Shoutout to Jina Bazzar (check out her blog authorsinspirations.wordpress.com,) my friend Kamina Lambert, and my amazing aunt Teresa Arend for commenting on the last edition! You are all amazing!
The smell of coffee and a good story was in the air. Crescent Cunningham breathed in deeply, a sly grin spreading over her thin lips, unkempt black hair ringing her face with a halo of frizz. Sunlight filtering through the cafe window bathed her freckled skin in gold. If she tried hard enough, the reporter could imagine it was a spotlight, beaming blinding white light down at her like a model walking the runway.
A thin blonde waitress slid a towering cup of double chocolate cappuccino onto the table before ducking away hastily, as though she feared what would happen if she lingered even a millisecond longer. Crescent shot her a glare as she scurried off, blonde hair swishing frantically in its high ponytail. Every other day of the year, she would have scolded the girl for her wrinkled blouse even as she walked away- but today, she was in a good mood. The best.
You see, Crescent Cunningham was ruthless. She knew it would hit Manchester hard, as it was the home of one of the subjects from her article- Kenna King, the missing girl and murder suspect. But that never stopped her. The lines of connection had been drawn in bold red ink that no one could seem to see but her. Until now.
People shouted in the streets, crowding around the big red news dispenser. Papers fluttered in the breeze, coins clinking to the pavement as passersbys scrambled to get in line. A dark-haired woman cried out at the headline, wiping a tear from her eye and hurrying off, still sobbing at the front picture. Teenage girls stood in a cluster, whispering and trading a newspaper around. Crescent smirked, eyes roving ravenously over the scene, ears hungrily taking in each sound. The clank of coins entering the slot, the scuffle of hasty feet, conspiratorial whispers, the crinkle of a turning page.
Each time a person walked by holding a newspaper from the Manchester Post, her heart leapt, clinging to that feeling. A twisted joy, a strange triumph, a guilty pride. Success. Every time she heard the clink of a coin slipping into the newspaper dispenser, giddiness flooded her senses and she could forget about the brutal harshness of reality for a moment.
No more rich-smelling coffee shop, no more small apartment, no more crappy desk job. Just Crescent Cunningham in the spotlight for once, and all the newspapers in town trumpeting her article on the front page. The headline? “Elemental witches at large! Five missing girls in the past week, all disappearing without a trace. Each of them with a connection to an element and demonstrating strange powers. Police may want to consider changing their approach from investigation… to witch hunt.”
“Selene, Kenna, Talia, Daria, Zara. Starlight, Embers, Storm, Sea, Earth,” I looked up at the frail blonde girl with confusion, the names still roiling in my head like angry bubbles on the surface of boiling water.
“Did I get that right?” My voice sounded loud and boisterous even to my own ears- the English language seemed so brash compared to my native tongue. Talia winced at my voice. Maybe I was just talking loud.
“Yeah, that was a lot better, Zara. How do you know so much English? I noticed some other children in your village spoke it too, during the ri-” The bus lurched over a pothole, sending the petite young woman bouncing off her seat. She yelped, smoothing her ruffled navy skirt.
“Riot?” She repeated, looking me over with disdain as I sat calmly, completely unmoved by the jolt. I resisted the urge to snicker at just how fragile my savior was. How could such a small girl conjure such a vengeful storm? She was incredibly short and waifish- I practically towered over her even sitting down!
Glancing out the window at the golden fields, a sob threatened to escape my chest. The earth had always been a part of me, a constant in the turmoil. My brother’s death. My family’s horror at my gift. Lonely nights under the cold starlight, echoes of my parents’ yells shattering the stillness, my only solace the chirp of crickets and the grit of dirt on my palms.
Now, with the world gleaming right outside the window, I yearned to smash the glass and dive into the fields, letting the power surge through my body in a warm golden tide as life sprang from my hands. Longing to release the anxiety of a cramped bus, bury myself in the plants until I melted into the earth, feeling it thrum with life beneath my fingertips. I could still sense the distant pulse of the earth’s energy, beating like a far away heart. Pressing a clenched fist to my heart, I exhaled slowly, trying to flush out the chest-tightening anxiety.
“In school, they taught us basic English. Are you sure your friend is going to be here?” I asked, looking over at Talia. She looked pensive, surveying all the other passengers with those ice-chip blue eyes as though she could find the secrets of the world in their faces. To me, almost everyone looked the same- just one blur of life, fighting to survive but never taking time to think. About life, the earth, the universe, that there might be something more than the endless shuffle of money and people.
No one cares about the earth, no one else notices the way the ethereal white-gold sunlight filtering through the leaves at dawn. Nobody sees the elegant way the fireflies sashay through the sky at dusk like a glowing ballet, no one runs their hands along the grass just to feel the sweet tickle against their fingertips. No one gazes at the shadows the moonbeams scatter on a quiet night, no one smells the earthy musk of dirt and grass. No one loves the chirp of crickets or the gnarled bark of an old tree. No one but me. It was a lonely thought- but it just may have been a true one. Everyone on that bus that Talia was studying so closely were all infuriating to me. Mindless, in search of money and survival- nothing more, nothing less. My parents had been the same way…
“Yes, I’m positive!” Talia said, halting the hurtling freight train of thoughts to a screeching stop. “We can rent a boat from ARK Inflatables in Kommetjie, Cape Town,” she stumbled over the name, pausing to gather her thoughts.
