Amber Roses, Golden Eyes
Aleksei's bicycle tires sang a calming drone against the pavement. His short hair danced and his copper eyes squinted against the breeze, as he cruised down the streets in an effort to beat the imminent rush-hour traffic and darkening sky that would make the trip unnecessarily hazardous. He wavered, and almost fell, when his wet hands slipped off the handlebars, causing his elbow to hit the bicycle frame painfully. After righting himself, he dismounted and pushed his bicycle to the side-walk.
He rubbed his hands together, and felt water run off as though we were squeezing a soaked rag, the droplets hitting the ground loudly. He almost let out a cry of surprise but clamped his mouth shut.
He hurried into the closest alley with his bike,next to a small pastry shop, and sat dejectedly on an abandoned bucket.
He stared at his fingers in hopeless resignation. Over the course of the day, his hands had continued to become wet and wrinkled from the moisture. This was something unnatural, even more so since his hands did not feel cold being wet in the March air. He considered stopping by a clinic, but he had an aversion to doctors, particularly if it entailed needles.
As the sun set, fog crept through the city, like garments laid out to be tread on by a king. With the darkening of the sky, Aleksei’s hands dripped faster. He stood up, frustrated with his predicament. As he rose, he saw two columns of the fog flow up to his hands and condense. His fingers were now trickling steadily. In a panic, he ran. Reaching the opposite end of the alley where it intersected with three others, he glanced back to see what had become of the phenomenon. The two columns drifted towards him, and like toddlers, they stumbled and fell, then vanished upon the ground. Aleksei panted a moment, supporting himself on his knees, when a feeling of unease caused him to look back. The fog, from which he had fled, was nowhere in sight, but there was something else yet unseen. There was a rushing sound all around him, like the panting of a massive dog that had finished a long chase.
Aleksei looked down the other alleys as the sound echoed against the walls. He saw three toppling walls of mist approach him like a flood. The alley he had fled from suddenly did not seem so frightening. He ran back the way he came, towards his bike. Just as he was a mere stride away, a fourth wave appeared around the store front before him, cutting him off from the side walk. With nowhere to go, he stopped and shielded his face with his arms and shrank back. He felt the cool vapour whip around him. The noise reached a crescendo, as if he was inside a giant, gasping throat.
He fell to the ground, and screamed. “God! Get me out!” He curled up into a tight ball and covered his ears. Laying still, his breathing calmed and he began to think of how he got in this insane situation. As his heart slowed, the clamour around him decreased. Sitting up, he looked. The vapour that had been thundering furiously was still there, but now it circled him harmlessly on the ground, like spiralling snow centring around his left hand.
He cautiously rose and removed his hands from the fog. In the brief moment between his hands being separated from the white carpet, and the two snakes of mist reaching for them, the incessant stream of water from his fingers stopped. But as soon as the fog caught up with his hands, water resumed condensing. With a sense of relief, Aleksei realised that it was not his own water he was losing. Rather, he was attracting moisture from the air. Feeling both dejected and scared, Aleksei sat on a stray crate as the fog crawled up his legs, seeking his saturated hands.
For a long time, he closed his eyes and thought intently. A doctor was completely out of question. This was no medical issue. As he thought on what was to be done now, one particular memory came to the forefront. It was science class from primary school. Starting from there, he began whispering to himself, reviewing the facts he had learned concerning the physics of water.
“Condensation is present when the water, or the surrounding environment, goes through a temperature change. It occurs only when there is moisture present in the air. Condensation such as dew happens best on stationary surfaces...”
Keeping that trend of thought, he began waving his hands back and forth. The fog followed. His hands did drip less, but he certainly could not wave his hands for the rest of his life. Two things stood out for him. First, when he moved fast enough, the fog would over-compensate its momentum and flow away before returning. Second, his left hand seemed to attract the mist more than his right.
Aleksei began to concentrate on the fog itself. He thought, if only he could fling it away far enough, that he would be given some time before the fog returned. He ran two steps and swung his hands to the back of the alley. This time, the fog did not just drift. It rushed as a breeze, that caused paper and candy wrappers to rustle and roll along the alley cement. As the fog began to return, Aleksei kept his left hand away and raised his right hand, pleading for the white carpet to halt. His right hand immediately dried in a puff of vapor and he was shocked to see that the bank of mist before him stayed still. The fog stalled, as if it had struck an invisible wall. He relaxed a little and the fog drifted toward him, but remained close to the ground. His hands were almost dry.
He ran, got on his bike, and rode home.
In the back of his mind, he kept thinking, 'Stay away! Stay away!'
Aleksei lay across the overstuffed sofa, reading a comic book, when he heard Mashka’s car. He hoisted himself up, and tossed his choice reading material onto the coffee table, taking a second to glance for finger shaped water spots on the paper. He grinned when he saw it was dry. Snatching a pair of house slippers from a rack, he laid them in front of the door, ready to be worn. When the door opened, he was met by a bright yellow bouquet.
Mashka neatly kicked off her shoes, and nudged them beside her brother’s.
“So, how was your day?” she asked as she donned her slippers.
“Fine,” he replied, stepping out and closing the door behind her. “You had a guest.”
Aleksei sounded annoyed as he replied, “He said his name was Iosif Chekhov, your English professor. He just arrived and said something about a book he has for you.” He leaned closer, “He even wanted to stick around and wait for you, not that he could not just leave it here.” Taking the roses and the grocery bags, Aleksei carried them to the refrigerator.
