Saturday, September 26, 2015

Crossed Off: Death Knell (Part XII)

Starla soon learned that her confidant, Cam’s student Quang Phan, had his own ability. He was the final piece of the puzzle; or rather, he was the last person with abilities she would have the pleasure of meeting. He was born with this innate understanding of how things were measured. He could instantly tell the distance between two objects, their weight, and just about anything else about them that could be quantified. He and Starla grew close over the months. Even though he was several years her junior, she felt a bond to him. He became her little baby brother. The Vietnamese education system was a little different than the Usonian one, but he was currently in the equivalent of primary school. Because of his ability, he was exceptionally good at math, but excelled in most of his classes. He struggled a bit with history, and so Cam was devoting extra time to tutor him. Starla would help as well, and even secretly taught the rest of the classes on rare occasions to give Cam’s mind a break.
She wasn’t spending every second of her time in Vietnam, however. She continued to visit her other confidants, but they were more difficult than Cam. While she basically pretended like nothing was wrong, the others pitied her and tried to give her encouragement. That was the last thing she wanted. Now that he lived closer, Sendoa visited her and Alec in person. The rest of her extended family came down from South Carolina to visit her as well. They had trouble understanding the extent of her condition, and treated her like she was in a coma; that is, they acted like they weren’t sure whether she could even hear them. And this was funny because, unlike regular people with Locked-in syndrome, sometimes she couldn’t, because she was thousands of miles away at the time. Little by little, however, the visits ended. People moved on with their lives and left Starla and her family alone.
Each time one of her friends or family members left, she crossed them off her mental list of greatest hits. This gave her the idea to do the same with her confidants abroad, and everyone who knew about her ability, including Ling, René, and Máire, even though she didn’t get the chance to know them very well. Karam managed to track down Don and his friends in Finland, so that was a nice touch. After she was done, she intended to never see them again. Though she had given up trying to kill herself, she still considered all of this to be the end. She would have to stop butting in on Cam’s life sooner or later. As they say, as fate would have it, she would be forced into this decision sooner.
She was taking in a play with Cam and her colleagues when she felt something she had not experienced before. It wasn’t so much of a feeling as it was a sound. This low-pitched hum rang in her ears, and coaxed her into returning to her body. Once she had, she discovered that she was not alone. Though she was on the floor, and turned toward the darkness under her bed, she could sense two people in the room with her. “Don’t make me do this,” one pleaded to the other.
“I’m sick of caring what other people want or need,” the one further away from her said back. Though Starla had never met anyone who drank alcohol, this man sounded about like the actors in the anti-drug videos she watched in health class.
“She’s just a girl. She doesn’t deserve this.”
“She can’t move. What does it matter?”
“She can’t move because of her ability,” the first man explained. “I can tell you this much, but I can’t tell you why.”
“Again, what do I care?”
“Because, you idiot, if you take her ability, it could happen to you.”
“Then you should have no problem with me giving it a shot.”
“I beg of you, don’t do this. And don’t make me be a part of it.”
“You’re the only way,” the leader said. “And I’m tired of your complaints, Ambrose. You want to do this,” he ordered.
“I want to do this,” Ambrose repeated in a monotone voice. But then he leaned down to Starla and whispered, “I’m sorry.” This was more than just threats by domination. This was mind control. The man in charge had an ability, and either this Ambrose fellow was a scientist, or he had one as well. For some reason, he could give other people abilities, but the conversation implied that this was not a good thing for the original user.
And then it was over. She was dead. She didn’t feel pain, and she didn’t go anywhere. For a second or two, all she could see was gray. Out of the corner of her eye was some kind of pristine white desk, but then she was back in her room, looking down at her now dead body. All around her was indigo, just like when she first met the spirit-walker, Don in Greece. Though she had seen this indigo world before, it instantly felt different. She was wearing a gray tunic. She felt better rested than she had in her entire life, but she also felt more vulnerable, like the slightest encounter with a mildly sharp object would pierce her skin and drain her of all her blood. She could also feel the seconds go by, to the same accuracy that Quang seemed to be able to.
Ambrose moved over to his master and did something with his hands to give him Starla’s ability. The master smiled under his own accomplishment. He gave the impression that he had experienced this before, and that it was amazingly refreshing. But then his face changed. He looked like he had just been drugged, and was having trouble keeping his eyelids open. Perhaps it was the alcohol. “What...?” he started to ask. “What did you do to me?”
“I did what you asked,” Ambrose said with no hint of irony. “Starla’s ability is now running through your blood. You should be able to jump to any body you wish within hours, maybe days.”
“No,” the master argued. “This is different. It’s different than last time.” His knees buckled and he had to catch himself on the corner of Starla’s dresser.
Ambrose made no attempt to help him. “I honestly don’t know what’s happening. But I warned you that her ability would be dangerous. We just don’t know enough about it. With time, I might have been able to find a way to do this without killing, or stop whatever it is that’s happening to you right now.”
You’re going to help me,” the master barked at him as he slipped to the floor.
Ambrose reached down and tried to help the master up, but was struggling. He was now able to fight the compulsion. “Your control is wearing off. I don’t have to do what you say anymore.”
“This was your plan. You did this!” the master screamed.
“I’m telling you that I didn’t.”
And then the master used the last of his power to let out one final order. Before dropping his lids completely and drifting off to wherever he was going, he said to Ambrose, “you’re crazy if you think I’m going to believe that you didn’t do this on purpose!
Unfortunately, Ambrose did believe such a thing, and so he went crazy. He yelled at the top of his lungs for a few seconds before slinking into the opposite corner of the room and rocking back and forth. Starla could do nothing but watch as her parents burst into the room, first looking at the sleeping master, and then over to the literally insane Ambrose, and then finally to their daughter’s body. Her father started to cry out from agonizing loss. Her mother dove down to Starla and frantically searched for a pulse, of course coming up empty.
It was done, and so Starla walked away, not wanting to see her family in this condition. She laughed to herself, but then remembered that she was a ghost, and no one could hear her, so she laughed as loud as she could. For it was then that she realized she had spent so much time crossing her friends off of that mental list, but she had now hit that final entry. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her imaginary list. With the other hand, she mimed the checkmark next to her own name. Then nothing happened. There was no bright light inviting her to heaven, nor a reaper man to pull her away. She could find no signs directing her to “cross over”. No. She just remained there. Alone. As a ghost. Her story was not quite finished.

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