“Falling” by Mallory Sunderland

   The water rushed around them. It was hard to hear Horace shouting at her. The roaring water simply drowned out everything. But that was good. Very good. They needed this. She remembered the plans from last night. Horace had told them what to do. He was always the one in charge, but this was the best option, and the quickest.

   She saw Winslow and Alice gliding slowly through the mists of the falls. It was a shame they couldn’t move any faster. She felt so wretched watching them, unable to do anything. She was so useless. The slippery rocks made her feel as though she was constantly grasping at nothing; her body kept slipping. She had climbed down at an odd angle, and right now it made her worried. If she fell, she would only hinder the group. That’s all she was. A hindrance.

   How many days had she wanted to cry? Every day that she existed. That she could remember at least. Anything past two days ago was a blur. A very painful blur. That’s all she could remember though, pain.

   She shifted slightly, trying to find her balance again. She didn’t realize what was happening until she clung to the rock, her fingers slipping, trying to desperately find a niche to grasp, anything at all. Her mind never panicked, but her body did.

   “Mira!” Horace shouted, instantly worried. She could actually hear him over the falling water. He had been going down slowly, able to move better than anyone else in the party, excluding Alice and Winslow, but they didn’t count. They floated by manipulating the gravity around them. She could see his arms and hands had taken a rough, claw-like form. He was ramming his hands into the rocks, coming down as fast as he possibly could. It was funny that she could simply watch and rationalize all of this as she hung there, losing her grip on the rock that moments ago had been below her, but was now above. Her body acted on its own, her mind just drifted.

   “Don’t you dare fall down now.” He was panting hard. His face was disheveled amd worried. He also looked frightened. Horace never looked that way; he was usually laid back, calm. Horace was close enough now that she could make out every word he said. “Damn it, Mira, you’re the most important person here. I can’t lose you.” There was a certain panicked way he stressed that last bit. Mira began to wonder if he truly cared, but at that point she felt the rock slip completely beneath her hands.

   As her body fell, she wondered if the fall would kill her. She knew water from over fifty feet killed a person. The law of gravity stated that a fall from that height would flatten her. Could she really die, though? Could it really be that easy? No. It would never be that easy.

   The water seemed to be right in front of her face when Mira suddenly was gazing into a dark blue shirt. Winslow. Somehow he had managed to catch up. His body tipped backwards as he stumbled from her weight. Mira felt water splash up around her. She almost wished… no, she shouldn’t think that way. Best just to be glad that she was fine.

   Winslow stood up, looking sort of comical in his soaked clothes and flattened dark brown hair. He pointed to the shore where Mira saw the two they had just brought down, Mark and Lily, looking wet and cold. She swam slowly through the water, looking back up at Winslow. He was getting Sierra and Megan from the rocks. She hadn’t even said thank you. Well, they hated her anyway.

   She watched as Alice took Horace down, dropping him with a splash into the water. He turned to Mira. He looked angry.

   “What were you doing? Were you even paying attention?”

   For a moment, Mira felt a spark of anger at his words. He was yelling at her, splashing through the water with a dark look on his face. She found herself spitting out the venomous words before she could stop herself.

   “Yes, I wanted to fall and die.” She let the sarcasm drip down her tongue. It felt nice, to show emotion. She liked it then. The real world crashed into her as she felt him strike her. Hard.

   It burned, pain and awful tingling all across the left side of her face. Her body immediately went to heal itself, but curiously enough, she stopped it. It felt good, the pain. It was like a subtle pleasure coursing through her. She had missed it. She just stood there, then reached up and touched the side of her burning face gingerly. A shot of pain jolted through her again. Yes, it felt good.

   Horace was cursing, moving away from her and yelling for the rest of them to gather together. She turned, setting her face back into her typical blank look, and made her way to the shore of the lake. It was hard to focus.

   Horace hit her. The way he had done it, so harsh and violent, she had felt a slight rage towards him for it. He cared for her though. He was the only one who didn’t despise her, or turn away. But why? He cared for her, showed compassion, and gave her comfort—something no one else ever would do for her. It didn’t make sense though. Why would one person care for her when everyone else shunned her? No, it made no sense at all to her.

   Mira glanced at the faces before her. No one made eye contact. Nothing’s changed. She wanted to cry. To break down. To just—lose it. She couldn’t, and it wouldn’t change anything if she did. Even if she wept, they still would have the same look. Only Horace didn’t give that look to her. He cared, or seemed to. He kept her away from the rest of them. She was special, or so he said. She felt special, but not in a good way. She felt hated.