The mention of a familiar city sent torrents of deja vu crashing into my thoughts- memories of a trip to Kommetjie years ago: the jostle of a rickety old truck bed, my sister Inara’s mellifluous laugh, a long winding road from our village as we made the journey to deliver crops to the city. It had been the furthest I had ever been from home. The small, less than 3,000 population town, had seemed like a metropolis. Streets. Cars. People. Shops. A cacophony of foreign sounds grating my ears: tires grumbling across pavement, church bells clanging, footsteps thumping on cement.
Inara had loved the bustle of the small city. Her pale jade eyes had lit up as the truck thundered down Gladiola Way, the tiny golden chips glinting in the fluorescent shop lights. I remembered joking to her that she should move to the city, the pang of despair that struck deep in my heart when she smiled that radiant smile of hers and agreed. My sister’s dream life didn’t involve me and the family farm anymore. She had loved the city the moment she got there, giddy with glee as I cringed at the noise and scent. It was her dream. It was my nightmare.
“Kommetjie, Africa! I can’t believe I’m here, all the way from London. But they will be coming through here, I know it!” Talia clapped excitedly, either ignoring or not noticing the old lady’s harsh stare from across the aisle. “Selene said it herself in my dream. She overheard the kidnappers say they were going to sail past the Cape of Good Hope. They will be there. And we are going to intercept them.”
The bus thunked over another pothole, roaring down the dirt road and kicking up billowing clouds of dust in its wake.
“I’ve never been on a boat,” I said plainly, Inara’s pale eyes still haunting my thoughts like a wrathful ghost refusing to be ignored. If I closed my eyes tight enough, I could imagine I was on the truck with her, thumping towards the town- the chatter of passengers replaced by my sister’s snort and our out-of-key singing interspersed with bursts of laughter. Before she had gone. Inara, my shining light, my sister, my best friend. Before she had gone.
Talia said something, put a hand on my shoulder, but I was far away. So far. Of course I was looking forward to the plan, saving all the other Elementals and overthrowing the tyrant Olympians… but I couldn’t focus when we were returning to the place I had gone long ago, when everything had been different. I was back in the time where my long black hair whipped in the wind and laughter floated on the breeze. When starlight shone down from the heavens like billions of spotlights on our grand stage, just my sister and me in the bed of a truck.
I felt Storm put her small head on my shoulder, and just as blissful sleep began to take me away, I heard them- sirens. Oh no. I jerked upright, Talia jolting out of a light doze. Looking back, blue lights painted the horizon. The color of the South African Police cars. The specks grew, hurtling towards the bus. I yelped at the ear-splitting moan of dozens of sirens and the screech of the bus brakes as it pulled over.
“Don’t stop! Don’t stop!” Talia shrieked, standing up in her seat. The bus driver shot her a confused glance, brow furrowed. I shoved her aside, and we plowed down the aisle. Passengers shouted at us, hands raking my body and bringing intense flashbacks of yesterday’s mob careening across my mind’s eye.
“Hey! Sit down, ladies!” The bus driver shouted gruffly. We charged up the aisle, chaos erupting in our wake. Screaming sirens blared louder with each passing second, my breath hitched. Panic and adrenaline warred in my chest, a tide of newfound emotions.
Talia jerked the wheel out of his hands in a blur of flying blonde hair. Reeee!!! The wheels shrieked in protest and the bus swerved, plowing through the field. I waved my hand as we thundered over the golden fields, the trampled crops rising immediately to full height. A man grabbed me, valiantly trying to pull me away from the driver. With a flick of my fingers, vines exploded around his legs, curling into makeshift bonds until he fell back into a tide of panicked passengers. Police cars swerved after us, the crackle of their radios echoing on the wind.
“We’ve found the missing girls. In pursuit.” Not for long. I thought as Talia yanked the wheel, nicking a tree in a huge U-turn that sent us bouncing along the road. My powers repaired the damage as we went, the slack-jawed farmer watched from a distance in awe. I gave him some extra height and produce (for his trouble- and to pay for any consequent shock therapy).
Just as the police cars emerged blazing and plant-covered from the crop field, Talia jammed her elbow into the driver’s face and sent the bus spinning back towards Kommetjie. Thrill exploded in my veins in bursts of adrenaline. Sirens blared like bleating sheep being herded by a Border Collie.
“Can you even drive?” I yelled as Talia swerved the bus side-to-side in a zig-zag.
“Depends-” She gasped, flooring the gas pedal, “what’s your definition of driving?” I laughed, not even caring about the cacophony of sounds pounding my ears. Me, Zara Nightlock, a simple farm girl from South Africa, had not only powers… but was in a car chase! Well… bus chase. I smiled, visions of Inara’s dark hair and pale eyes fading from my mind in the waves of adrenaline. Kommetjie was on the horizon, the police cars blaring behind us.
We were on a quest to save Storm’s friends and save the world, running on nothing but a few dollars, gasoline… and a lot of luck.