He broke into a run, free of ropes, traffickers, boats, small spaces. The world was open to him. He reached out to the humid air, causing the invisible vapours to vibrate and swirl around vehicles, lampposts, pedestrians, letting him feel at one with everything around him with his renewed power. Despite his simple-minded elation, he had a grave feeling about the city. Every face that he passed caused him to wonder if he had seen them before. Was there a glint of malice hidden behind their melancholic expressions? He knew the Apparition would not have summoned him or pulled his sister and Evan into this for no reason. Perhaps the Association was attempting capture someone? But if that was the case, why would the girl in white send those who she had helped escape back into the Association's reach?
He abandoned his introspection as he entered the transit station and hopped on top of a bench. He scanned the people hurrying to their destinations until he noticed his sister’s bleached hair covered with a plain white headscarf.
He hopped down and walked over to her, waving. She noticed him and rose from her bench offering a hug to which he gladly obliged. “You're awake!" she choked out.
He extricated himself from the hug. “I am, has the girl--,” he paused when he noticed that his sister was wearing very dark, circular shades. “Going for the Ozzie look?”
“Ozzie, he’s a-,” he began, but decided other matters were more important. “…well he’s famous. Ask Evan about him… speaking of Evan?”
“He had to excuse-” Mashka replied meekly, “Oh never mind, there he is.”
Evan approached, “So we’re all here, now we just have to wait for the blond woman to show.” He patted Aleksei’s shoulder, “Glad you’re on your feet, are you feeling sore?”
“More from the bus ride than from anything else.”
“Who’s Ozzie?” Mashka asked Evan.
Evan brief look of confusion passed into a cheeky grin as he spoke to Aleksei, “You thought so too?”
“Yeah, it does look that way.” Aleksei agreed. “Why the shades?”
Mashka lowered the round shades revealing two blue eyes with narrow, catlike pupils.
“Your powers returned too!?” Aleksei whispered excitedly, his gaiety dying when her disturbed face reminded him that her powers were unwanted. “Mine are too…” he answered meekly.
“Not just that,” Mashka’s lips pulled back, revealing sharp eye-teeth. “My teeth and nails are also getting longer. And I can’t stop it.” she looked at her brother worriedly. “That girl in white did this to me. It seems no matter where we go, someone wants to use us.”
“Mashka, she has to be doing this for a reason, she helped me back in Russia. She just... doesn’t like to explain.”
“Explanations forthcoming or not, I’m still turning into--, something else.”
A child bumped into Mashka, gripping on to the hem of her skirt. “Did you see my mommy? She’s lost!” the little boy exclaimed.
Mashka hurriedly replaced the shades and turned to the small boy, dark hair and eyes with a freckled face and buttoned nose, he could not have been no more than four years of age.
“Hello,” she said, crouching to his level “What does your mother look like.”
A mature smile creased the babyish face. “Always the kind one, Mashka.”
Mashka’s face was stricken with surprise and both of her companions dropped their jaws in shock.
“If you keep your mouth open like that, someone is going to see your fangs.” the boy said with a grin. “Are you ready for my instructions?”
Mashka raised a trembling gloved hand towards the boy.
“I suggest you don’t do anything unusual, Mashka, because this boy is very much real, he is my temporary vessel by which I have graced you with my presence.”
“Why not just show up like you normally do?” Evan asked angrily.
“I have my reasons for approaching differently.” The boy answered dismissively. “Now as for my instructions, they are mainly for you.” the child pointed at Evan, speaking with perverse maturity and power. “It turns out that I have a little more time to spare before you must rescue the Jinn here. So in the meantime, I need you to seek your past, you have not yet attained the power displayed in your youth, and you never will unless you confront your past.”
Evan glowered. “Before I do anything, weren’t you going to fix what you did to Mashka?”
The boy raised an impudent eyebrow. “I could stop the process, however, I see it as unnecessary. That power is her own, she needs to either confront it or let it destroy her. But, as a token of trust,” The boy turned to Mashka and touched her hand.
The claws under her gloved hands receded into her fingers and her eyes returned to normal.
“I’ve strengthened the bonds you hold over your monster, but I caution you, it is only going to strive against its prison. You must deal with your shade on your own. Now,” the boy looked back, towards the doors of the building where a frantic woman's voice could be heard crying out for 'Dan!', “I must return this boy to his mother, before she makes a scene. Evan, go to where you left your heart. I’ll visit you all again when the time is right, so for now, good luck.”
The boy’s eyes cleared to those of an innocent child and hurried away, calling to his mother standing by the door who embraced him warmly.
Aleksei shuddered, his previous encounters with The Apparition had brought him a feeling of warmth and comfort, but this was disturbing, perverse even, particularly in that she-- it?-- was holding them all captive. He glanced at his sister who likewise wore a concerned and frightened expression. Silently he touched her shoulder but he jumped in surprise when she spoke up determinedly.
“Evan, let’s go,’” she ordered bitterly. “The faster we play this game the sooner life returns to normal.”
Evan nodded in agreement though somewhere deep in his chest he felt a pang of regret and sorrow as old memories scratched at his conscious.
The siblings noticed the silence that had settled over their friend. He remained silent the entire car ride through Edinburg and into the suburbs. It was as if their small sedan had become a tomb. Finally the vehicle came to a stop on a street lined by tightly-packed, identical Georgian era houses. Evan hunched heavily over the wheel and sighed.
“Are you alright?” Mashka asked.
Aleksei climbed forward from the back seat in concern. “Evan, you don’t look so good.”
