be true. Here was the ghost of 5,000 seasons, printed on his face for her to see. Had she not been so distracted, she might have seen.

A crash, a jolt, the sound of shattered glass like a million diamonds scattered on concrete. She opened one green eye and saw red printed there, flashing light illuminating the trees on the side of the road; the turn signal. Beside her, Jem wasn’t there. Instead, he was half in and half out of the windshield, the lower half of his body as sane as it had been ten seconds ago. The top half was nothing but ash and the wind was starting to scatter it already. She sat up and felt ashes on her tongue. Tasted him. It was like tasting a volcano, like tasting Hell, like eating a memory.

I can be petty too, she thought.


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