Océane absentmindedly dipped her tiny brush into black paint. She always allowed her mind to wander when she was in art class. First day at school and she was securely one of the top students, so she did not feel a need to focus too hard. For her, art was something that flowed from a relaxed mind. She was thinking about the ballerinas she had seen that morning. The orchestral piece they were dancing to played through her head. Her brush danced to the music with a grace that her feet could never replicate.
She finally glanced at her painting after applying a bright red streak to the centre. Her entranced smile faded as she shuddered up and down her spine. She stared agasp at the artwork before her. It was the woman from her dreams, face elongated in a silent gasp and a red river flowing from between her breasts. Océane grabbed her mouth to keep herself from screaming. However, the muffled noise still caught the other students’ attention.
She found herself the focus of all eyes. She noticed Professor Evreux approach. She stood quickly and ripped off of the paper, folding it inwards to conceal the image.
“Pa-, pardon!” she exclaimed forcing a shuddering smile, her voice catching.
“Is something the matter, mademoiselle?” the teacher asked. “The picture doesn’t have to be perfect!” He pressed up his glasses as a look of concern clouded his eyes.
“I’m not feeling well, Professeur Evreux. That‘s all,” she said, “May I be excused?”
“You may, but might I see the artwork?” he asked extending his hand, about to grab the paper.
“Non!” she said a little too forcefully, taking a step back, “I mean, I need to go, now.” She hurried out of the room leaving the teacher and remaining students perplexed.
Hurrying to the restroom she took one more look at the ruined, grotesque image before shoving it into the can. Looking at her shaking, paint-stained hands she wondered why she would draw such a thing. She hurried to the sink, and washed, to cleanse herself of the dark paints which ran like blood from her fingers. She looked up into the mirror at her distraught face.
“I’m a mess.” she stated to her reflection. “First day, and people must think I’m a lunatic and I can't blame them.”
She touched the bags under her eyes, and the frowning corner of her lips. Her face clean of makeup, her hair pulled back in a simple ponytail, showing how little time or care she put into her appearance.
Too long she tarried in front of the mirror. Her reflection morphed into that of a flaxen haired girl, of gentle features, and pitying face.
“Leave me alone!" she demanded, “You were there for me when I was little. But I’m grown up now, and I don’t need you anymore!” she cried, her voice rising to a scream.
The reflection silently looked back, her expression hurt, but her eyes tender, reminding Océane of their mutual past. For years, before the nightmares, before the unknown trauma which tormented her heart, as long as she could remember, that blonde always haunted her dreams and appeared on every reflection as her eternal companion. As a little girl the imaginary worlds always made her feel both surrounded and all alone, but the ever-present poltergeist seemed like an anchor.
As the years past, the two of them no longer appeared in reflections side by side, but gradually overlapped until Océane vanished, and there was only the other girl. The transformation unsettled her to the core.
She gripped the counter, glaring at her altered reflection. 'I probably need to see that therapist,'
Her parents sometimes talked about her ‘condition’ when they thought she could not hear. They knew about the nightmares, but she had hidden the fact that she was seeing things when awake. Over the years she had learned to keep what she saw to herself. But now it was getting too strange. She could see more intimate thoughts than she could as a naïve girl, and this young woman was always there watching with that sympathetic expression.
A look of determination ultimately conquered Océane’s face. “I can fight this! I’ve done this for years,” she resolved at the reflection, “You just watch, I can do this myself— you don’t exist! It’s always been…” her eyes moistened at the stinging truth, “…just me.”
Océane limped out of the bathroom. Back on the mirror the blonde smiled gently and vanished.
In the hall Océane made her way back to the classroom. As she went, she saw a stampede of elephants cross her path and one of the shy girls giving a kiss to imaginary Antoine, but she ignored them, passing through their transparent forms, like the dozens of second-hand daydreams she saw every day.
She might have been trapped in her dreary introspection had it not been for an announcement over intercom, calling the students to the auditorium for the midday special session.
Océane met Janine in the hall, silently took hold of her hand and walked with her. Janine simply smiled back, unaware of her friend’s sadness. Océane leaned her head on her friend’s shoulder with a bump and asked, “What’s this all about?” she asked, nodding towards the crowd of students they followed.
“They talked about it at orientation yesterday.” Her friend replied, giving an affectionate bump back.
“I wasn’t listening.” Océane mumbled in guilt.
Janine shook her head disapprovingly and answered, “Monthly career day, we are seniors now, we must find out what to do before graduation.”
Océane chuckled discretely, “Didn’t we do this back in elementary?” She coughed and mimicked a high-pitched school girl voice, “‘When I grow up I’m going to be the president's wife!’ Wasn’t that what you said?”
Janine decided to ignore the jibe and answer the initial inquiry, “Yeah I know, but look, they have guests from different job fields up there.” Janine pointed, then her face crinkled up. “Wait… Océane, how did you know that was what I wanted to be in elementary? We met in middle-school.”
