It was dark when the clouds closed in. Alex sat on the steps outside her house, as the first spots of rain clung to her face and clothes. She smiled. She liked it when it rained. The wind blew her hair across her face, and she lifted a cold-bitten finger to brush it aside. Her parents would have told her to come inside, away from the cold by now. She smiled again at the thought. She lived in a big house, with just her and her Aunt. To most people, the house would have seemed like an intimidating, lonely sort of place, but Alex enjoyed the quiet. The rain lashed down. Thunder rolled across the sky, and hands of lightning reached down from the clouds to the city below her. The city looked pretty at night; bathed in the orange glow of a thousand street lamps. The only sound was the ripping wind, and the occasional serenade of a passing police car.
It must have been nine at night. It could have been ten. Maybe eleven. It didn't matter. She'd stayed out all night before, just to see the sun rise, and hear the sweet sound of the birds' dawn chorus. It was nice to just sit, and let the world pass you by, with no responsibilities or worries. Alex lived her life the way she wanted to. She was considered one of those people that parents told their children to avoid. She didn't have many friends. She often convinced herself she was better off that way.
She held open her palm and focused, until a little white ball of energy formed in it. The falling rain made it spark and shake. She sheltered it with her other hand, until it slowly faded away.
It was November, and Alex wondered when the snow would come this year, if it would at all. It was never really any fun until you got at least six inches of it, and if it was the right sort of snow for making snowmen. She looked up to the sky and remembered the time when she would look up, just like that, and try to catch the snowflakes in her mouth, squinting when they got into her eyes. She hadn't seen any snow since she'd moved to the city. Down south it was warmer, with unbearably hot summers and mild wet winters.
She lifted herself up, and wiped the dirty water from her hands onto her trouser legs. Walking down the street, a darkened lamppost flickered into life as she walked past it. She was used to that. It happened often.
The park was at the end of her road. The gates were always locked at night, so she walked round to a pair of railings, bent out of shape, and climbed through. She slipped her phone from her pocket to look at it. It was one of those new android phones, with a touch screen that everyone seemed to rave about. It was a gift her aunt had given her for Christmas, assuming it was one of those things that all kids liked these days. No new messages or missed calls, as usual. A lot of the time it seemed the only thing the phone was good for was the apps.
Alex saw movement out of the corner of her eye and stopped. It was someone about her age, casually leaning on the wall at the side of the golf course. He was wrapped in a grey hoodie, with his head down to the floor, curls of blonde hair flicking out at angles from the hood. For a moment, Alex wondered what brought him out of his house this late. Maybe he was waiting for someone. A girlfriend, probably. He looked like a popular kind of person. At that moment he sensed her presence, and turned his head to look at her. Normally she would have averted his gaze and quickly walked on, but something made her stay. She was fixed by something in his eyes; a spark of… recognition.
The smash of a bottle splintered the silence. The stare was broken as Alex turned her head to the sound of the crash. A group of boys stumbled down the road, surrounded by drunken cheers.
When Alex turned her head back to the golf course, he was gone.
The sky rumbled. Lightning streaked the sky like bullets, and the first marbles of hail began raining down, bouncing off her head, and striking at her face. Turning back down the road, she climbed back up the steps and found herself walking through the house. She passed the living room, the faint murmur of the television seeping through the door cracks, where the fuzzy outline of her aunt sat through distorted glass. She walked up two flights of stairs to her bedroom on the second floor. It was a tall, precarious looking house, and from the top floor you could see almost to the farthest edge of the city. It was set into the side of a steep hill, leading down to the streets and alleys below.
Alex liked her room. It was small, almost filled by her bed. It was simple, and virtually empty except for the drawings; reams of paper that lay strewn across the floor and scattered across the furniture. They were sketches of people mostly- just fragmented memories of faces that sometimes surfaced.
The floral wallpaper that lined the walls had aged, and was peeling off in some places. The window was nearly always left open and the rustle of papery curtains often helped her sleep. Her aunt hated the room, and regularly offered to get it redecorated, but she refused. It was surprisingly helpful when she needed a familiar place to run to.
