Five Years Ago
The train chugged further down the track, blurring through the trees. Melanie stood on the roof of one of the cars. The snow-filled wind blew against her skin, rubbing it raw. It stung her eyes with its wintergreen chill. She closed her eyes as they began to water. She could feel winter settling into her skin and bones, shaking her with shivers.
Up ahead of her on the next car stood a figure with the distinctive curves of a woman. The figure was an ink blot against the blank wilderness around them, dressed from head to toe in black leather and strapped down with sheaths hanging at her sides and around her back. Golden butter hair whipped out behind the woman in snaps. She was facing Melanie but seemed to be looking through her.
Melanie turned around. Behind her, she realized, stood a man. His square jaw and coppery hair seemed oddly familiar as she stared at him, though she didn’t know where she’d seen him. The man was also dressed in black leather, but instead of sheaths, he wore holsters. Two were looped through the belt at his waist and were occupied by what looked like pistols. Two more were strapped to either side of his torso, and a pair of sheaths was attached to his back, bearing swords. His navy blue eyes looked through her as well.
It was only then that she realized the man and woman were looking at each other. Suddenly the woman leaped from the train car in front of them onto their car. The woman landed gracefully within an arm’s reach of Melanie but still didn’t seem to notice her presence.
“Francis?” the man said in a deep voice. He sounded neither mad nor happy. The woman- Francis turned her attention to Melanie with recognition for the first time. Francis- the name was familiar, too, though its origin was unknown to her. She stared back at the woman with dark brown eyes and flowing blonde hair, trying desperately to remember who she was.
“George,” Francis said, tearing her attention slowly away from Melanie. “You shouldn’t be here.” She sounded apologetic, almost sad.
“Neither should you.” He replied quietly in the same tone. They gazed at each other. Their eyes were sad and old, and Melanie silently wondered if they had been friends at one point.
Then, Francis moved, and in a flash, had unsheathed the two swords at her back and started slashing at the man. However, he was just as fast and parried the blows with a fierce clang of metal against metal. They melded together- Francis and George- as a blur of black and silver light, parrying and dodging each other’s blows. How could something be so beautiful yet so deadly? Melanie wondered.
A cry sounded suddenly from one of them. Melanie looked with sickening horror at the woman. She had a wicked slash across her abdomen that was steadily flowing with scarlet. Francis dropped the sword in her left hand and clutched at her stomach, her face twisting in pain. The man had paused briefly to take in what he’d done before swinging at her again.
Francis defended the blow with her remaining sword but was pushed back by the man’s boot as he kicked her in the chest. She fell against the roof of the car with a boom, rattling the metal. George stood over her in victory. The woman dropped her last sword, sending it flying off the side of the car and into oblivion. She raised her hands in surrender, but it didn’t stop him from plunging the sword through her chest. Her hands remained raised for a few seconds but soon fell as the color in her face faded from pink to a pasty white color. Francis’ head lolled to the side.
George slowly drew the sword out of her chest, wiping the blood on his pants and then sheathing the swords. He sat down next to her dead body on the train car and pulled her head into his lap. Gently, he closed her eyes and took her hand in his. A sob escaped his lips as he rocked her back and forth against him all the while mumbling, “I’m so sorry, Francis.” He cried desperately. “I’m so sorry.”
But this time, he looked at Melanie with tears streaming down his cheeks.
Melanie’s eyes flew open in alarm. She unconsciously flung her arm around herself, slashing at the dark with her knife. This brought her into a sitting position in her bed. She bared the knife in front of her face as she searched the corners of her room with her eyes. When she was satisfied that nothing was going to kill her, she set the knife back on the end table.
A chill ran up her bare legs as she realized that she’d kicked the comforter to the floor in the middle of the night. She sat on the edge of the bed and retrieved the blankets, setting them back on the bed in a big lump. For a second, as she stared at the full moon through the window, she debated going back to bed. However, she could still feel the adrenaline racing through her body, making her heart thump wildly against her ribs. There was no way she would be able to go back to sleep after that dream.
