The Impossibility of Tomorrow
In 1812, there was an earthquake in the unlikely location of New Madrid, Missouri. It was so violent and ruptured the ground with such force that the Mississippi River temporarily ran backward. Cyrus and I were living in Manhattan at the time, and I remember what he said to me as we strolled through the market: “It takes an earthquake to alter the course of a river. What does it take to change the course of a life?”
I wish I didn’t know how easily it is done. I wish I didn’t know that sometimes, a life pivots from its intended path in the wake of the tiniest thing.
Sometimes all it takes is one word.
It can be uttered by a platinum-haired boy as he pulls out a vial of potion dangling on a silver chain. Or delivered the modern way, electronically, the brightly backlit screen of a cell phone belying the dark message it displays.
I sink to my knees on the musty, stained carpet of Cyrus’s motel room. Kailey Morgan’s iPhone lies in front of me, unharmed from when I dropped it on the carpet. I want to smash that stupid phone. But I don’t. I pick it up, coaxing it back to life with trembling fingers, and stare blankly at the Words with Friends screen, as the last droplets of hope evaporate from my soul.
It’s still there. Alchemy. The word was played on Noah Vander’s phone. It must have been typed with Noah’s fingers. But it couldn’t have come from Noah. Only one person in Berkeley knows what that word truly means.
My longest companion, my greatest enemy, who would cage me like a bird. Who used alchemy to make me what I am now: an Incarnate, a wandering soul who takes up residence in human bodies. When I ran away from the coven several weeks ago, it was with one vow in my heart: that I would never again take another life. I was ready to die. I only
took sixteen-year-old Kailey Morgan’s body by mistake, when her car crashed right in front of me, a fiery display of gasoline and cracked glass.
I look upward, at the bare bulb that illuminates the motel room, suddenly feeling exposed. I shove the phone in my pocket and dart to the light switch, flipping it off. The room disappears into a velvety, choking darkness. I blink, waiting for my eyes to adjust.
I don’t think Cyrus will kill me for leaving him. In his own sick, twisted way, he loves me too much for that. But one way or another, he’ll make me pay. He’s already made me pay by taking Noah.
A volcano of pain erupts in my heart. A sob rises from deep inside me as I picture Noah’s beautiful face, his strong jaw, his smiling lapis-lazuli eyes as he holds up his camera, his hand pushing his reckless crow-colored hair out of the way. The next time I see him, his face will be transformed by Cyrus’s soul, a hideous change that will be invisible to everyone except me. The thought of Cyrus inside of Noah’s body, of Noah’s soul shoved out into an uncaring foggy night, is almost unbearable.
A loud peal of laughter sounds from outside the room, from the direction of the parking lot, followed by a heavy footstep on the stair. My heart starts to thud. Whoever’s
making those footfalls is big—much bigger than me. And suddenly I realize that the message on Kailey’s phone means so much more than Noah’s death.
It means Cyrus knows who I am. And even worse, where I am. He’s probably right outside, waiting for me to emerge.
The image of the rabbits we dissected in Cyrus’s biology class flits through my mind. A rabbit is a prey animal, he’d said while posing as a substitute teacher named Mr. Shaw. And its best chance at survival is to outrun its hunter. Sometimes escape is the best defense, better than any teeth or claws.
But I have been running for way too long. I have lost this game, and it’s time to face him. My pulse hammers in my ears as I turn the knob and open the door. A blast of damp air meets me.
But the man on the stairs isn’t Cyrus. He’s tall and thin, with deep brown skin and a neatly trimmed goatee. He’s carrying a woman, whose head is tipped back. She’s giggling softly.
He looks up at me. “Well, hello there,” he says, somewhat gallantly, though he’s slurring his words. The woman laughs louder.
“Put me down,” she demands. “I’m too heavy for you.”
“Yeah, right,” he answers, shifting her weight. “You’re drunk, baby. You’ll fall down these stairs.” He leans over and kisses her cheek.
“We just got married!” the woman exclaims to me, punctuating her statement with a small hiccup. “We’re a family now!”
At the word family, a coldness that has nothing to do with the night’s mist settles upon me. A slow realization, an icy chill that hisses as it laps in my veins. It’s not just Noah who was in danger. And not just me, either.
Kailey’s family, who I’ve come to love, is utterly defenseless against Cyrus. Her mother, her father. Her brother Bryan, who I think of as my own. Cyrus could be at their house, right now.
I squeeze past the couple on the stairs and sprint to the Dumpster, where I’d stashed Bryan’s bike earlier. The woman calls after me. “Hey! Aren’t you going to congratulate us?”
“Congratulations!” I call, tears pooling in my eyes as I hoist myself onto the bike. “Hold on tight to each other. While you can,” I add under my breath. All my time on Earth has shown me that love is a rare and fleeting thing.