Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Toujours (ce n'est rien)

Picture taken from http://images4.fanpop.com/image/photos/16900000/girl-and-the-rain-sad-songs-16929572-500-706.jpg. Image depicts a girl in the rain. Whether or not she is sad is up to your interpretation.
A (long) short story written for my new Creative Writing class. It has two titles because I am indecisive. Those titles are in French because that language features rather prominently in this story. 

If you are not familiar with the French language, I have tried to make some things clear from context (except when I want it to be ambiguous for dramatic effect). If you are, c'est magnifique! Hopefully the foreign words will enhance your story-reading experience. Si vous êtes français, bienvenue! Et n'ayez pas peur de corriger mes erreurs!

Why French? ...I don't know. Maybe they're from Canada.

(ce n'est rien)

Time stands still.
It's a habit of his, really. Whenever a teacher gives a ten-minute warning on a timed test, Sander always freezes the rest of the world in place. It's not that he needs the extra time—he already finished half an hour ago. It's simply a luxury. Time to rest, reflect, plan. He's gotten so used to it that he doesn't even have to think about it anymore.
He lets out a sigh as he scans the essay he has written. Last summer I went to New York to visit my cousins, we ate lobster, blah, blah, blah... Most of it is lies, and the parts that aren't are so far from the truth that they might as well be. The standard essay topic of summer vacation lends itself well to inane babble. He could always have changed the assignment, but it wasn't an issue he was going to press.
Then Lysander Macedo looks up and meets the hazel eyes of a girl across the room that he has never noticed before, a girl who is not only unaffected by the otherworldly event happening around her, but unfazed by it as well. And Sander can't bring himself to look away.
The memory of those eyes propels him forward, fading and brightening again with every breath he takes, lending him energy in bursts—the will to take one step, then one more, until the beating of his feet against the ground becomes a rhythm. Left, right, left, right. It carries him throughout all the streets of the town, but not to the person he's looking for.
Where are you? Let me find you... oh, God, please, let me find you.
His mind has conjured up all sorts of horrifying images and situations that have burned themselves into his memory, and soon he can't tell what is real and what is in his head. Screams are coming from a distance—are they hers? Is he torturing her? A body in an alleyway falls to the ground—was that her? Is she bleeding out, slowly, abandoned in an empty street behind some uncaring building, with no one to hold on to in her last moments? A car rushes by, and there's a glimpse of a girl in the passenger seat window—has she been captured, ripped away from him and the world she's known forever?
Please, whatever happens, don't disappear. I can't let you disappear.
Who are you? How… how much do you know?”
Sander stares straight into those unnerving eyes, the urgency of his need for answers overwhelming any tact or subtlety that he might have thought to display. He knows that his tone comes across as suspicious—paranoid, even—but it gets the job done.
The girl looks up at the clock and then back down to the papers on her desk. “We’re supposed to be speaking in French.”
Alors je vais parler en français.
In French, about sports.” She tilts her head a bit, face refusing to give any sort of glimpse into her thoughts.
He sighs. “Well, I don’t play any sports.” Father dearest would never let me, he adds silently, taking the time to roll his eyes before returning to the matter at hand. The chatter of other conversation pairs around them dies to a whisper as Sander wraps a barrier of sound around himself and the girl.
I won’t hurt you,” he says, more quietly than before. “I just want to know who you are.”
There is a long pause, and then she speaks. “My name is Éponine.”
Like the character from Les Misérables, he thinks, and he is just about to say so when the girl vanishes into thin air.
I’m not moving fast enough. Why am I not moving fast enough?
It feels like an eternity, working his way through the labyrinth of tangled roads that makes up the downtown area of their city, held up by traffic and his own crippling fears. I never thought I’d care so much, some voice in the back of his mind muses. She was just some girl. I should have kept it that way. I should have left her alone…
And yet, the same voice in the back of his mind knew that this was always going to happen. The two of them were drawn together in a fundamental way, deep within the cores of their beings, like magnets. Two people with the same rare, unique talent; two people who could remake the universe but keep their Gifts quiet, buried under insecurities and doubts. It’s only natural that they would fall for each other. Lysander and Éponine. Where one goes, the other follows.
Nothing is going to keep them apart. Not for long.
You seem preoccupied.” The man leans forward against the table, being sure to catch his son's downcast eyes to convey the full extent of his meaning. “What are you thinking?” He always phrases it that way, tone casual and comforting, though Sander knows his intentions are much more forceful. Tell me what you're thinking. I need to know. But Grigor Macedo is far too clever to say that outright. He's subtle in his manipulation, and that is part of what makes him so dangerous.