She stood up from the bed, rubbing her arms as goose bumps rose all over skin. The missionary was always this cold, even in the summer, unless you were sweating half to death from training in the practice room, but then again, it was in the middle of winter. She started towards her closet in search of something longer and warmer.
The door stood ajar from last night when she’d fished out the pair of shorts and tank top that she was now freezing in. Quickly, she changed into a pair of black yoga pants and a red long-sleeved t-shirt, making sure the door was firmly shut when she was done. Before she could step away from the door, however, a flash of silver caught her eye. Her head whipped back at the door, relieved that it was only the reflection of the moonlight in the mirror.
But still she stared. Chocolate brown hair fell in wild curls down her back and framed her fragile face. Sapphire blue eyes took in the full lips and snubbed, button nose. She was almost six feet tall, with perfect curves and endless legs. Even to her own eyes, she was absolutely stunning, but her own beauty was something she’d never liked. It had cursed her with peers that doubted she had any talent and a list of relationships a mile long.
She tore herself from the mirror and stood for a second in the solitary darkness of her room, debating what to do. The clock on her desk read two-forty-three. No one would be awake at this hour, not even the person she wanted to see the most after dreams like that. She wiped the thought of him from her mind, thinking of a better alternative.
Silently, Melanie slipped on a pair of black flats, reaching for her bedroom door. She opened it peering down the hall. It was dark, except for the candle sconces that were lit every ten feet. Melanie stepped into the hallway, latching the door.
Melanie followed the hallway until it opened off of the side of a large entryway. The long, glass skylight let the glowing moon pour through onto the hardwood flooring. Tall candle sconces stood at random intervals around the room, basking in halos of golden light. A grand, stone staircase loomed at the other end of the room, rising to meet the second floor. She glanced at the two pairs of double doors on the opposite wall, knowing already what was behind each.
She walked across the room, her shoes creating a slight rustling sound on the floor as she approached the pair closest to the staircase. The doors were made of dark oak slabs attached to the doorway by wrought iron hinges. Melanie touched the handle and pushed on the doors. They swung open with a small groan. She cringed a little at how loud the noise was in the sleeping monastery.
The doors opened up to a room full of glinting, silver light. It was the familiar glow of weapons Melanie had always known. To her, their light was like looking at a precious gem. They were her diamonds.
She sighed, slipping off her shoes and leaving them by the door. She tiptoed towards a wooden chest that was tucked away in the back corner of the weapons room. Its brass accents glinted in the moonlight that streamed in through the large bay windows on the left wall of the room. Her hands slid across the smooth surface of the wood as she searched for the hidden latch. Suddenly, she felt a slight change in the surface of the trunk and pressed on the indentation. The trunk popped open like a cork on a bottle of wine. Slowly, Melanie lifted the lid.
Inside the trunk lay a large array of weapons: daggers, nun chucks, sheathed kindjals, flails, and more. However, her only concern was in a black box that skirted the bottom of the trunk. Avoiding the other weapons, she gently lifted the box from the chest and set it on the floor beside her, closing the chest. She took the box to a small table setting in front of the throwing range. The latch unclasped with ease as Melanie lifted the lid. Inside, there were four throwing knives, each intricately designed to look the same. She carefully lifted the first one out of the box.
The cold metal stung her skin as she gripped it in her hands. It was small but deadly and concealable. It was the reason it was her favorite weapon compared to the others. Her enemy wouldn’t even know she had it until it was too late.
She stared at the black and red target hanging on the cream-colored wall of the practice room. There were already nicks in it even though it was hardly used. Very few people in The Association were skilled in knife throwing and sword wielding, and even fewer were experts at both. Her trainer had been one of those experts, and thanks to her, Melanie was now one, too. The only person that was almost as good as Melanie was Kyle. She smiled inwardly at the memory of the two of them practicing together as children.
