Chapter 8 - Isolde
Nine days later, and Isaac’s incessant knocking is now the regular beat I fall asleep to.
Wrapping in a pillow around my head, I roll over in the bed, but it doesn’t really make much of a difference. Would he just give it a rest? Is he planning to destroy my house now or what?
I bury my head in my blanket, inhaling the calming scent of water and hydrophytes as the pain crashes over me in yet another torrent. I should have gotten over it by now, but I haven’t.
All the images I see when I close my eyes . . . dead bodies at my feet, the Antithetical Hunters chasing me down, my friends looking at me in disgust and horror as they realise what I am . . . they are ripping apart pieces of my soul. Tearing me into shreds.
I hyperventilate into the soft cloth, trying to cool myself but failing miserably, pathetically. I should be up and doing something about it, I should . . . but I don’t want to have to do anything right now but just not exist. Not have to feel this utter, mind-consuming self-hatred that makes me doubt almost everything about myself.
My nails rake sharply down my left hands, managing to tear past some layers of skin. I use the different kind of pain to try to focus myself, but I need something stronger, more painful . . . I gasp as my thoughts veer way off course.
Temptation threatens to enslave my mind, but I don’t let it. This much I can do. This much I should do.
Come on, Isolde.
I force myself out of bed and run a hand through my tangled hair, removing wisps stuck onto my face by my tears. Vowing that today I will leave behind my pitiful behaviour and do something with myself, I stretch my aching joints out.
I head to the bathroom and turn on the shower, as cold as possible, with as much power as possible. It jolts me awake at once, though causing me to have spasms because of the chill.
It doesn’t matter. I can withstand this, of course. I can withstand anything, I tell myself.
Gritting my teeth, I let the water pummel me. I don’t care. It’s nothing. After standing beneath the downpour for a few minutes, I turn the shower gentler, warmer, and wash myself, wash my hair. It makes me feel incredibly rejuvenated.
After staying in under the shower for a good fifteen minutes, I step out of the cubicle and wrap a towel around myself. The negative thoughts immediately rush to meet me. I hold my ground. They don’t go through me; they flow around me. I can rule them. They are nothing compared to me.
I’m an Antithetical.
After I’m dressed, I go to tell my plans to Mum. She’s been as depressed as I am – as I was. So despondent, and solely because of me. That will not happen again. I won’t allow it. Liquid steel runs through my veins now.
Mum is in the kitchen, slowly sipping at a cup of something. Rather than miserable, she looks agitated, probably product of Isaac’s ceaseless knocking. The room is dim; all blinds have been down for the last nine days.
“Mum,” I say, and pleased to find that my voice is stable.
She looks up at me in surprise – I haven’t been out of my bedroom much, lately. “I’m going to quit the moping now,” I tell her, sitting on the free chair and trying very hard not to remember the last time I sat here.
She rushes to excuse my sulking. “It’s not your –”
I shake my head, cutting her off. “I was immature about it. I’m going to be productive.”
She sets her cup on the table with a brief nod.
I think about the incidents in the past several days. Water acting abnormally because of my wild powers. Vanishing into thin air. Tossing itself out the window. Flying around rooms. Suddenly appearing in inappropriate places at inappropriate times.
“Are you thinking about your father?” Mum asks quietly.
I feel slightly guilty that I’m only thinking about myself, and not my presumably deceased parent. “No,” I admit. “But I’d like to know about him . . .” I look Mum, gauging her mood. She’s not happy, clearly, but she’s been worse. “If it’s OK with you,” I add.
“It is. I was going to tell you anyway . . .” She folds her hands on the table and closes her eyes, while I wait, tense but composed at the same time. “I met your father,” she begins, “when I was eleven. I didn’t really like him much. He was so confident and outspoken, and I envied that so. I was always a timid thing . . .” Her voice trails off, and she’s silent for a bit, remembering.
I watch her fatigued face carefully.
“He liked me. I could tell that.” A ghost of a smile appears on her lips. “We were twelve when he told me. It sounds so young, too young to know what it was to love a person. It felt so true, though. It was.
“I rejected him at first. I imagined that he would shrink back and stop. He didn’t. Even when I was hostile towards him, he always smiled at me, always did small, seemingly inconsequential things for me. But they made me feel so wonderful. Like I was something treasured, something priceless.
“We got together soon. There was no getting around how much I thought about him, how much I began to crave his company. There was so much more to him than I knew. He seemed quite sanguine, but he told me about himself, the insecurities that he hid well. There were many of them. I was surprised at what was going on inside his mind. I realised that people were more in depth than I thought. My maturity began to grow more round about then.” Mum glances at me. “Am I boring you?”
“No,” I reply truthfully.
“All the same, I’ll skip that. There’s a lot to get through. It’s hard to condense so many years into a few minutes . . .” Her voice is nostalgic as she grips her mug, staring into it. “Well, what do you want to know the most?”
I think about it. What I want to know the most is probably the hardest topic for her to speak about, so I make the question easier, hoping it will prompt a longer answer.
“Did he realise that he was an Antithetical at sixteen, too?”
“No. He was thirteen.” So much for long replies.
I blow out air slowly. I’ve handled the realisation pretty badly. How much worse would it have been for someone three years younger? “So how did you know that I’d develop my powers at sixteen?”
“He told me, after you were born.” Her brow creases. “I don’t know how he knew.”
“Did he know it was coming? Before he developed his ability, I mean.”
“He was an orphan, adopted, so no.”
“Do you know how I can control what I do?” I ask, hoping fervently that that is the case.
“Not really,” Mum says with a sigh. “You just have to be extremely careful, and don’t let yourself become too . . . overemotional.”
My heart sinks a bit. “OK.” I breathe deeply. “OK,” I murmur again, more to myself this time.
Mum lays a comforting hand on mine, and I attempt to give a small smile.
“You can do it,” she says, and her voice has taken on a furious intensity. Her blue eyes lock on mine, flames leaping in the vast ocean. “The AH – they won’t get to you.”
I nod, but my confidence inside is small. I repeat what my mother said over and over in my mind, but images of what the AH would do if they caught on constantly play in my mind. . . they’d lock me, not in RepAnt, but Confinement. Forever. Those who have been openly violent are sent there too, unless they’ve been killed. The Radii and people of the Circle have a reverence for human and animal life, but the Antithetical don’t completely fit in that category. The guns used are all stun or dart – non-lethal – but a few are killed in physical combat.
“What about school?” I ask, changing the topic. “Should I go back?”
Mum grimaces. “We don’t want any inexplicable incidents to deal with . . . but you can’t evade social activities forever.”
“I know,” I say, with a huff of exasperation – is there anything my being Antithetical will not taint? “My finals are coming up too . . .”
“I suggest that you go tomorrow, then. But steer clear of anything that will provoke you . . . and come home as soon as possible. Or do you want to stay?”
“Both,” I reply. “But I’ll go out.” I hesitate, then say, “Do you think it will be safe to tell Isaac?”
She grimaces again. Mum likes Isaac – at least she used to – but apparently the person joint-closest to me cannot be let in on the dangerous secret. “I think no, but if you want to, I won’t stop you.”
“Right,” I say, then cover my face with my hands, trying to quell the anxiety that’s attacking me.
Life is about to get much harder. I will have to get harder, too. Somehow.