Chapter 6 - Isolde
I wrap my arms around my knees, holding them against my body as I stare into the blue stream, Isaac’s present, unopened, next to me.
It’s my birthday - I should be messing about with my friends, or cutting a cake with Mother. But I’m too consumed with worry, and Mum doesn’t seem to be in the mood for having cake.
She’s worse. I didn’t think that possible. Mum didn’t do so much as wish me a happy birthday, but darted into her bedroom the second she saw me. Definitely not a good sign.
I interlace my fingers, pressing them down on the back of my hand, angry that I’m angry. I want to stop moping, but I’ve been put in a bad mood and it’s going to take something to shift it. Or I can just muster up some non-existent willpower . . .
My eyes land on Isaac’s present again, and curiosity overrides my sullenness. I open the big blue box, and find black boots. I turn one over, admiring it. Good, sturdy shoes, perfect for running or climbing. I smile a bit, and place the footwear back in the box. I’ll hug him for that. I smile at how he’d react, but the smile doesn’t last long. Isaac’s distaste for any expressed emotions cannot banish my gloom indefinitely.
I look back at the stream, and dip a hand into the cold water, feeling for tule potato, Mum’s favourite. Maybe she’d finally let me know what’s bothering her so.
Yep, potatoes are the key, says a sour voice inside my head.
I violently uproot a bunch of the plants in my frustration.
I’m suddenly aware of the water shooting out of the stream. A shocked cry escapes my mouth as I fall onto my back in alarm. I’m up in half a second, staring in disbelief as liquid takes off into the air, a twisting, writhing blue snake. My eyes dart around the surrounding area as I wonder, breathlessly, what is causing this. But I know it’s not normal; it’s not nature’s work. It’s . . .
The word smacks me in the face. I scrabble to my feet, remembering to yank up Isaac’s present. I think about that talk about an Antithetical, here in Brackleby, on a killing spree. Six dead.
I don’t want it to be seven.
This isn’t like the quiet girl I spotted two weeks ago. This is an enemy, hiding in the shadows.
I wheel round, sprinting off in the direction of my house. But do I really want to lead some murderous creature to my home? I think of poor Mum, and immediately change direction, but where to go? What would help me the most?
Stop overthinking it, Isolde. Run!
I force my legs to move faster, but a little below top speed. Fright is fuelling me, but I don’t want to burn out all my energy, and I need to watch out for troublesome tree roots.
My heart bangs against my ribs as I labour heavily. I will it to quiet. It’s so loud that surely the Antithetical would be able to locate me with its noisy, unwanted thumping . . . or maybe I’m just so crazed with fear, I’m imagining impossible things.
I can see the clearing ahead, the one near my cottage. I swallow, trying to work some moisture into my dry mouth as I rapidly move forward, away from the threat behind me. I can’t hear anything, but that doesn’t reassure me. A smart predator would not announce their arrival to their prey. It would pounce when least suspected . . .
My entire body quivers with fear, making it harder for me to run fast. I try to collect myself, but it’s just not working . . .
I burst out of the forest, dash across the clearing, and fly up the steps leading to the house door. I don’t allow myself to look back in the direction I came, but jam the key in the lock and throw myself in. After I slam the door shut, I lean against it, panting heavily. Maybe the Antithetical would give up and go hunt easier, more accessible quarry.
It takes way too long for me to feel sick with myself.
Before going to report to Mum, I catch my breath and drain down some water, warily looking out of the kitchen window as I do so. Paranoid, I draw the blinds.
Like curtains would deter a homicidal –
I try to stop my reeling thoughts before they get too wild, but it’s hard. I climb the steps, bursting into Mum’s room without knocking. She is sitting on the bed, staring out the window.
She closes her eyes, looking like she’s in pain as she lets out a long breath. “I would have told you –”
I stop, puzzled. “You would have told me what?”
Mum drops her hands and gapes at me in amazement.
I frown, even more confused. “Uh –”
She shakes her head, and there’s a new look in her eyes – a hopeful look? “Never mind.” She beams at me, the first genuine smile I’ve seen on her face in a long while. “What were you saying?”
I let whatever she was on about slide and walk over to her. “I was at the stream,” I said, my words tripping over one another, “and all the water just, like, sprung out of it. I think it was an Antithetical, maybe the one that’s recently been around.” I’m sure that the Antithetical who controlled all that water would not be very civil. They would have not done something so intimidating and powerful.
Mum’s face is suddenly pale, the optimism I saw in them a few seconds earlier completely gone. “Should have known,” she murmurs. “Shouldn’t have thought that . . .” She doesn’t finish her sentence, but passes a hand across her face, a weary motion she often does when stressed. She faces me, blowing out a long breath. “Honey,” Mum says slowly, “that was an Antithetical.”
I try not to freak out again, but do my calming thing – intertwining my fingers tightly.
“But,” Mum continues, her voice low and urgent, “it was you.”
I freeze. I don’t move even a millimetre. I search Mum’s tired eyes for any hint of humour.
“What?” I demand, my own bulging out of their sockets.
Mum drops her gaze. “It’s a long story –”
“No.” My mouth falls open.