   “We need to move on. There’s an old ruin up ahead, probably a mile away. We can make it there before sunset if we hurry.”

   They all began to file behind Horace. Their band had gone from eleven to eight. The trackers had lost them a little while ago thanks to Horace’s quick thinking, or perhaps his experience. Running through water, going down the falls, all helped clear the scent from the area.

   Mira followed behind Horace. Anywhere else in the pack was unacceptable for her. He said that she had to run behind him. Nowhere else. Period. She didn’t question him. Why should I? I have no reason to doubt him. Yet, even as she thought this, she couldn’t push out the dark feelings that swirled in her mind.

   There was something wrong with Horace.

   It took them a little after sunset to reach the “ruins” that Horace had told them about. It was more like an old stone home. Mira just gazed ahead at the building. It looked sturdy. At least the base wasn’t crumbling down, and only the vines creeping up it made it seem ruined. Looking up, she saw that the roof was pretty much gone. Hopefully, it wouldn’t rain while they slept.

   It took them awhile to set up camp. Mark and Sierra went off for dry kindling, Alice and Winslow scouted for edible food, Lily and Megan were rigging a structure to serve as a roof—apparently Lily sensed that it was going to rain, it was her gift—and Horace went off to hunt for game. And she was left to sit there. Doing nothing. And Horace wondered why she felt useless. She had managed to start a fire with the random sticks lying close to the brick building. It was all she was good for, making a pointless fire. It wasn’t even that cold out. At least it was something she could do.

   After about an hour of just gazing into flames that threatened to sputter out, everyone started trickling back in. She didn’t really look up. She was afraid she might catch their eyes on her. She hated seeing their hatred, especially since even though they hated her, she liked them.

   She could see the affection and bonds they had formed together, and just seeing that, well, it made her sort of happier. She could see it in the way Alice and Winslow fought, she making snide comments and he simply shrugging. She could see it in the way Lily and Megan laughed with one another, and the way they curled up next to each other during the long nights. She could see it in the way Mark and Sierra always held hands when they were alone or whispered to one another when they thought no one would notice. Mira always noticed. She couldn’t help it.

   Horace always told her they were pretty much useless—that only Winslow and Alice were of any use on this trip. She couldn’t believe it. Without Lily, they would never know when to seek shelter from the weather. Mark could smell really well, like a bloodhound, and he had managed to keep them on track many times. Megan could feel those behind them. She had warned them when they had first started their journey that they were being followed. Without her, they would have been caught by now. Sierra, well, Mira didn’t know what Sierra could do. But altogether, they were family. Even if it didn’t include her, it made Mira have a small bit of hope in her life. Just a spark.

   When Mira finally saw Horace return, everyone had already come back, and was eating. No one had said anything to her; they made their own fire in the room across from hers with matches from Horace, shooting her furtive looks and talking with one another in a spirited manner. Horace had with him two rabbits and a pheasant. At least no one would go too hungry. He brought the pheasant over to Mira, skinning and cleaning the bird. She didn’t really want to watch; for some reason it reminded her of something unpleasant, even if she couldn’t quite put her finger on what that foulness was.

   The whole group finished their meal fairly quickly. Horace ordered the second fire put out, but left the small one Mira had made burn. He gathered them all around it, giving news to them.

   “We are almost clear. There are a few more stops, but then we will be in a territory that is safe.” He paused. “Since I am able to shape shift, I will scout the next location. I will return as soon as possible. I want all of you to rest well and prepare for a long journey tomorrow. I know most of you are worn out from such an extended use of your abilities, but we wouldn’t be where we are without them.”

   Horace turned around, giving Mira a small smile and lightly touched her shoulder. “You stay here while I’m gone.” He smiled at her. And then he did something unexpected. Horace took Mira’s hand in his own larger one and raised it to his lips. He kissed her. It took Mira a moment to fully register the situation, but by then he was gone.

   He disappeared into the darkness, no doubt taking the form of a wolf or mountain lion to find his way. Mira shivered and wrapped the small blanket she had tighter around herself. While the fire warmed her, it couldn’t keep out the cold that she felt from within. She heard the shuffling and shifting of the others, but took no notice until a stick cracked right in front of her. She expected maybe Lily, or Megan, but not the two who stood before her.

   Alice and Winslow.

   Why would they speak to her? She knew from the expression Alice wore when she looked at Mira that she loathed her, more than anyone else in the party. Why is she here? Mira didn’t understand. There was no reason for her to be here. The smoldering glare from Alice made Mira look away quickly; it unnerved her so.

   Out of the corner of her eye, Mira saw Alice look away, hesitance written on her face. Alice didn’t look angry anymore; instead she had let her face slip into that of annoyance.

