I’ve been hiding out for twenty three days. I’ve wrapped and rewrapped the bandage around my waist praying my ribs are bruised and not broken. Today I bought more ramen in packs of ten and camped out in the motel eating the chicken flavored noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m aggravated that I can’t stop crying. I try to sleep but he’s always in my dreams. Once I close my eyes every attempt to forget who I am comes roaring back like waves before a storm.
In the brightness of day I can remember it as a fairytale, detach myself like it was someone else he’d sat next to that first day eating an ice cream cone and an apple, telling me I was beautiful. That we were forever.
At least it wasn’t just me. He’d had Sara fooled too. She watched the two of us after quarantine training, sitting to hear from the elders, eating lunch outside in the sunshine, arm and arm, whispering secrets, laughing, trusting – she would have warned me if she’d known. She was the only person left to trust.
It was easier to think about Sara even though I waited everyday for her to come. To find me and drag me back. At night the sound of cars, people in the hallway fumbling with their motel keycards, the muted tumble of the ice machine all bruised the air like an omen. I kept the shades closed. The volume on the TV low. I made a mental checklist of the redeemable points; I was alive, there was still money left, noodles in colorful wrappers stacked next to the TV, the air conditioning worked today. That was okay until I blinked and saw his face, until the memory of his smile pushed against any safe space I tried to build. Then the tears found room all over again.
I kicked off my shoes sending them flying towards the wall. I would not cry. I would do something. Figure something out. I would make a plan, and it would have to be soon, very soon. It had been twenty three days. My connection to the others was still too strong.
Sara would be coming.
She found me on the twenty fourth day. I didn’t expect her to be so angry. Her voice carried evenly as she walked past me into the small room.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing? You’re hiding?!” She held her arms open as I closed the door. I stepped into her embrace my mouth nuzzled against her shoulder.
“Nice to see you too Sara.”
We sat on the edge of the unmade bed. Motherly concern tinted her young face. “Everyone knows how hard this is for you Peanut,” I smiled at her pet name for me while she continued, “but you can’t run away. Even if you manage to believe you’re no longer a part of it he will find you, and because you are unprepared you will lose.”
I rubbed my temples, eyes closing against her words. “I know this Sara, I know but did you really expect me to watch Josh marked Eirum at his naming – HIS NAMING! – plus realize we are the two Kachina, and then just go back to Essex and pretend it didn’t affect me. That it was all part of the plan?”
“Sweetheart we knew there would be,” she searched for the right words, “an adjustment. No one thought you would head right back to the Taram house, but we also didn’t think you would seriously try and run away.”
I paced in circles around the small room. Sara stared at me from the bed. It was still too easy to remember when being a Taram was the most important thing. The early summer morning when on the last day of training I’d been officially inducted, given my name. It was the same day Josh had gotten his. We’d stood in the center of the elders minutes apart being welcomed by the Taram surrounding us. It was the day I trusted him the most and the day it all came tumbling down.
He betrayed me and I still didn’t know why, couldn’t understand what happened. The only clear thing was the one I needed to run from. I was Taram Kachina, the fabled chosen who would fight the last battle, and with Josh choosing Eirum and also being Kachina, I would be fighting him.
To the death.
I stopped pacing and stood by the window resting my forehead on the cool glass. “I’m angry Sara, hurt. This is too hard. I can’t fight him. You were there. I was useless, worse than an untrained.”
“You were shocked and overwhelmed.”
“What do you think I am now!”
The air was heavy with our silence. I stared at the one car pulling out of the deserted parking lot. The bed squeaked as she stretched to recline against the stack of meager pillows.
“So what is your plan?”
I spoke without moving, my breath leaving small fog circles on the window. “My plan is to find a rogue, get clean and pretend none of this ever happened.”
She sighed. “Even if you find a rogue who’s willing it won’t help. You can’t be clean.”
“What are you talking about Sara?” I said. “I’ve seen it hundreds of times, all the newbies who want out get out.”
Her head shook once resolutely. “You are not them. Newbies are bleached because being in the world aware of the Taram and Eirum will upset the balance. You will not be cleansed for the same reason. There will be only one of you ever, and only one of him. There will be one final battle. Cleansing you would prevent that. There is not a rogue in this universe with the power to change it.”
I turned from the window. “Dammit Sara then I’ll just keep running!”
“Run from who Peanut?” Her voice was soft. “All of the Taram can sense you, and Josh will find you. Right now he grows stronger with the Ahali. Anyone choosing to switch their mark will call you to a riot. You’ll be unable to fight that call. None of the cloaked can especially not you. Not now.”
I slid down to the floor, my shirt billowing with frosty air from the conditioning vent. The idea of being called to another riot pulled my stomach tight. I used to love them. The fighting had always been my favorite part, but it would never be that way again. Plus I had no idea what was happening to him. The teachings said the Kachina would be able to absorb the Ahali but no one knew how it would affect a person. What it would do. All souls release Ahali when they’re marked but until now, until the Kachina had been chosen, no one had absorbed it. No one had been able to.
Sara was right. He’d always been frustratingly determined and too damned curious for his own good. He’d be marking souls as quickly as he could, sucking in as much Ahali as he could content to deal with the consequences, if there were any, later.
Even in my own head this whole thing sounded ridiculous. It seemed impossible my life had led to this moment, this no name motel in a no name town with everything turned completely upside down. In joining them I’d thought I’d made a decision to affect the world. It seems now it wasn’t even my decision to make. If I was Kachina, if Sara was right then I was destined to end up here. Destined to fight Josh. Destined to be really pissed off about it. I ran my sweaty palms against the top of my jeans.
“I don’t know what to do. Tell me what I’m supposed to do. How I’m supposed to act? If you’re right then he’s already stronger than me.” I pushed up from the floor grabbing my coat forcing it over my shoulders. Sara’s eyes followed as I packed my small bag heading for the door. The corners of her mouth wilted.
“Where are you going?”
Her question solidified the fact that I had nowhere to go. My fingers curled around the doorknob. “I didn’t sign up for this. It’s not fair to ask me to pay this price, it’s not.” I’d whispered but I knew she’d heard. I walked out into the colorless mid afternoon closing the door behind me. She didn’t follow.