She kicked off her shoes and climbed into her bed, still fully clothed. Her phone dug into her thigh as she tried to get comfortable, so she placed it on the bed side table. Wrapping herself up in the covers, she curled up on one side and closed her eyes.
Her mobile rang.
It played its default song that she had never bothered to change, and moved slowly across the table as it vibrated. The name Lauren flashed on the screen. She rejected the call, and waited for the answer-phone message she was sure would follow.
I understand you're probably busy, but I've barely seen you lately! You're never at school… I mean I know you're still edgy about the thing that happened, but it's not like you were excluded for it or anything. You should come back, I miss you.
She hung up. That was like Lauren, straight to the point. Alex allowed herself to smile. Lauren knew her better than she gave her credit for. She knew Alex wasn't in the slightest bit busy, but didn't press her about it, whilst still knowing she would listen to the message she left on the answer-phone.
The message replayed itself in her head. Reminders of what happened were like an icy sword to her heart. She felt that cold hollowness with every regret she had. She felt like she could never rid herself of the memory.
In the last of the streetlamp's dim light, fading as night turned to day, Alex walked to school. The sun was over the horizon just enough to light the sky in pastel green and yellow, and the definitions of Alex's face in a pale milky glow. Strands of her dark hair glistened, golden.
When you walked to school earlier than everyone else, you felt like you owned the world. No one would interrupt you. Everything was dead silent, except for the echoes of early morning birdsong and the occasional rumble of a car engine, gaining in volume as it got closer before fading into the distance as it passed, leaving the world at peace again.
She breathed in the fresh air like a drug. Its coldness hit the back of her throat, and the refreshing breeze gently breathed on her clothes, and caressed the bare skin of her arms.
"Aren't you the early bird?" The voice broke Alex's silence. She turned to where she knew she would see Lauren's figure, laid back on the fence. Her freckled face was framed by straight-lengths of copper-brown hair, and a knowing smile.
"Morning." Alex nodded in acknowledgement of Lauren's presence.
"Anything happening I should know about?" She raised an eyebrow.
"Nah. Nothing ever happens 'round here."
Lauren chuckled, raising herself from the fence, and then taking her place walking beside Alex. "I heard McAllister and his cronies were giving you trouble."
"Yeah…" She began hesitantly. "They found out about my mum and dad."
"Oh for God's sakes Alex, why don't you tell someone about this?"
"And who exactly could I tell?" For a second Alex's eyes flashed with anger, before calming to the same hazel warmth. "I'm sorry." She mumbled.
"Well, you can't exactly let them carry on doing this to you. You need to stand up for yourself. Forget the teachers!"
She screwed up her face in a confused expression. "I can't."
"I just can't, okay? I just have to get on with my life. They can do what they like and I just get on with it. That's how it goes. I have my reasons." Sometimes she wished she could just tell Lauren everything. She was the only one who might believe her, and from there they could work through the whole situation together. But instead they were at this stalemate, Lauren full aware that Alex was hiding something. Lauren waited every day for Alex to open up to her and tell her what the matter was. It never happened, and Alex felt as though they were slowly drifting apart.
"Okay, fine. You have your reasons, I accept that." Alex could hear the frustration in Lauren's voice.
"I'm sorry." Every day she had to keep it bottled up. She just wanted to yell out to the world, that she was different, that she had powers that people could only dream of; but in truth her powers weren't something that she was proud of. In a way, Alex hated them. All they'd done was isolate her, and make her feel even more like an outsider.
When they arrived at school, Lauren hurried off, obviously desperate to escape the awkward silence between them. Pulling her hood over her eyes, Alex turned the other way and up a set of stairs. At the top of the hill was a long path, and the bench that Alex always sat at. It gave her a good vantage point and overlooked the whole school, as well as being out of the way of the masses of crowds that gathered in the courtyards and corridors.
She sat for a while, and watched the sky. She loved days when the weather was like today, with ragged linen clouds forming over the pale morning blue. Sometimes, if you stared for long enough, you could see faces in them.
"If you're looking for your parents up there, you won't find them." Their laughs cut her like glass. The group of boys gathered around her, boys she had become far too familiar with lately.