She spun the blade in her hands, taking in the pattern on the black, leather hilt. It was a floral design that surrounded The Association’s symbol, an eye with a snake in its pupil instead of color, on one side. The opposite side was occupied by the same floral design encasing her initials, M.J.W. Melanie Jennifer Wirth. She remembered being told that it had been an old huntress' name.
Melanie continued to stare at the blade as pain constricted her heart. Her trainer had designed the knife and the rest of its set, a total of four blades, as a gift to Melanie when her training was completed. The tradition during the Induction Ceremony, which happened after the trainees turned fifteen, was that the parents would present their child with the child’s weapon of choice. However, growing up, Melanie had had no one-no parents, uncles, aunts, not even siblings. Melanie’s trainer had been her only family since she was five- when The Association started the training process.
Before the ceremony, Melanie had been told that her trainer would be her presenter. But when the presentation of weapons began, there was no sight of her trainer. Later Melanie would discover that her trainer had been sent on a mission with three others a week earlier and had yet to return. The Association, having neither heard nor spoken to the group, had assumed the worst had happened.
The days following the terrible news were filled with tears and people coming to clean out her trainer’s belongings. The knives were the only thing she had left of her only familial figure. The rest had been taken wherever The Association kept the belongings of the dead, and that was that. There had never been a ceremony, and the names of the four that had been presumed dead weren’t spoken of again.
“Well,” said a voice from the doorway, startling her. “Are you going to throw the stupid thing or just stare at it?” Melanie turned towards the voice, not at all surprised at who it belonged to. “I can show you how to throw it if you need any help.” He offered smugly.
She chuckled. “I know what I’m doing, Kyle. I don’t need any encouragement.” She said, then added, “Or a crowd.” Slowly, her eyes took in the casual way he leaned against the open-door frame with his arms crossed over his broad, tan chest. He was barefoot, sporting blue pajama pants and no shirt. His black hair looked slightly disheveled but still managed to look amazing. The moonlight pouring through the window made his emerald eyes sparkle like water.
She looked away from him, suddenly embarrassed. “I’ll throw it when I’m ready, okay. I just…” She said, trailing off. “I-’’
“I get it.” Kyle interjected. “But you’ve got to pick it up again sometime soon. We’re not the same without you.” She would’ve taken it as a compliment had she not known that he was just being blatantly honest. Their hunting group was one of the best The Association had ever had. However, after the incident with her trainer, she wasn’t as enthusiastic about it as she had once been. The knives no longer called to her like a drug, and without her group, The Association was taking some heavy losses.
She glanced up at him again as he padded softly closer, taking her knife in his hands. Melanie watched as he cocked his arm- roped with muscles- and threw the knife at the target. It hit the center with a thud, sending the target swaying back and forth slightly. He turned to her, a smirk lining his face.
It faded fast. “I’m sorry about Kelly,” Melanie winced at the recollection of her trainer’s name. Kyle continued, “But that was two years ago.” He sighed, crossing his arms again. “I lost my sister in that mission, and I miss her every second since I found out she died. But, I’ve moved on, and so should you.” He brought a hand to her face and brushed her cheek gently. “We need you back.” He said, kissing her wild curls.
They smiled together as Kyle pulled away, picking up another knife out of her box. He twirled it a couple times between his fingers. “So, what are you doing awake at three in the morning anyway?” He asked, sounding genuinely concerned.
“I couldn’t sleep.” Melanie cleared her throat, looking at her bare feet.
“It’s not the dreams again; is it?” He threw the second knife. It hit the center again.
She rubbed her neck. “There are different scenarios, but it always ends the same way. The same person always dies, and it’s always the same man who kills her.” She’d told Kyle about the dreams before, but she avoided the subject as much as possible.
A look of concern passed over his face suddenly, “Do you know them?” He asked urgently.
“Who?” She was confused.
“The man and the woman in the dreams, do you know them?” He was no longer interested in the knife set. All of his attention was on her.