   “So,” Alice paused. Mira was tempted to answer, but kept quiet. Alice let out an irked sigh of frustration before continuing. “I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to be near you, or even look at you. I hate you.” Another pause. “But we,” she gestured toward the others sitting back at the fire. They were speaking in hushed voices and glancing over at Alice and Winslow, “need you.” She dropped her hands to her side and then sat down abruptly on a small log. Winslow followed suit.

   Mira sat there, unable to fully grasp the situation. The words were confusing. She needed her, yet hated her. It made no sense.


   Alice looked shocked for a moment, as if there was no reason for her to be misunderstood. Her answer was a question as well. “Why what? Why we need you, or why I hate you? Both should be fairly easy to understand.” Her voice grew bitter as she choked at the last statement.

   “I can’t remember.” Mira hated this. She didn’t know why she couldn’t remember. All she knew was that she couldn’t.

   “Geez…” Alice sighed again and then cupped her hands around her face and gave Mira an exasperated look. “You really don’t remember?”

   Mira shook her head. She remembered all of them, but not from before the journey. Not before she saw Horace’s face and felt him drag her from where she had been. Hell.

   Alice just glared at her for another moment. “Fine. Then I’ll tell you. The answer to both questions is the same thing. You’re a monster. Something that shouldn’t exist even among people like us.” Alice looked at Winslow. He just kept staring at Mira though. “You killed us,” Alice said as she turned back to look at Mira with a fierceness. “Anyone who they thought was too minor, something not worth keeping they sent to you. You killed our friends. Lily’s, Megan’s, Winslow’s…all of our friends. We can never forgive you for that. I don’t care if you were drugged, abused, whatever. You had no right. None.”

   Mira looked at the ground. There was nothing she could say. She had killed people. Innocent people. She couldn’t understand why though. She didn’t like hurting people, at least as far as she knew. Perhaps they had tortured her. She did remember something of pain.

   She still could not look up at Alice. She had done too much to her in the past.

   “Can you even speak now? Do you remember what you are?” Alice stood up, and Winslow followed. Both towered over Mira as she continued to look down, shamed over the things she could not remember.

   “It doesn’t matter if you do or not, but we still need you. We can’t survive with just our small group. We have no abilities that are offensive. The damage we could deal would be minor, like a fly buzzing in someone’s ear. There is no hope if we cannot fight back.” Alice paused and seemed hesitant.

   “We have Horace.” It was all Mira could think of to say. Alice merely laughed.

   “Horace? We have Horace.” She laughed again, but it cut short and her mirth vanished. “Haven’t you guessed it yet? No?” Alice gave a wry smile. “Horace is a betrayer. A turncoat. He wants nothing more than to sell us to another group. He steals from the government and sells to the black market. How much do you think freaks like us go for? He knows we cannot survive without him. It’s why he chooses those with minor powers. He took a chance for you, though.”

   “No. Horace…” Mira trailed off. What was Horace? He cared for her, like today. He had touched her, kissed her. “He cares for me. I know it.”

   Alice laughed. “You think a touch and a glance means anything? No, he cares for none of us. We are business. His freedom. You are someone he needs to control. How better to control you than through emotions like love. He manipulated you.” Alice was angry. Her voice was hard. “He knows we hate you. So he pretended to care. To be your only crying shoulder. You are so gullible.”

   Mira stiffened. How dare she say such horrible things? Horace was kind, he was good to her. And then she thought about it. He was only kind to her. Did he care?

   “Do you really think someone like him, well dressed and obviously well off, would care about rescuing us? No, he got free, joined a group and spends the rest of his days risking capture again to bring us to his bosses. He is nothing more than a hound sent to fetch the prey. We need to leave him. I would prefer tonight if possible.” Alice turned to Winslow as he began to speak.

   “No, he left tonight, I believe, to fetch them. He has never left before, has he?” his voice was soft, yet deep, a very different sound from Alice’s.

   “You may be right. Then we shall leave now.” She turned back to Mira. “Will you come with us? Or would you rather stay with Horace? Will you hunt us down with him?” Her cold look had returned. Mira felt strange. Yes, she wanted to go with them, but they still hated her. They would never have anything but cruelty for her. Yet…

   “I will go. I have no love for Horace.” Mira stood, letting the blanket fall from her shoulders. She couldn’t concern herself about what they thought of her when she already knew what she felt for them. She loved them. Even if they would never love her back, she wanted to protect them, to be with them. It didn’t matter what they thought of her. For the first time, Mira felt alive.

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