Her tears haunted him as he reached for her with a trembling hand. He hadn't the strength, and he knew one thing with dreadful certainty. They had failed, and he was going to die. Her tear filled face was the last thing he saw before he woke up.
Asher hadn't had that dream in ten years. The recurring nightmare his six year old self imagined had since faded from his memory completely, but one thing never quite left him. One image remained etched in his mind forever. Her face. Her emerald green eyes and red hair. Her haunted tears.
It was buried in the deepest recesses of his memories, only surfacing at random on some rare occasions until it slipped away. So for it to resurface now so vividly, not just as an image but as a dream...Yeah. That was weird. So was that annoying beeping sound.
Better get your shit together, Asher, he thought groggily, blinking his eyes open reluctantly.
He glared at his alarm clock and punched the snooze button. Grumbling out a string of cuss words, he shuffled to his feet, rubbing his messy brown hair. Obnoxious sounds and shrieks of laughter made him cringe. His foster siblings were already making his ears bleed. He sighed and walked into the bathroom, quickly brushing his teeth, combing his hair and shaving off what little stubble was on his chin. He washed the shaving cream off his face and stared at his reflection.
“Happy birthday, Asher,” he muttered gloomily.
His ocean blue eyes stared back at him as they seemed to ask him a question. He asked himself it almost every day. What the heck is the point of my life? What's my purpose? He never got an answer. He wasn't sure he really cared that much sometimes anyway. Disinterest in everything and everyone including himself made him wonder why he even tried.
He sighed and walked past the annoying foster kids getting ready for their day too. Asher didn't care as they grabbed his legs. He just stepped out the door and made his way to the bus stop. He hoped it would get there soon. If it was late again, he knew exactly what would happen.
“Man, you are not doing this to us again!”
Asher cringed and turned to look at his supposed friends. It was their idea that they were all friends, not his. Sadly, Asher really didn't know how to avoid them sometimes. They all went to the same school and lived in the same part of town. Maybe he should just stop trying to avoid them. It was a serious pain to put up with their complaints.
He watched as Terry crossed his arms looking irritated. Celie pouted at Asher from her red convertible. Its hood was off, as usual, causing her long blond hair to flicker slightly in the breeze.
“Today of all days, Asher? Really? If you won't carpool for this, then why do we try?”
Asher actually snorted a laugh. Celie sounded a little like him for once. She gestured to the back seat and shouted playfully, “In now! No excuses!”
Stupidly, he couldn't help smiling just a little. There really was no point in arguing with these guys. He got in the back seat with Terry following right behind, then they were driving off to one of Asher's least favorite places. Kingston High school.
“So, what did you mean by today of all days?” Asher muttered out.
“You forgot?” Terry looked even more irritated now. “The museum field trip. Remember? The place Celie and I got that job. Ringing a bell yet, Ash?”
Not liking the nick name, as usual, Asher scolwed slightly. “It's Asher,” he mumbled, “and yeah. Now I remember.”
Celie snorted. “Doesn't anything get you interested? There's got to be something.”
Her question bothered him, mostly because he didn't know the answer. “Dunno. Maybe I just haven't found it yet.”
“Come on, man. It's a huge museum. If you don't find something there you like, I'll be surprised.”
Asher raised an eyebrow at Terry. “Seriously? What's so great about museums that you could say that about me? This is me we're talking about.”
Terry and Celie exchanged a glance, then Terry turned back to him with a knowing look. “You've never even been to a museum, have you?”
It was more of a statement than a question. Asher stiffened a little and even blushed. These guys knew him way too well. It was kind of uncomfortable. Seriously, why did they even bother trying to get to know to someone like him? Asher was a nobody with no parents, no origin story to tell, and nothing interesting about him. Were they stupid?
Maybe I'm the one who's stupid, came a reluctant thought. Maybe I shouldn't push everyone away.
If he didn't push everyone away, then maybe his life would be a little less boring. It wasn't like he had anything to lose. The thing was, that's what scared him the most. He didn't have anything to lose. The moment he admitted he had anyone or anything he cared about, was the moment he could lose something. It was the moment he could fail.
With those thoughts, he closed himself off again, avoiding and ignoring Terry and Celie entirely. Asher didn't notice Celie's concerned look. He didn't notice Terry shake his head at him. What he did notice, as they stopped at a light, was that someone else was watching them. It was that weird sensation of feeling someone's eyes on you, and it made him turn his head in the direction of a sidewalk.
Asher blinked at what the gray haired man was wearing. Black robes with weird silver symbols etched all over it. It was like some dark wizard costume you'd see at a convention. Was he a cosplayer?
“Uh...hey guys, is there a convention today or something, because that guy looking at us is dressed all freaky.”
Celie perked up. “You like conventions? So there is something you like!”
Asher winced. “I went to one once. It doesn't mean I like them.”
She sighed in frustration. “Asher, I really don't get you sometimes.”
Terry elbowed her and gestured with his head towards the man. If Asher didn't know any better he'd have sworn Terry looked freaked out. That was too weird though. Nothing ever freaked Terry out, least of all stuff like this. Asher raised an eyebrow as Celie tensed too. They were staring at the cosplayer with something like terror. It was driving Asher crazy for once.
“Okay, what's wrong? Why are you guys freaking out? Do you know him or something?”
Celie laughed nervously. “Um, I think so. I'm pretty sure he's one of those people Terry and I would rather forget exist.”