She felt slightly uncomfortable as she answered. “I don’t think so. Their names seem familiar, but I don’t know anyone by those names.” Kyle gave her a questioning look. “George, I think, and Francis are their names.” A look between excitement and nervousness crossed his face, but it disappeared as he composed himself.
“Are you sure that you don’t know them?” He looked at her as if she were lying.
“Yes, Kyle,” she assured. “I have no idea who those people are.”
He leaned against the table. “Good,” he said.
There was a tone to his voice that sent chills down her spine. “Should I know them?”
He knotted his hands together, staring at them. “No,” he sighed. “ No, it’s best if you didn’t.” Kyle looked up at her shyly, which was so uncharacteristic of him. Kyle was never shy. He had always been cool and confident and slick with a sharp edging. There was nothing soft about his personality at all. Something was wrong, something that he wasn’t saying to her.
“What is it, Kyle?” She said, finally, almost fearing the answer.
“I need to talk to you about something.” He said, putting away the knives he’d thrown. “Come on.” He offered his hand to her, and she took it.
A soft, feather-like object brushed up against Melanie’s face, making her nose tickle. She rubbed her nose, and the object swatted at her with warm fingers. She chuckled, “Charlie, what is it now boy?” Melanie opened her eyes to the bright orange tabby sitting on her lap, staring at her. It seemed to grin slightly as if he knew he had caught her in the middle of dozing off with an open book in her hands.
She closed the book and set it on the couch cushion beside her. Charlie pawed at her again. “Are you hungry?” He pounced onto the floor in response, already heading for the kitchen. Melanie pushed off the couch and followed him. Sure enough, he sat next to his metal food bowl by the doorway, meowing at her to hurry.
She went to her walk-in pantry, grabbed the plastic cup out of the bag, and poured a small scoop into his bowl. He purred and rubbed against her leg before diving into it. Melanie crossed her arms, leaning against the marble countertop and shaking her head.
Faintly, she remembered the day she found the now chubby cat. It had been raining that day in October four years ago. Melanie had just started living in the small bookstore and apartment combo. She was coming from her car up the walkway to the apartment with a bag of groceries in her arms when she’d heard the soft meowing. At first, she thought she’d imagined the sound, but when it came again, she knew it was real.
She’d set the groceries on the top step, she recollected, under the awning where they wouldn’t get wet and turned towards the alley to the left of the bookstore. A very heavy, acidic scent wafted her way as she entered the grungy alley. Blue and green dumpsters filled to the brim skirted either edges of the alley, and piles of trash decorated the ground at random intervals.
Beside one of the rusty dumpsters sat a cardboard box soaked through with water and partly covered by a thin looking, tan blanket. As she approached the box, the meowing sounded again but much quieter than the first two cries. Slowly, she peeled back the dingy, wet blanket and peered inside the box.
Her stomach had roiled slightly at the sight. The animals inside were obviously cats but ones that had been reduced to skeletons. Their coats were matted knots, hanging limply off their emaciated bodies. Every bone seemed to press on their thin skin, ready to burst through if you so much as poked it. But what sickened her the most was the realization that out of the five tiny bodies in the box, only one was moving.
The poor creature was sitting in a corner of the box, using the last bit of its energy to cry miserably for help. He was bright orange and the smallest of the bunch, the runt, and yet, he was the strongest, the most courageous. She remembered he’d hissed at her slightly when she’d reached for him. At first, she was afraid to even touch him, fearing she would break him with the slightest touch. But as she carried him against her chest into her home, Melanie could feel him snuggle against her, nudging her chest slightly with his tiny head.
After cleaning him up and feeding him, he was jovial in a way she’d never seen. Looking at him today, though, she thought, you’d have never thought it was the same cat. She smiled at him.
Melanie glanced at the clock on the stove, glowing with green numbers. “Damn it!” She exclaimed, realizing it was ten minutes past eight. The store had technically been open for twenty-five minutes with its doors locked. She dashed back into the living room, grabbing her book from the couch, and rushed to the door that separated her apartment from the bookstore.
