Her tears haunted me as I reached for her with a trembling hand. I hadn't the strength, and I knew one thing with dreadful certainty. We had failed, and I was going to die. Her tear filled face was the last thing I saw before I woke up.
I hadn't had that dream in ten years. The recurring nightmare my six year old self imagined had since faded from my memory completely, but one thing never quite left me. One image remained etched in my mind forever. Her face. Her emerald green eyes and red hair. Her haunted tears.
It was buried in the deepest recesses of my 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, I thought groggily, blinking my eyes open reluctantly.
I glared at my alarm clock and punched the snooze button. Grumbling out a string of cuss words, I shuffled to my feet, rubbing my messy brown hair. Obnoxious sounds and shrieks of laughter made me cringe. My foster siblings were already making my ears bleed. I sighed and walked into the bathroom, quickly brushing my teeth, combing my hair and shaving off what little stubble was on my chin. I washed the shaving cream off my face and stared at my reflection.
"Happy birthday, Asher," I muttered gloomily.
My ocean blue eyes stared back at me as they seemed to ask me a question. I asked myself it almost every day. What the heck is the point of my life? What's my purpose? I never got an answer. I wasn't sure I really cared that much sometimes anyway. Disinterest in everything and everyone including myself made me wonder why I even tried.
I sighed and walked past the annoying foster kids getting ready for their day too. I didn't care as they grabbed my legs. I just stepped out the door and made my way to the bus stop. I hoped it would get there soon. If it was late again, I knew exactly what would happen.
"Bruh! You are not doing this to us again!"
I cringed and turned to look at my supposed friends. It was their idea that we were friends, not mine. Sadly, I really didn't know how to avoid them sometimes. We all went to the same school and lived in the same part of town. Maybe I should just stop trying to avoid them. It was serious pain to put up with their complaints.
I watched as Terry crossed his arms looking irritated. Celie pouted at me from her convertible. It's hood was off, as usual, causing her long blonde 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?"
I actually snorted a laugh. Celie sounded a little like me for once. She gestured to the back seat and shouted playfully, "In now! No excuses!"
Stupidly, I couldn't help smiling just a little. There really was no point in arguing with these guys. I got in the back seat with Terry following right behind, then we were driving off to one of my least favorite places. Kingston High school.
"So, what did you mean by today of all days?" I 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?"
"It's Asher," I mumbled, "and yeah. Now I remember."
Celie snorted. "Doesn't anything get you interested? There's got to be something."
Her question bothered me, mostly because I didn't know the answer. "Dunno. Maybe I just haven't found it yet."
"Come on, bruh. It's a huge museum. If you don't find something there you like, I'll be surprised."
I 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 me with a knowing look. "You've never even been to a museum, have you?"
It was more of a statement than a question. I stiffened a little and even blushed. These guys knew me way too well. It was kind of uncomfortable. Seriously, why did they even bother trying to get to know to someone like me? I was a nobody with no parents, no origin story to tell, and nothing interesting about me. Were they stupid?
Maybe I'm the one who's stupid, came a reluctant thought. Maybe I shouldn't push everyone away.
If I didn't push everyone away, then maybe my life would be a little less boring. It wasn't like I had anything to lose. The thing was, that's what scared me the most. I didn't have anything to lose. The moment I admitted I had anyone or anything I cared about, was the moment I could lose something. It was the moment I could fail.
With those thoughts, I closed myself off again, avoiding and ignoring Terry and Celie entirely. I didn't notice Celie's concerned look. I didn't notice Terry shake his head at me. What I did notice, as we stopped at a light, was that someone else was watching me. It was that weird sensation of feeling someone's eyes on you, and it made me turn my head in the direction of a sidewalk.
I 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!"
I 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 I didn't know any better I'd have sworn he looked freaked out. That was too weird though. Nothing ever freaked Terry out, least of all stuff like this. I raised an eyebrow as Celie tensed too. They were staring at the cosplayer with something like terror. It was driving me 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. I 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 I 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? Kingston'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 I 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 I wondered how much I really knew about these two. Was it actually even safe to carpool with them? I pushed away the worries for now and sighed irritably, then we arrived at the massive museum building. Grumbling out a string of complaints, I followed Celie and Terry inside.
"I'm gonna use the bathroom," Celie said quickly. "You stay with Ash."
Terry nodded his agreement, but I was irritated. "It's Asher."
We 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. I 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?" I 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," I 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."
I groaned and gloomily let them lead the way. The first exhibit, as expected, bored me to tears. Ancient Egypt wasn't grabbing my attention. Not even the mummies. That didn't deter Celie and Terry though. They dragged me 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."
I tried to stifle it, but I couldn't help surprising myself. I 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. I couldn't keep my eyes away.
I loved the art, the texture of the paint, the skill of the wax figurines. For some weird reason it just drew me in. I didn't realize I was grinning until I looked back at Ceile and Terry who were watching me smugly. My face fell, and I turned red with embarrassment.
"See, Asher. Museums aren't so boring, are they?" asked Celie.
I laughed nervously and let them take me to another exhibit, much more willingly this time. It had a middle ages theme, and I 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. I admired the items encased in glass, and kept moving along until I arrived at a more secluded part of the exhibit.
"Uh, do you really think we should go there?" Terry asked a little nervously.
I 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."
I snorted. "That stuff isn't even real, so where's the harm?"
I noticed they followed me somewhat reluctantly, but I walked right ahead. Something about these items froze me in place a little. The good excited feeling of the other art and displays was fading as I 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 my attention big time too. No. It wasn't just any book. It was a grimoire.
I froze. How did I know it was called a grimoire? What was a grimoire exactly, anyway? I shook my head feeling chilled.
"This place is giving me the creeps," Celie whined. "Can we go?"
"Yeah," I said nervously. "I can see why you didn't want to come in here."
When I turned back around, I froze like ice, feeling the most intense shock of my life at what I saw. Pure terror built up in my chest as I looked at an elegantly crafted silver mirror. In its glass wasn't my reflection, though. It was the image I had thought was lost from my mind. It was her. The woman who haunted my dreams.
She wasn't crying outwardly. She couldn't because she was frozen in ice, but it was her, and I could feel her crying. She was crying for me so desperately. I reached out my hand towards the mirror, staring at it with both terror and awe. A mixture of excitement and confusion coursed through me as I drew nearer.
I couldn't help myself. I couldn't stay away, even as the woman's emerald eyes began to glow an even brighter green. I wasn't aware that my eyes were glowing green too. I couldn't hear Celie screaming my name. I couldn't feel her trying to pull me away from the mirror.
All I could see and hear was the woman. I felt her sadness and desperate longing to be free as she peered at me through the ice. She was calling my name over and over.
"Asher! Please, help me!"
All I could think were four strange words from the deepest recesses of my soul. "I love you forever."
©Copyright 2017 by Elisabeth Niederhut