He looked over his shoulder, “It would be nice if you told me when to expect guests, especially odd ones.”
“Prastite,” she apologised. “Wait--, odd how?”
“Odd in a nosey-neighbour kind of way. He even asked about the picture on the mantle. Then he said something about how Vladimir, you, and I are ‘gifted individuals’. I did finally succeed in politely dismissing him... after a cup of tea to keep civil.”
“I see…” Mashka stepped over to the coffee table and picked up the old book. She flipped through the pages half-heartedly, as she considered her troublesome situation. Chekhov was all too eager, after he had seen her leap. Unlike the rest of the observers, his expression had a strange expectancy behind the surprise. She considered telling her brother about her problem, but she did not know how to explain it. ‘Lyosha, I have been having trouble with my natural bodily functions working better than they should.’ She rolled her eyes at herself, and noticed the stack of papers beside her brother’s comic book. On closer examination, she groaned.
“Lyosha!” she cried.
“I’m right next to you!”
“A quarter of these answers are wrong!”
“Sounds about right.” he shrugged, and reached for the rest of the homework papers and his comic.
“You should at least try to hide the fact that you are not trying.”
“I work for a good enough grade to pass and avoid the stress. Besides, I have no desire to be a teacher’s pet, or attract attention on the school rankings.”
“And where did you learn this attitude?”
“Elementary school--, and before you say anything, for all my grades I have never once failed a test, quiz, or assessment. That’s a good enough record for almost any college.”
Mashka was at a loss. She knew what she wanted to say to him, but she had no idea how she would say it.
“And as for Chekhov,” he smoothly changed the subject, “are you certain that he is Russian? He’s nice, too nice, and very strange. He just-- feels like a foreigner.”
“No, but he is an English teacher, if that explains anything.”
Aleksei shook his head. “Well he grins like an Englishman.”
“I noticed,” Mashka replied, attempting to mimic the man’s grin.
Raising his eyebrow at Mashka’s pitiful attempt, Aleksei turned and began to ascend the stairs, taking the comic and his homework up with him. “Be sure to turn off the samovar before bed. Oh, and I had my shower earlier, so there should be hot water by now.”
Mashka nodded and glanced at the traditional tea heater. She felt the sudden need for caffeine, especially since she had to read that book. After pouring herself a cup of the dark tea she sat on the comfortable sofa. She opened the well-preserved binding and a small folded paper fell out.
She picked it up. On the surface was written ‘for Maryja’. She unfolded the note, and read the contents.
If anything over the next few days worries you, I may be able to help. It is difficult to be gifted.
Mashka’s breath caught in her throat, He knows! He knows about me, and he knows what’s wrong with me! But if he knows what is wrong, why be so vague? Is he trying to keep me a secret? From who? Suddenly she felt exposed, something was immensely wrong with this scenario. She immediately felt a connection between Chekhov's behaviour and the man at the flower shop.
I’m going to have to talk to him, find out what’s wrong, and get him to back off. The man made her feel uneasy. The best thing right now, would be getting him out of her life as soon as possible, and most importantly, keep Aleksei out of this.
For the next few hours, the two siblings were near silent. Both of them had strange experiences that day, and did not know how to explain them to one another. Aleksei was quite certain his sister would overreact, and Mashka thought her brother would think she was losing her mind.
After an unusually silent dinner, Mashka climbed the stairs to the water closet. She turned on the light out of habit, and was surprised that she had to wait for her eyes to adjust, only to wish that they had not. Staring back at her in the mirror were not her two blue eyes, but bright golden ones with black slits down the middle. She screamed and covered her face, as pain suddenly ripped through every fibre of her body.
Aleksei ran up the stairs and saw his sister lying curled on the floor. “Mashka! What happened? Why are you covering your face? Did you hurt yourself?”
He grabbed her hands away from her face so he could see. He was stunned when he saw the tearful golden eyes staring back at him. Once he recovered from his initial shock, he hesitantly reached forward and touched her face. After a few agonised moans, gradually her eyes began to change back, the colours fading to pale blue. They froze, neither of them making a sound. Mashka finally moved, and felt a cold, wet sensation, causing her to look at her sleeves. Where Aleksei had placed his hands, her shoulders were now soaked through. She stared up at him questioningly.
“I think we have some things to tell each other.” Aleksei suggested.
Dr. Marta Roth was flipping through the pages of her patients' test results. Nothing was urgent, just some slight malnourishment or elevated metals. None of her patients was in any trouble that a few pills and a diet could not fix. She was almost wishing something out of the ordinary would happen. She loved to tackle unusual problems, but the past month had been excruciatingly boring. Dr. Beck had all the interesting cases this month.
Nothing is going to happen around here. Maybe I should take a few days off. Unfortunately, her boredom did not last.
She felt a presence and looked up. She was startled to see a man standing in front of the desk. He was robust and bald, with cold grey eyes. “Who are you? How did you get in?” she demanded. “The door was locked.”
He raised his hand towards her and the air around him visibly shuddered.
“What did you do?” she choked out in astonishment.
“I made it so no one will hear you scream.” a cold smile crossed his face.
“You're part of the experiment!” Terror set in when she realised whom she was dealing with.
He smiled, revealing a perfect row of white teeth. “Yes I am,” he admitted, “Now let us play a game of twenty questions. The rules are: I ask a question and if you lie, I shoot you.” Seeing her terrified face he continued, “Do not worry, I won’t kill you. That is, at least until number twenty-one.”
In the hall, people walked by the room, none of them hearing a single, desperate scream.