Océane’s heart stopped for a moment as she realised her slip. “I made a guess, I really do know you too well!” she giggled, trying to hide her mistake.
Up in front of all the assembly of seniors, a row of tables had been set up and twelve people were sitting at them, each one with a label denoting their particular industry.
The principle stood up and introduced all of them. “Now, études, please give welcome to our guests.”
The students respectfully tipped their heads in unison and said, “Bonjour!”
“Bon,” the principle nodded, “now each of our guests will give short lecture and afterwards you may come to one of their tables to receive more information on their particular field. If one interests you, they have opportunities for two-week internships.”
And so the lectures began. They were short, about four minutes each, and they explained basic information and general education requirements for the job and how rewarding the career was.
Océane was not particularly listening. She honestly lacked interest in becoming a doctor, secretary, lawyer or teacher. She was content to work a small job at a café, live in a little apartment, and keep to herself until she found her likely non-existent prince charming. A life of little consequence was a good one in her opinion; it offered peace and freedom for other pursuits, like art.
The only special talent she had was art, and she did not want to seek such an unstable career for something she did for fun. There was only one presumptuous job that had ever interested her, and that had been out of her reach for eight long years now.
The next speaker was a tall man in his twenties with black hair and groomed sideburns. He fumbled nervously as he put on his reading glasses.
“Bonrowr,” he lisped, a momentary look of horror appeared on his face, “Ah, I mean Bonjour,” he chuckled nervously at the critical stares of the students, his throat dry. “My name is Inspecteur Michel Porter, I am from the local police department and I am here to—ah—speak on law enforcement as a potential career.”
Océane turned her attention over to the floor where several puppies were playing with one another’s tails. She looked around at the faces near her and saw a normally grim looking girl smiling wistfully.
'I never took her for animal lover,' Océane mused, though she honestly appreciated this daydream more than most of the others she would see.
“Ah, you have a question young lady?” the Lieutenant asked, directing his eyes at her.
She looked both sides of her the pointed at herself questioningly, “Me?”
“Y-you raised your hand when I asked for questions.” he replied, his nervousness evident.
To her surprise her hand was still very much in its raised position. She lowered it quickly and thought furiously about what to say. She blurted out what first came to her mind, “Would I be able to research old cases?”
“Oh yes,” he said, “We have computer and hardcopy databases. Why do you ask?”
Images of the dead woman in the alley popped into her mind. “Um,” she paused, she did not know what to say. What did she want to know?
Inspecteur Porter waited for the girl to continue, but she remained struck in silence. “We can talk more after the lectures,” he suggested.
“Oui, merci beaucoup.” Océane replied.
The next lecturer stood and began his pitch about some sort of financial career that Océane cared not to remember as she was too busy blushing, wondering why she had not been able to say anything. The image from her dreams was still stuck in her head.
“What was that about?” Janine asked her, “I never knew you were interested in law enforcement.”
“I-I’m not!” Océane replied, “I just raised my hand. I don’t know why,” She sighed regretfully, “I guess I have to talk to him afterwards.”
“You should look into it.” Janine suggested. “Raising your hand out of nowhere, it might be a sign. There’s no harm in doing a little extracurricular studies. They add a little to your score at graduation.”
Océane shrugged, “I suppose.”
When the last lecturer finished, Océane walked up to the table where the inspecteur was nervously stacking his papers and straightening his tie.
“Bonjour,” she said offering her hand.
“Bonjour,” he replied, taking her hand and shaking.
“Je suis désolé for that awkward silence back there.” she said, forcing herself to keep polite eye contact.
“Hein?” he exclaimed, “Oh no problem. I’m also nervous about speaking in front of crowds. Are you interested in a career in law enforcement?”
“Non,” she replied flatly.
His expression faltered and she was inwardly appalled at her rudeness.
“Are there tours of the police station?” she asked encouragingly.
“Yes, but the programme is a little more than that. I can show you around the police station and you can see how we do our daily work. You can learn how to do various jobs such as finger printing and crime scene management. It’s a low level internship, but it looks like you’re the only one remotely interested.” He said with a slight forlorn tone.
She smiled. “So when does the internship start?”
“Tomorrow after school if you like, since it is just you, there’s not a lot of preparation I have to do.” he replied, removing his reading glasses. “This slip of paper, once you fill it out, will let you into the police station and they will give you a student pass. The course runs about three weeks, but you can continue it as an extracurricular activity longer if you change your mind and wish to pursue a career.”
She accepted the offered slip, “Merci beaucoup, inspecteur, would you be there tomorrow?”
“Oui, I‘m usually in the office. I‘m not a field detective at the moment, our precinct goes on rotation.”
“À bientôt then.” she said, shaking his hand.