Me? An Antithetical? What is she on about? She must be ill. Delusional. I shake my head in disbelief.
Her face twists in a grimace. “Isolde,” she says quietly, with a slight pleading tone to her voice.
I ignore her, ignore the trembling of my hands. She’s unwell. She’s unbalanced. It’s easy to believe that being Antithetical can’t be so bad, but if you’re one yourself . . . What is she talking about?
“We should go downstairs,” Mum suggests, tripping over and repeating her words. She is frantic. “I’ll explain.”
“There’s nothing to explain.” I turn my back and head over to the open door. Lies. Pure lies, brought on by . . . I don’t know.
She’s up and holding onto me before I can take more than two steps out of the door. “I know it’s a shock, but please, stop. I’ll explain everything to you. It will be fine.”
My mouth opens and closes silently. My mind is in utter turbulence, and no coherent, sensible words can or will come out of me right now.
How could I be an Antithetical? What have I ever done? Unless Mum’s telling me she came from outside . . .
My knees feel like they’ve lost all stability, like I’m about to collapse, but this is stupid. Because there’s been some mistake. I am just an ordinary sixteen-year-old – nothing special in any area. There’s no way I’ve been unknowingly harbouring superpowers.
Pull yourself together, I say to myself.
I press my lips together and try to clear my mind as I descend the stairs. Berating myself from overreacting so much, I seat myself at the table.
“Isolde.” My mother looks at me, a concerned look on her face. “You must feel very . . . conflicted.”
Understatement of the century.
I look at her. It takes a while for me to formulate any words, because I’m in a state of shock right now. “Why do you think I’m an Antithetical?” I speak the words slowly, trying to wrap my head around the idea.
“Your father was,” Mum replies. She is constantly changing her position; crossing her legs, jiggling them, elbows on the table, hands on her laps.
My dad? I think of the father I never really knew, the father who died when I was only two years old.
My dad was an Antithetical?!
I think of the numerous outrages broadcasted throughout the nation, think about the man who contributed to my existence. Think about that poor emaciated girl I saw not long ago. Will I become like her? A hunted creature, feared and hated, constantly on the run?
I’m trying not to believe what Mum is telling me, but how can I not? This is the woman I’ve grown up with. I know all the habits she gets when she’s lying, and none of them are being exhibited now.
“How . . . ?” I whisper.
Mum looks tormented. “He didn’t look different physically. But mentally, he was an aberration. He could control people . . . he knew what they were thinking and could control their actions through their minds.”
The breath comes out of me in a whoosh. This is surreal. All this impossible information suddenly thrust upon me . . . how am I supposed to easily get used to this? The real truth about my dad? Mum never told me about him, as much as I pestered her for answers. Now I know why.
I shouldn’t exist. He shouldn’t have been free and roaming about Brackleby. Did Mum really love him, then? If his presence in her home meant such danger?
“He wasn’t a cruel man,” Mum continues. It sounds like she’s begging for me to agree, which makes it so much worse. “He didn’t try to force people to do things all the time. It was . . . involuntary. If he wished someone would do something, just an irritated thought, they would.”
I focus on breathing easily and my mind spins and whirls.
“Do you ever think, just, go die, to a person? But you don’t really mean it; you were just annoyed? When he did that, the person’s body just shut down. And they did die.”
I clamp a hand around my mouth, for hysterical noises are escaping from me. I am the daughter of a killer. An involuntary killer, but still . . .
“He was here one second,” Mum says quietly, “gone the next. They came for him, I think. The AH.”
Antithetical Hunters, their lives dedicated to finding the Antithetical, imprisoning them.
I squeeze my eyes shut and tense my body, trying to pack my emotions in. My father . . . I . . . destined to only hurt others . . .
“I loved him, you know. He tried so hard.” Mum’s voice breaks, and I nearly break, too. “He tried . . .”
Minutes of silence pass, in which I fight to gain control of myself. I just want to . . . I don’t know. Cease to exist. Drift into oblivion. Have the floor swallow me up and spit me out somewhere better. I do not want to have to deal with who my father was, who I am.
“You don’t seem to have the same abilities as he had,” my mother resumes, her voice still anguished, but breathy as she tries to assure herself. “So . . . that’s one good thing.”
Good. Right. Sending water into the air whenever I feel irritated is good.
But I see where she’s coming from. I know in my heart that I wouldn’t have coped with what my dad went through. He may have damned me for all the rest of my life, but I hand it to him – he was strong. It must have been so hard.
Now I have to deal with this. Having uncontrollable power. I’ll need to hide what I am. I must somehow manage to live and cope through the stress of being something incompatible, something that shouldn’t be near people. A danger.
My thoughts turn to Isaac. He would understand . . . right? But what if I hurt him? What if I got mad at him, and I made a flood take him out or something?
Tears drip down my cheeks. I don’t bother hiding them, or wiping them. What’s the point? What is the point?
I slowly, deliberately draw my chair back. This is why Mum has been so down for so long. Because she knew I was going to become an Antithetical.
I carefully place the chair back under the table and walk away from my mother’s broken sobs.