We smell the smoke before we feel the heat of the flames. Damien shakes me, screaming as loud as he can.
“Wake up, Jess! They’ve found us!”
Are there any words you hear that can jolt you back to your senses no matter how battered you feel?
They’ve found us are mine.
“You have to get us out of here, Jess.”
I can only stare up at him in frustration. This is the third time this week I’ve had to rescue us.
Damien lifts me up. I wrap my arms around him as tight as I can and close my eyes. The vibration starts as a low hum throughout my body, slowly expanding outward until it shields us completely. After a few seconds, I open my eyes. We’re now right beyond the treeline at the edge of our camp. Damien releases me and exhales the deep breath he’d been holding inside.
“That was close,” he says.
“It always is.”
We watch as they dance around our temporary home, now fully engulfed in flames. The small settlement had been abandoned when we found it a week ago.
“Just bandits?” Damien asks.
“Probably. Still dangerous. We should get moving.” I turn and retreat into the woods. Damien sidles up next to me, a look of worry crossing his face.
“You don’t look very good,” Damien says.
“Gee, thanks.” I know I don’t look good. I don’t feel good either. Three times in one week really take the energy out of you.
“You know I don’t mean it that way,” he says, throwing an arm around me. “I worry about you is all.” He pulls me in and kisses me lightly on the forehead.
“You should,” I say. “We keep getting into scenarios where I have to use this… power or whatever it is even though we know nothing about it. I’m weak, Damien. We have to be more careful.”
We continue on in silence. We’ve been on the run for months. After discovering what I could do, people came for me. I didn’t know who they were, but I knew I didn’t want to end up with them. Damien took me away. He saved me.
“I’m sorry,” I start, but before I can go on, a man steps in our path. We turn to run, but three more step out of the trees. We’re surrounded.
“That was quite a trick you pulled,” he says. “Let me guess. You’re the elusive shifter we’ve been after?”
“What the hell is a shifter?” I shout back.
He moves in closer, and Damien pushes me behind him. I grab his hand and wait for the hum, but it doesn’t come. I simply don’t have the strength.
“Now we’re going to do this the easy way, sweetheart. You come with us, and no harm will come to your friend. Understand?” He moves closer, pushing Damien down to the ground.
The man turns me around, clasping my hands behind my back. I stiffen as his hands move to places they shouldn’t be, and the anger boils up inside me.
The hum returns. I see the air around me vibrating, but I can’t find the source. It isn’t me. A light bursts through the trees. I close my eyes and scream. The brightness sears my eyes, and I fear I’ve gone blind; but when I open them, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.
We’re in a clean, white room, void of anything but four walls and a door. Damien wraps me in his arms.
“We’re safe,” he whispers.
“Don’t be so sure.” He releases me and a door opens to our right. An older woman walks inside.
“You have nothing to fear here,” she says.
Something about her voice soothes me, but trust isn’t given out so easily in this world.
“Why should I believe you?” I try to sound tough, but my words come out a screech. She smiles back at us and moves forward. We’re frozen where we stand, unsure of what to do. She reaches up and places a hand on each of us.
“Because I’m like you, Jess. Ready to find out what you’re made of?”
The hum starts stronger than I’ve ever felt and, before I can stop it, all three of us are standing in a new, cavernous room filled to the brim with people. I can only stare. We haven’t seen this many people in one place in years. I look to the woman for answers.
“Welcome home, Jess.”