Océane joined up with her friend as they returned to classes, considering the possibilities that had quite forcefully presented themselves.
Aleksei opened his eyes due to a strange vibrating sensation against his abdomen. He lay perplexed until it finally dawned on him. It was his cell phone. To his shock his captors had not taken it. But since he had been wearing coveralls and he had placed the phone in an inner pocket below his chest, they may have searched his side pockets and neglected the rest of him. He tried to reach for it and was painfully reminded that his wrists were tied behind him. The phone kept buzzing. He looked around for some way to retrieve the phone from his pocket.
To his right, there were low metal shelves. He scooted over moving as far as the ropes would allow him. He presses himself against the shelf and slid against it, hoping to use it to push the phone out of his pocket. The first few tries were failures but finally the phone started to move towards the pocket opening. He continued to scrape against the spot until the phone fell out onto the floor with a clang.
Unfortunately it landed wrong, somehow causing the ring volume to turn up, thus it no longer buzzed but began to ring incessantly. Aleksei squirmed in horror trying to get at it with anything, his legs, his feet, his teeth, anything to stop the noise. He heard a commotion from the kitchen and angry voices were getting louder.
The door swung open to show one the men who had put Aleksei in that room, and one of the others from on deck.
Aleksei winced, expecting to be hit. However the men ignored him, one of them grabbing the cell phone and berating the other for what Aleksei could assume a bad pat down job.
The scolded man snatched the phone and threw it on the floor, then stomped on it as he replied defensively. The phone made a dying gasp and Aleksei bemoaned inwardly the loss of the mp3 tracks, realising how shallow such a concern was.
The two men left and Aleksei could hear their arguing fade as they departed. He felt it odd how they had handled him. He had been captured before; this was not how a freshly caught captive was treated. It was odd in how they looked at him as if he was not even there. It was like he was a thing instead of a person. He shivered as he felt something twist in the pit of his stomach. Something was off.
But he knew one thing, he needed to get out. He tried yanking his body multiple ways to no avail except spraining his wrist.
Aleksei looked up in shock when he heard his real name. In front of him was the blonde girl in the white dress that had helped on that dark night in the woods outside Moscow. “You came to help!” he exclaimed quietly.
“I came to talk.”
“Could you untie me instead?”
“You are going to have to get out yourself.” she declared flatly. “But that is not what I came to talk about. I have a little favour, I need you to go to Edinburgh for me and find a man there. When you arrive in the city, I will tell you more.”
Aleksei stared at her in disbelief. “Listen, Angel, I’m kind of in a bit of trouble right now. So if you could help me out, I can go to Edinburgh!”
“Well I suppose it is too bad for you, because I’m no angel,” she replied grinning, causing her violet eyes to twinkle. “Besides, I did not bring my physical body with me, so even if I wanted to help, I really could not.”
Aleksei bit his lip in irritation. “Alright miss whatever-you-are, I do owe you one, and I really do need to pay you back, but right now, if you could at least tell me how I could escape--”
“You’ll think of something,” she replied waving aside his concern, “Then you will go to Edinburgh.”
Aleksei’s chagrined expression made her smile. “Why aren’t you using your ability? There‘s plenty of vapour in the air. Use it!”
“But I can’t!” Aleksei countered. “I haven’t been able to since March.”
“Really?” she questioned, then her eyes widened. “I see,” she mumbled mysteriously, “So it’s true, the Sixth Advent.”
Aleksei looked at her in confusion.
“Well, it’s only natural that you would lose your abilities temporarily, but this long? That’s strange. Last time you used your powers; did you happen to meet a Repha?” She asked, her face telling him she already knew answer.
Aleksei did not see how the conversation was relevant. “I don’t really remember much from that time on the docks.”
She stared into his eyes very intensely, as if he had vanished and she was examining a spot on the wall behind him.
He looked back curiously.
“That should fix it… for now.” she said cautiously.
“Wha-?” He stopped his question when he felt a cold sensation on his hands. Water was condensing on them. He looked back to make sure. Drips were falling from his fingertips in steady streams. “How did you-?” he looked back up to see the opposite wall of the pantry, the blonde girl was nowhere to be seen.
“Ok,” he muttered, “Let’s try this again.”
He stretched his fingers out and the water vaporised in a small cloud behind him. Then twirling his index finger he tried to get the vapour into an intense spin. The cloud concentrated into a small, white, hissing mass. He squinted his eyes and beckoned the white ball towards the ropes around his hands. Neat cuts appeared on his fingers from the sharp blades of fog causing Aleksei to bite his lip in pain. However, he also felt the newly loosed fibres scratching his wrist.
“Well, that’s a start.” he sighed, and leaned forward. Then he realised that there was a short strand of rope that connected him to the support.
'I only have to slice through that, he thought. But I’m going to have to improve my aim if I don’t want to bleed to death. This is not the time to have to learn all over again, he grumbled.'