"I wonder why that is?" McAllister sniggered to himself. "Oh yeah, they're dead!"
Alex cast him her darkest glare, in an attempt to get him to back off. Instead, he took a step closer.
"Say Alex," He began, in his mocking voice, "Were you there when they died? Did you get to hear their screams? What did that feel like?" He bent forward, bringing his questioning eyes closer to hers, so their faces were only an inch apart.
Alex felt the rage coursing through her veins, sending shivers through her body. Her fingertips glowed as the power within her frenzied, reacting to her anger. There was a level she could tolerate, but now he'd taken it too far. She had been living with their games every single day, and after a point she just couldn't ignore it. She'd had enough.
"And why… should it matter… to you?" Her voice shook violently.
"I think we've made her angry!" He was treating her like a child. She clenched her fists, nails digging into her palms. She bit her lip, hard, and she tasted blood as her teeth pierced her skin.
"So, how did it happen? Were you watching when your Mum's head smashed through the windscreen? How about your dad? What happened to him? Their eyes; did you get a good look into those cold, dead eyes?"
If anyone had blinked, they would have missed it. In a swift second, she pulled her arm back into a palm strike position and thrust it forward. A flash of lightning exploded from Alex's hand, striking McAllister full in the chest. She heard the deafening thunder as his ribs cracked, and for a moment their eyes met. She saw the expression of shock and confusion on his face as he was blasted backwards. He hit the floor on his side, then skidded and rolled down the hill. It seemed like an eternity before he finally managed to come to a stop at the bottom, whimpering softly and covered in mud.
Alex allowed herself a smile of satisfaction. McAllister certainly wouldn't be insulting her parents again. The rest of his gang backed off, running away like cowards.
Another crowd began to gather. A few people stood around McAllister, trying to help him, but most people began to surround Alex. They were asking questions.
"Did she push him?"
"Did you see it?"
"What's going on?"
"Is he hurt?"
It was at that moment Alex realised her mistake. There was a reason she didn't stand up to people like that. It was so she didn't lose control. Ever since she had come to terms with her power she had made a solemn promise to herself to never lose control, and she hadn't; until that moment. She knew that McAllister wouldn't go to the teachers- he had his honour to preserve and to anyone watching it just looked like she'd pushed him- but that didn't overrule the fact that she had lost all judgement, and hospitalized someone in the process.
Since then, Alex hadn't been able to face up to school, for fear of losing herself again. More to the point, the loss of control had kick started her dreams. Dreams that she hadn't had since she was a child and was first discovering she had powers, dreams that faded away once she started to suppress them.
The dreams were confusing, and never really added up right. They were full of people that she'd never met, but they had powers like her own. Some could command devastating waves of water to sweep away a city, or tear up earth from deep in the ground. The pictures inside her head were accompanied by whispering voices that she could usually never understand, except for one word. One word that always came up.
The vivid dreams were a problem for Alex. Even after she had woken up they followed her, throughout her day, niggling at the edge of her mind, waiting for the moment when she closed her eyes and they could return.
Why couldn't she just have normal dreams like everyone else? Dreams about falling, or flying, or being late for school? If Alex didn't have a dreamless sleep, then they were about those people. People that she'd never met and didn't care for in the slightest.
Her thoughts turned back to the blonde boy by the golf course. There was something very strange and unidentifiable about him. He seemed so normal- his obsessively washed hair, his fashionable jacket, his trainers- yet everything about him screamed to Alex that he was out of the ordinary. There was a secret hidden deep behind his eyes that told her that he could be so much more if he wanted to be. That he was someone special.
That was when something clicked in Alex's head. The dreams were just something she always ignored, or dismissed as part of her overactive imagination, but now the spark of recognition she had felt when she saw the blonde boy by the golf course in the park made sense.
Her heart raced, and she immediately regretted not speaking to him. She had seen him before.
In her dreams.
It was hard to dismiss it as a coincidence. In fact, deep in her heart she knew that it wasn't. Something told her, something pushed her to find him again. Picking up her phone, she headed straight back out the door.