After another heavy sigh he sat up. “It’s just-- it's been a long time since I’ve been here. I never wanted to come back. But this is where it all started, where I tried to forget, and where I began down the path that brought me to The Association.”
“And to us.” Mashka reminded him warmly. “What did you want to forget?”
Evan silently opened the door and stepped out.
The siblings followed him out of the car as he began walking down the side-walk. He stopped at one point and looked at another house across the street.
“You two,” he muttered softly. “I thought it would be better if you came with me, but I think I should go on alone from here. Just give me some time.”
“Whatever you need Evan,” Mashka replied. “Take your time.”
The siblings returned to the car, turning their heads to glance at their friend as he walked up the street and disappeared around the block.
“I’m getting a bad feeling about his past.” Aleksei muttered.
Mashka nodded and bit her lip, holding back the urge to dash out of the car and follow him.
Despite the nice weather, where the clouds were shredded by open blue sky, the brother and sister felt as though the world had darkened into gloom.
Rays of afternoon sun streamed down onto the city through gaps in the clouds, like transparent golden sheets hung out to dry in the breeze as though heaven was hanging its golden sheets out to dry over the northern land. Rush hour was underway, the streets were filled with cars, and pedestrians trod onward to their homes, only stopping to greet a friend or look up at the stunning sky.
Evan was just one of the many persons passing the old buildings, but unlike most that were happy to arrive at their homes, he only felt invisible weights be tied to him as he approached the street where he grew up. He arrived at the corner and looked down the twin rows of Georgian style houses. The first thing that caught his eye was an old bench next to a bus stop sign.
He walked up to it and brushed it carefully, noting the familiar iron frame and the old oak seat.
“This is where it started…” he mumbled.
Evan walked down the quiet street on his way home from school humming an old Rat Pack tune that played on the radio in his family’s living room. Despite it being the early eighties, his family tuned into the same music his grandparents did when they lived in that same old house which was inundated with many generations of MacIntyre history.
A quiet sob disrupted his rhythm and he looked around the darkening road, not seeing anything. He shrugged and kept walking, passing it off as city noise. But then he heard it again. It was from somewhere up ahead. He ran forward and noticed a small girl lying on an old bench.
“Hello? Is something wrong?” He asked between panting, his eyes worried behind the glare of the street lamp on his spectacles.
The girl sat up and sniffed, brushing back her chestnut hair. She nodded, “My ankle, I twisted it. And I can’t walk the rest of the way home.” More tears started to roll from her brown eyes as she cried like the world was tumbling down.
Evan sighed irritably, he never did like crybabies. On his second glance though, he realised who she was. “Hey, I recognize you, we wait at the same bus stop, right?”
“Uh huh,” she sniffed again, “I think so.”
“So your house must be around here.” Evan surmised. “Couldn’t you just hop there?”
The girl shot a shocked and disapproving glare at him. “You expect me to hop a full block! What if I fell, Evan MacIntyre?”
“Eh!” he stepped back in surprise when she used his name.
Realising she had his full attention she introduced herself, “My name’s Evelyn. I live in the house across the street. Our mothers are friends.”
Evan heard the undertone of her words, the classic if-you-don’t-help-me-somehow-my-mom-will-tell-your-mom threat.
He scratched the back of his head in surrender. “Well, then I know where to go, I could get help but that wouldn’t work. You’d be all alone.” He put on a tough, indifferent face. “So, would you be fine with a piggy back?”
“Umm,” she pondered a moment, sizing him up, “yes.”
The swarthy boy bent down and helped her climb on his back. He rose, his legs shifting unstably a moment before finding his balance. “Are you comfortable?”
“Yes.” she hid her face in the back of his neck in embarrassment. “I hope I’m not too heavy.”
“Not a problem.” he grinned. “You’re as light as a feather.”
She blushed even more as the statement turned into a compliment in her head.
He carried her up the street in silence until the two arrived at her house. Evan carefully walked up the porch stairs to the door. “You’ll need to knock on the door for me.”
“Oh! Ok.” she reached forward and knocked.
“Coming!” The door opened revealing Mrs. Douglas, Evelyn’s mother. “Oh my! What happened?” She exclaimed as she let them in.
“I sprained my ankle. But Evan carried me home.” Evelyn explained as Evan let her climb off onto the couch.
“Oh dearie, I was about to come looking for you!” she exclaimed showering affection on her daughter. Then she turned to Evan and gave him a tight hug. Thank you so much!” After the tight embrace, she stood back and examined him. He pushed up his spectacles nervously.
Mrs. Douglas finally spoke, “You’re the MacIntyre boy, right? You’re two grades above Evelyn if I remember.”
“Yes ma’am.” he affirmed.
“Well you’re a fine young man. Thank you so very much for helping our Evelyn.”
The embarrassed boy he excused himself, “I had best head home for dinner.” He looked over to Evelyn and waved, “See you tomorrow.”
And that was how their friendship began. Every morning, Evan would wait for Evelyn at the fence and they would walk to the bus stop together. They began talking about all sorts of topics. The two of them found they had a lot in common, books, TV shows, music, and pastimes. And at the end of the day they would walk up to their houses again. Had she not sprained her ankle that fateful evening they would have likely never even acknowledged each other outside of being children living on the same block.
Some evenings they would stay in the living room of one of their homes and play chess, checkers, or Parcheesi depending on what caught their fancy.
Evan was happy to have found a friend like her. He had other friends, but not the same as Evelyn. Something about her seemed like she found every day so precious and she remembered even the tiniest details of what he said, to both his surprise and chagrin.