Terry didn't look happy about the outburst and glared at her warningly. Asher sighed a little irritably.
“Guys, you don't have to open up about shit. Sorry it's bugging you, but let's just forget about it.”
The two of them didn't relax in the slightest, and Asher looked away. Man, this was a pain. The silence dragged on as they waited for the light to change. Just who was that guy that they didn't like him this much? The instant the light turned green, they drove off without a word. Then something weird happened. Celie took a wrong turn.
“Uh, Celie, what are you doing? School's not this way.”
“I know,” she said with forced cheeriness, “but since we're going to the museum today anyway, I thought we should go ahead.”
Now Asher was really staring. “Without the rest of the class? How is that being part of the field trip? No attendance and shit could land us detention.”
“We'll work it out with the school. Trust me,” said Terry, going right along with it.
He sounded strangely relieved, and for the first time Asher wondered how much he really knew about these two. Was it actually even safe to carpool with them? He pushed away the worries for now and sighed irritably, then they arrived at the massive museum building. Grumbling out a string of complaints, he followed Celie and Terry inside.
“I'm gonna use the bathroom,” Celie said quickly. “You stay with Ash.”
Terry nodded his agreement, but Asher was irritated. “It's Asher.”
They waited for a few minutes for Celie to get back. She was smiling with a weird hint of relief. “It's all good.”
Terry let out a relieved sigh. Asher just stared at the two a bit warily. “Uh, that was just a bathroom break, right?”
They both almost seemed to wince. “Of course it was.” Celie sounded a little hurt. “What else? Now let's look around before the rest of the school gets here.”
“Huh?” Asher was surprised. “Um, don't we need tickets or something?”
Terry rolled his eyes in irritation. “Don't you listen to anything? We work here. Tickets don't matter, and since you're with us, who's gonna care?”
“Right. You work here,” Asher began, trying to find a way out of this, “so do we really have to look around? Isn't that what we'll be doing all afternoon anyway?”
Celie's eyes lit up mischievously. “You're not getting out of this one, Asher. It's time to find something that interests you.”
Asher groaned and gloomily let them lead the way. The first exhibit, as expected, bored him to tears. Ancient Egypt wasn't grabbing his attention. Not even the mummies. That didn't deter Celie and Terry though. They dragged him right to another exhibit in the museum. The room was full of historical paintings and large dioramas.
“Welcome to the eighteenth century.” Celie gestured to the room as a whole with her arms out. “This one's one of my favorites.”
Asher tried to stifle it, but he couldn't help surprising himself. He really liked what I saw. Life sized wax figurines holding pistols. Paintings of grand battles with war horses and uniforms. Portraits of important historical figures and their families. He couldn't keep his eyes away.
He loved the art, the texture of the paint, the skill of the wax figurines. For some weird reason it just drew him in. He didn't realize he was grinning until he looked back at Celie and Terry who were watching him smugly. Asher's face fell, and he turned red with embarrassment.
“See, Asher. Museums aren't so boring, are they?” asked Celie.
Asher laughed nervously and let them take him to another exhibit, much more willingly this time. It had a middle ages theme, and he was again intrigued. There were tapestries covered with a very different sort of art. Its minimalistic and subdued detail didn't subtract from the appeal though. The calligraphy was really nice to look at too. He admired the items encased in glass, and kept moving along until they arrived at a more secluded part of the exhibit.
“Uh, do you really think we should go there?” Terry asked a little nervously.
Asher looked at him oddly. “You've been trying to get me interested in something since you met me, and now you're trying to stop me?”
Celie laughed. “Good point, Asher. It's just...” She looked suddenly nervous. “This section is dedicated to a recent occult finding. You know, medieval witch stuff.”
Asher snorted. “That stuff isn't even real, so where's the harm?”
He noticed that Terry and Celie followed him somewhat reluctantly, but he walked right ahead. Something about these items froze him in place a little. The good excited feeling of the other art and displays was fading as he looked at them. Things like bones, animal claws and creepy looking jewelry were on display.
A massive leather bound book that looked in surprisingly good shape caught Asher's attention big time too. No. It wasn't just any book. It was a grimoire.
Asher froze. How did he know it was called a grimoire? What was a grimoire exactly, anyway? He shook his head feeling chilled.
“This place is giving me the creeps,” Celie whined. “Can we go?”
“Yeah,” he said nervously. “I can see why you didn't want to come in here.”
When he turned back around, he froze like ice, feeling the most intense shock of his life at what he saw. Pure terror built up in his chest as he looked at an elegantly crafted silver mirror. In its glass wasn't his reflection, though. It was the image he had thought was lost from his mind. It was her. The woman who haunted his dreams.
She wasn't crying outwardly. She couldn't because she was frozen in ice, but it was her, and he could feel her crying. She was crying for him so desperately. Asher reached out his hand towards the mirror, staring at it with both terror and awe. A mixture of excitement and confusion coursed through him as he drew nearer.
He couldn't help himself. He couldn't stay away, even as the woman's emerald eyes began to glow an even brighter green. He wasn't aware that his eyes were glowing green too. He couldn't hear Celie screaming his name. He couldn't feel her trying to pull him away from the mirror.
All he could see and hear was the woman. He felt her sadness and desperate longing to be free as she peered at him through the ice. She was calling his name over and over.
“Asher! Please, help me!”
All he could think were four strange words from the deepest recesses of his soul. “I love you forever.”
Copyright © 2017 by Elisabeth Niederhut