She turned, “Charlie, are you coming?” The cat raised his head and glared at her for interrupting his meal before marching over obediently. “Sorry, boy,” she said, turning the deadbolt. Melanie let Charlie through first, and then followed, closing the door.
The stairs creaked as she descended hurriedly. A buzz sounded through the store before she’d gotten to the bottom of the staircase. “I’m coming!” She shouted, praying the person outside could hear her. She wove through the filled bookcases and found her way to the door.
The person outside, bundled in a black winter coat, jeans, and loafers, was a man. His golden hair blew across his face in a whirlwind of curls. He hunched his shoulders against the wind and dug further into the crevice under the awning. He rang again.
Melanie waved at him through the door as she unlocked it. The man opened the door, ushering in a cold, coarse breeze. He shut the door behind him, turned to her, and smiled.
“It’s a cold morning out there today; isn’t it Miss?” He said in the local New York accent. “Name’s Fred,” he held out his right hand, which was slightly scarred.
Melanie shook it briefly. “What can I help you find, sir?” she questioned the man in the New York accent she’d adopted perfectly.
“Eh!” He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m just gonna look around. That okay?”
“Sure! I’m gonna start some coffee,” she gestured toward the coffee pot on the front desk. “You’re welcome to some if you’d like. It’s free.”
Fred nodded his head and proceeded down one of the aisles. She watched him for a second before setting her book on the desk and starting the coffee pot. He was friendly, she thought, or he was at least nicer and had carried on a longer conversation with her than most of the people who had walked through the door of her small bookstore. The majority of the normal crowd were college students in search of books for their literature classes, and very few of them were really interested in anything else book related at all. They had no intention of spending more time than necessary in the store. Occasionally, an avid reader would happen across the store and spend an hour or so looking around and buy two, maybe, three books. However, it was usually another slow day in the office, surrounded by the familiar, musty book smell and the soft, jazzy ambiance that she had come to adore.
She turned her attention to the boxes that were stacked up next to her desk. They were books that she’d brought out from the back of the store yesterday. It was time to restock the shelves, she’d decided, unfortunately. She’d been working on the project off and on since yesterday but had eventually tired of it after three continuous hours of alphabetizing and rearranging the shelves.
Melanie grabbed a few books at random from one of the boxes, read the name of the author and the title of the first one- “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Bessie Smith, and proceeded to the shelves of classics along the left wall. She shoved the thick book between the other abundant Smiths. She was glad that she had the forethought of pricing all of the books in storage ahead of time so that the only thing she had to do was shelf them. She couldn’t even imagine how crazy she’d go if she had to figure out a price for the hundreds of books she’d shelved already.
As she started in on the second book’s title, she heard a heavy thud sound from one of the aisles. Melanie immediately remembered the man she’d let in a few minutes before and set down the books in her hands. She looked down the aisles in search of the man, just to make sure he was okay. The aisles were empty except for a single book lying on the floor by the nonfiction titles. It was balanced between the two covers with its spine sticking up, its pages facedown on the floor and slightly crinkled.
She scoffed at the man’s lacking ability to pick up after himself as she grabbed the book. Melanie didn’t recognize the title when she scanned for the author’s name but reshelved it anyways. She did, however, notice a small package on the floor. Upon closer inspection, she realized that it was an envelope addressed to her. There was no return address, but the old fashioned, red wax seal on the back made her stomach flip end over end. She would know the symbol anywhere, and it frightened her.
Melanie lifted the wax from the envelope and opened it. Inside, there was a note. She read it:
I know it’s sudden, but I had to contact you. I also know that seeing the seal will probably terrify you, as well it should. They’re coming for you, Mel. The Association knows. If they find you, they WILL kill you. However, there is a way we can help. Meet us at the train station at midnight tonight, and burn this.
The note wasn’t signed, but there was only person who’d address her as Mel instead of her full name. She still couldn’t believe it had been five years.
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 30.07.2014
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