The boy picks at his dinner, thinking carefully about his answer. After a moment, he replies. “Nothing important. Just trying to come up with ideas for my history project.” It's a lie, and they both know it. The conversation comes to a lull. Grigor starts again. “I've found us another... opportunity.”
Sander looks up, taking in a deep breath. To him, the word is loaded.
Nice little art museum a couple of towns over. No major paintings, of course, but it's trying to work its way up. Definitely would pay full price should any of its impressionists get nicked.” He chuckles. “Should be easy, if we play our cards right. Are you in?”
The answer is a hesitant “of course.” There is no other answer in this household.
Out of the way!” He blasts the streets with raw, angry energy, ripping apart the lines of cars and crowds of people blocking his way. The fury is building up inside of him, ready to burst at any moment yet refusing to help him move any faster.
If I’d practiced more, he thinks with gritted teeth, if I’d mastered warping time and started working on space, I could be there by now, in the blink of an eye…
When the phone rings, he smashes it against the ground without a second thought. He knows he wouldn't have been able to stand the arrogant gloating sure to come from the man on the other end. The note is enough—that little piece of paper crumpled and shoved into the deep recesses of his pockets, where the terrible words of the father he always loved but never trusted lie smoldering. Come and take her back from me, if you dare. Musée de Roth, 451 Doucette Avenue. It's uncharacteristically melodramatic, which means he's having fun orchestrating this whole ordeal. Sander takes in a sharp inhale. When his father's having fun, things tend to end badly for those who oppose him.
And yet, he has to try. For his, for Éponine’s, for everyone’s sake.
Each day he gets to know her a little more. Éponine Cobau, seventeen years old, the fourth of seven siblings who all live in a house on the corner of Tarringer and Main. Five foot four inches tall, a girl who moves with the grace of a dancer and speaks with a voice so low only one person can hear. Éponine, who prefers soft folk melodies to modern songs. Éponine, who reads poetry books instead of paying attention in math class. Éponine, who loves the smell of dust after rain and hates orange juice with pulp in it and who—frighteningly—doesn't think anything that happens to her matters at all.
Éponine, who can shape the world with her Gift, just like him.
Each day he gets to know her a little more. And every day he falls a little more in love with her. So he spends his late nights crafting perfect roses and practicing how to shield her from the rain with an umbrella made of air.
He has so many questions, pushed to the back of his mind to fester while he races through the streets at the speed of light. How? How could he have taken her, when she can disappear at will? More importantly, why would he? What could he possibly gain from her that he wouldn’t get from Sander anyway? What was he planning? And how in the world was Sander supposed to stop him?
Left, right, left, right. Turn a corner, you’re there. Pushing through glass doors and dim galleries of pretentious postmodernist art, rushing past empty security desks and knocked-down signs until he hears a voice that wipes all questions out of his mind and replaces them with pure dread.
Come in, Lysander, my boy.” The man lets out a laugh. “We’ve been waiting for you for quite some time.”
Sander steps into the room, and the door locks itself behind him with a loud clack.
Time to find the answers.
She shifts a bit in response, head turned and gaze fixed on him. She's dressed all in a dark gray that matches the storming sky, and it's almost as if she's fading in and out of the air. Perhaps she is.
Sander takes a few steps closer, taking in a breath. “Why are you here? Why...” His voice catches a bit as he grapples with what to say; something that doesn't happen to him often, but seems to appear with alarming frequency as of late, whenever he's around this mysterious girl with her magnetic eyes. Another breath in and out.
Nothing else to do.” He has to strain to hear her, the low murmur of her voice slurring the words together. “Nothing important.” Her gaze is downcast now, but she doesn't look ashamed in the least.
Homework?” he suggests with a shrug and a raised eyebrow.
This elicits a laugh, though her voice is still too quiet for Sander's liking. She glances up at the sky as raindrops fall onto her skin and the smile fades.
Before he even realizes it, he's pulling her into his arms, his lips brushing against hers.
Éponine is curled up on the cold linoleum floor, shaking uncontrollably, and Sander can see the air around her ripple with energy. Grigor sits in a chair, face passive as he watches her. In each hand he holds a syringe—one filled with a swirling blue substance, the other empty. He turns to face his son, the corner of his mouth twisting up into a smirk. “Had to get you here quickly,” he says.
What are you doing?”
Conducting an experiment.” Another low laugh. “Amazing, how much a small museum can do for you if you offer them a Renoir. Arranging for us to be alone, for example. And paying for these.” He holds up the syringes, beaming.
What the hell are you doing to her?” the boy hisses, stepping in between Éponine and her torturer. There's no mistaking which side he's on.
Grigor just keeps on smiling. “What I'm doing? Why, Lysander, isn't it obvious? I'm stealing her Gift.” He pauses dramatically, relishing in the triumph of the moment. “And you're next.”
