She flicked the cigarette out the window and reached to turn up the music. It was loud, pulsing, making the air shimmer as if it were alive around her. She liked it loud; there was no point in listening to metal any other way. Scrap metal music, a boyfriend had called it. Pieces of shit that are written to be enigmas. Only good to stop you from thinking.
"Yeah, Paul," she had said. "Okay. Whatever."
"Poor tragic iconoclasts. Gotta listen to music that nobody can understand. Like a piece of scrap metal from a fuckin' dump. That's what you are, Blaire. You're a fuckin' dreg."
"Yeah, Paul. Okay. Whatever."
She shook her head. It was a long way home from the hospital, and she knew thinking to hard about anything would fuck her over. But ex-boyfriends and angry men with frizzy hair and tats—they were safe subjects.
Just don't think about him.
Her eyes glanced up in the review mirror and to her surprise an old blue car was trailing her. Strange. It was three o fucking clock in the morning, and the road was uninhabited even in the day.
She had always traveled the back roads, and this one was her favorite. It was long, coiling itself in circles, twisting through the back of the state, born then abandoned by its creator like a nest of baby snakes. It ached, with potholes scattering the surface and moss slithering up its side, threatening to suffocate it in a thick, greenish brown.
She watched the car a second longer than she should and swore softly to herself. Press the gas a little more. Turn up the music a little louder. Listen to some man pretend to be angry about something painted up to look like a betrayal.
The car kept pace with her, stayed right behind her. There wasn't much of a place for it to go, anyway.
"I bet you wish you were special, Blaire. Wish you were even close what that music fuckin' tells you you are. You just wish you were even worth anythin'. You're a fuckin' whore picked up from fucking Africa. Not worth shit."
"Yeah, Paul. Okay. Whatever."
She didn't notice the deer jump out in front of her until it was too late. She hit the breaks, fast, but the car spun out at a 30 degree angle. The driver of the other car crashed into her, rocketing her forward. She pushed the horn, long and loud, turned down the music and slammed the door behind her.
"Hey, man, what the fuck is your problem?" she glared into the darkness, blinking as her eyes fully adjusted.
The man behind her was already out, leaning his car. He was a tall and lanky, so thin that his cheekbones protruded unnaturally from his pale face. Nothing about him was the way it should be; he looked washed out, like someone had stolen the color from his cheeks and eyes. His skin hung off his bones at an odd angle as if it was ready to be shed from his skeleton if he ever brushed against a rock.
She raised an incredulous eyebrow. "Coluber?"
"Yes," he said softly, smirking.
"What the fuck? Didn't I tell you to leave me alone?"
He bowed to her, and somehow she felt mocked. "Charming, as always."
"What the hell is your problem?"
"I told you I would come."
"Yeah? And I told you what the answer would be. No." Noticing the look on his face, she added with extra emphasis, "No!"
The man sighed and looked down at the ground. "We are in a…situation."
"Ever since your father-"
She bristled. "You leave my father fuckin' out of this, you hear? You know the reason I don't have him anymore? You know the reason I'm out here, in the middle of the night? I'm driving fuckin' hours away to see him at the hospital. In a coma. That's what he gets for trying to help you people. He risked his goddamn life, ended up as a fucking carrot and doesn't get so much as a 'Thanks, you did a good job.' Don't you dare ask anything from me."
"What happened to your father was unfortunate--"
"It wasn't unfortunate. You took the only thing I had away from me! And you have the nerve to come here and ask me for help!"
The man sighed. "Blaire, there is a meager number of people in the world with your abilities. If there was anyone else we could as we would."
"Oh? What about Billy Thompson? Clarissa Fraser? Ivy Wilkins?"
The man hung his head.
"Oh. Oh you goddamn yellow-bellied BASTARD! I'm the last one left, aren't I? I'm the last one."
She focused her anger away from the man, looking over to the side of the road. She tried not to get to angry, knowing full well what would happen if she did.
Coluber's thin lips twisted into a smile, "Blaire, we are close. Closer than we've ever been before. You can't just end that all now. The others sacrificed everything for it. You can't let their efforts be in vain. We will train you. Teach you what you need to know so that what happened to them will not happen to you. Show you control your powers. You'll be a hero."
"I have no desire to be a hero." She spat the last word like a curse.
"Your father would have wanted it."
"You don't know jack shit about my father."
"I know he wouldn't be proud of the way you're living."
She remained silent.
"Blaire, do you understand the precarious position you've been put in? You are a gifted woman, as I'm sure you are aware. As much as you may want and try to, you cannot lead a normal life."
"Oh? And why can't I?" Blaire looked him straight into his eyes, trying to stare him down. He met her gaze, unblinking, neither of them looking away. She felt her anger rise inside her, burning hot, lighting every cell in her body into a huge, raging fire. It flowed through her like she was fodder, its power out of control and pulsing faster and hotter and faster, FASTER until—
The pavement—the concrete—in front of Coluber burst into flames, the rich red and orange illuminating his face. He looked to pale in the firelight yet unafraid although he knew—he must have known—how simple it would be for her to extend the fire a few more inches towards him.
Blaire raced to her car, grabbed a water bottle, unscrewed the lid and tossed it at the fire. The flames died down and she went over and stamped out the ashes, scratching the burnt concrete from side to side over the ground with her foot. "You wanna fuck with me, Coluber?" she asked him, eyes blazing. "You guys up to it?"
She focused her eyes on him. The tips of his shoes started smoking. He looked mildly alarmed.
"You're out of control. Your power is too strong for you. You act like a child with it, going around like a miniature tornado, except instead of knocking things down you set fire to them. You need to release your anger instead of keeping it locked inside of you while you listen to some man with a guitar scream and curse. If you keep going like this, Blaire, you are going to die."
"There are documented examples of unrestrained power collapsing in upon itself and destroying the wielder. In your case, you would set yourself on fire. You would literally spontaneously combust."
Blaire's frown deepened but she cocked her head and glared at him. "And I'm sure you're the only one that can train me and save me?"
He bowed. "Yes."
"Rot in hell."
"I wouldn't lie. You are in danger. Being able to use this against you is the positive side of it, but the agency has not resorted to outright lies quite yet."
"So you still maintain the illusion of honor?"
"Something like that," he laughed softly.
"So I really could burn, then."
"It is not 'could' so much as 'when.'"
"Here." He handed her a piece of paper, giving what looked like a smile. "Call this number tomorrow, if you change your mind. Your future—everyone's future—depends on it."
She glared, but reached out a hand to take the paper. It felt warm and smooth in her hand.
She put it next to her as she slid into the driver's seat. Stepped on the gas, pushing 90 on the twisting road. The music was blaring. She needed something, anything, to clear her head. She wished she could just sleep, feeling the humming of the car beneath her feet, not in the drivers seat any longer. She glanced in the rearview mirror, and realized Coluber's car wasn't following her anymore. It was nowhere in sight.
She glanced down. Thought of her father, lying comatose in a hospital bed. Thought of the others, his friends, her friends buried in some unmarked grave. She picked up the piece of paper in one hand. Unfolded it. Folded it again. And, opening the window, let it fall outside just like a piece of scrap metal.