One day, while time is standing still again, she leans over and whispers to him. Je créerais le monde et le détruirais pour toi,” she says.
His eyes widen. “You don't really mean that, do you?”
Her gaze drops, eyes mournful, and after a moment, she whispers back. “Je t'aimerai toujours.
Why? Why her?” Air rushes into Sander's lungs unbidden, a constant stream of inhalation that feels like he's about to burst. “Why me?”
The man shrugs. “Two reality warpers are better than one.”
You already have me. You—you already can make me do anything you want.” Sander shakes his head, partially out of incomprehension, partially to signify his dissent. “Why do you need the Gift for yourself?”
Surely you of all people know that humanity is unreliable, at best.” Grigor begins to inspect his nails in a deliberate gesture of nonchalance. “That is especially true for family. I can't keep you here forever. You'll run away, just like your mother before you. Running away from me. Lost to me forever.” For a moment, he pauses, a wave of melancholy clouding over his eyes. He breaks through that veil with a particularly vicious snarl. “That ungrateful bitch.”
Don't. You. Say. That.” Anger fills him and the reality warper steps forward, easily ignoring the little stabs of pain in the tips of his fingers as iron claws break the layer of skin holding them back, razor-sharp and ready to tear the bastard to pieces. “And let Éponine go. Now.”
Of course, there's also the leverage factor.” Unperturbed, the man pulls a pistol out of his jacket and clicks off the safety, pointing it rather lazily at the prone Éponine. “One more move and it's all over for her, I'm afraid.” He laughs once more, long and hard, and whatever bond of familial love Sander had once felt toward his father vanishes for good.
I heard you. You and your father. Planning. What you can do with your Gift. What he can make you do with your Gift.”
The world goes silent for a moment.
You can't be here,” he says immediately, trying to keep his voice steady. “Whatever you heard, you have to forget about it, do something else, stop coming here. I can't...” His voice is catching again because he wants to get to know this girl, he desperately wants to be close to her, but he knows that he can never let that happen. “I don't want you to get caught up in this storm.”
The girl looks straight into his eyes, knowing exactly what he means but choosing not to comply. Another wistful laugh. “Oh, the rain? Un peu de sang qui pleure?” The Les Misérables quote unnerves him and she knows it. A bit of blood that cries.“A little fall of rain can hardly hurt me now.”
Sander starts to speak but in a moment she's gone, melted into the air without a trace, and no matter how hard he concentrates he's not going to find her again.
She can disappear. Into thin air.” A lump forms in the back of the boy's throat as his gaze moves from Éponine to Grigor and back again.
Yes. I am well aware. It caused a bit of trouble,” the man replies. Both of them are perfectly still, each secretly afraid of what his opponent will do next. “Not much, though. In the long run, she's actually quite weak. Most women are.” A chuckle. “But you, you're different. Much stronger, much more dangerous. I knew I would need more than just an assertion of parental authority to restrain you. Hence the hostage.” He fills the empty syringe with an iridescent liquid, handling the equipment with a doctor's care and precision. “Are you ready, Lysander?”
Sander opens his mouth to reply, but is cut off by a small, strained voice coming from the girl on the floor. She utters one sentence. Only one, in French.
He meets her hazel eyes and, before he even realizes what she's doing, the world explodes around them.
Éponine laughs.
Her laughs carry more grief than mirth, but then again, Éponine is rarely truly happy, as far as he can tell. Éponine of Les Misérables. Éponine, who died protecting the one she loved most.
He shudders.
Blood is everywhere. Running across the floor, mixing with the contents of the shattered syringes. On his hands, in his hair, on the walls of what used to be a room in what used to be the Musée de Roth on 451 Doucette Avenue. And what used to be the man called Grigor Macedo—now just a corpse, cold and lifeless—is soaked in it.
Je créerais le monde et le détruirais pour toi...
A cry of pain turns his attention back to her, the girl on the floor, the only one who matters. Sander's eyes immediately widen in horror. There's blood on her, too. Blood spilling out, from a wound.
How...” This can't... this can't be true. “Éponine, what the hell did you just do?”
I stopped him.”
By... destroying... yourself?” His eyes immediately snap shut, refusing to look any more at the crimson mess gushing out of her body.
Shh... It's okay...” Éponine smiles, reaching up to tuck a strand of his hair behind his ear. “He's gone... you're safe... that's all I need to know...”
Sander doesn't know whether to cry or scream or both. “No! No, it's not okay! Don't you dare try to tell me that it's okay!”
Ce n'est rien, M'sieur Lysander—I don't feel any pain...” She's still smiling. Why is she still smiling? Un peu de sang qui pleure...”
Wait! No! I can fix you—I can heal you, I swear—just listen to me! Éponine! Stay with me, please—
So quickly she fades away.
Je créerais le monde et le détruirais pour toi.” I would create and destroy the world for you.
You don't really mean that, do you?”
Her gaze drops, eyes mournful, and after a moment, she whispers back. “Je t'aimerai toujours.” I will love you forever.

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