Any critique is greatly appreciated.
| Chapter 1
Â Sound played all around them beneath the whistling of the train as it shot through the underground tunnel. The chatter of groups of teenagers after a movie, the music of the man standing behind them, turned up loud without him realising, an old couple watching the tunnel lights fly by. All these people, packed in together on the train, hurtling forward below The City.
Alex smiled and inched closer to Sky, leaning on her shoulder. She stood straight, quiet as usual, staring straight ahead and out of the train. The two of them had been together for about a year, although neither of them could remember how long exactly.
"You look sad, babe." Alex told her. Despite the crowd, their small space on the train felt almost private.
"Hmm? What? No, I'm fine." She looked down at Alex, smiling softly, "Just fine."
That was a lie, and Alex wanted to let it go, but she couldn't. The two of them had been out all day. A movie, a meal, some window shopping. What was wrong? She tried to shake the feeling.
"So, how're things going at the caf" Alex asked, trying to segue into a conversation.
"It's good, it's good. Morgan's still giving me shit, but I think I can keep this job."
"Morgan, he's the... shoot-y one, right?" Alex pointed finger guns at Sky, as if casting a spell.
"Yeah, the elemental guy. But he's terrible at anything that isn't fire. Good thing he makes the coffee." Sky laughed, covering her mouth. Alex laughed along.
"And good thing you're in charge of the cooking."
"Well, I wouldn't say in charge." She shrugged.Â "And it's only spices and flavour, I'd burn it otherwise. But sure, at least its putting Herbalism to good use." Herbalism magic wasn't used very often by a lot of people. Some doctors and chefs still practiced it though, along with some other, less savoury people.
There was silence again, and the sounds of the train came back into their bubble of privacy. A screaming kid at the far end of the train, the ding of the doors opening and closing, the sound of a news broadcast because some dude forgot to turn his phone down before playing it.
"Oh right, did you hear about that?" Alex asked, spying the news feed on the man's phone titled 'LEO CURTIS, MAYOR MATERIAL?'. "That Curtis dude is running for government."
Sky looked surprised, thinking for a moment. "I don't like that, I see his brand on enough stuff already. Government seems a bit much."
"Yeah definitely." She glanced at the phone again, "The worst part is that people are actually voting for him, there's a post that says 'he knows this town like nobody else'". Alex rolled her eyes, "I swear, he's paying people to say that."
"You're starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist, Alex." Sky faked a crazed look in her eye, "Wake up sheeple!"
The two of them laughed again, but Alex still felt like Sky was holding onto something, or maybe holding something back. She wasn't as herself as she normally was. Or maybe Sky was more herself now that when Alex had first met her. It's often hard to tell, especially after a year.
The announcer rang out through the train and the doors slid open, pulling Alex back into the present. Without thinking too hard, she jumped off the train and turned to wait for Sky. Only Sky didn't walk out, and the doors slid shut again. Sky, through the glass of the train, pointed up at the sign for the station.
It was not Alex's stop. Nor Sky's, for that matter.
Alex laughed through the door, gesturing for Sky to get off at the next stop, their intended station. But Sky didn't cover her mouth to laugh, she didn't laugh at all. She just smiled, sadly, as the train pulled away. A blur of faces rushed past Alex from the moving train as she stood, rooted where she was, confused. Something was wrong. It was very, very clear now. She pulled out her phone and messaged something innocuous. Hey, I'll meet you at the next stop, we'll walk home together. She thought about that smile. That sad smile. Alex hadn't seen Sky like this before.
Her worries spun inside her as the next train pulled in. Alex messaged again. Danny should be getting home when we get back, we'll probably start dinner. No reply. The train sped on and Alex waited impatiently. Without Sky she had lost the bubble of privacy, being forced in amongst the other people on the train. A pram with two parents and four kids, a young girl in a school blazer two sizes too big, a man holding a video camera and nothing else. They surrounded her, uncomfortably, as if her worry took up too much space and couldn't sit right around all these people.
The doors opened and the girl rushed out before anyone else. The station wasn't busy, and she could see from end to end. Sky wasn't here. Alex pulled out her phone and scrolled through her contacts as quickly as she could, dialling her girlfriend's number.
The world seemed to melt away in the calm before Alex's storm, and the culmination of her confusion, the strangest thing that would send it all into motion, lit up in front of her. Sky's phone, lay ringing on the train tracks.
Alex ran for the stairs out of the subway, as Sky's abandoned phone was hidden under an incoming train.
Redbrick Flats is a small collection of apartments, nestled on the edge of offices and banking high-rises. Despite the occasional mural or graffiti on a blank wall, it's the only change of colour along the street. Made up of deep reds and browns, wrapped in a long, sprawling creeper vine infecting one side of the lot, it stands in stark comparison to the efficiently lifeless structures around it. The owner, one Angela Riegel, had bought the land when the only business on the street was a cafbakery/accounting firm, all run by two people. And if photos are to be believed, she was as old and cranky when she bought the place as she is today.
Danny, Alex's curly haired younger brother, was locking his bike against a rusty gate as his sister came bolting around the corner. He saw her and smiled, she saw him and felt relieved. She skidded to a stop in front of him. They clapped, fistbumped, and then gave a tug on one another's ear (Alex having to bend down for Danny to reach), clearly a secret handshake. Alex took Danny's hand and led him up into their flat. Once inside, he dropped his bag by the door, heading straight for the kitchen, while she sat down at the bench.
"Alex?" he asked, pulling a wrapped loaf of bread out of their pantry,
"Hmm? Yeah?" she replied absently, her leg bouncing up and down.
"What's wrong?" he spread peanut butter over a bread slice,
"Oh, nothing, it's cool." She spoke too quickly for that to be true.
"Here." Danny handed her the finished sandwich, sitting down next to her. Alex loved her little brother. She didn't know how he learned it, but whenever she was worried, he seemed to know exactly how to take care of her. She finished the sandwich and then turned to him.
"Thankyou." She smiled, an expression which hardened as soon as it arrived. "Danny," she wouldn't hide this from him. "Sky just... left. We were on the train. Well no, she was, but I got off early, and when I got to the station she was gone."
Her brother thought for a moment, "Maybe she's gone to get some snacks?" Danny suggested.
"No. I don't think so. She left her phone behind." Alex said, deep in thought. "I just don't understand why she'd ditch her phone."
"Maybe she's trying to hide something." Danny's eyes brightened and he held a finger gun up beside his face, and began to noisily sneak around the room.
"Hiding something..." Alex made her way through the flat towards their bedroom. It was a perfect example of how different the two of them really are. The left side, Alex's side, would remind someone of the noise that an amplifier makes when you unplug the cord. Most of the mess bled into the right side of the room. Sky's side, in comparison to Alex's, was empty. But the truth is that you could compare Sky's side of the room to anyone else's room and still come up with the same answer. Every object was tucked out of sight, the shelves were well dusted and never used, and the bed looked like it was holding its breath. The only thing on display, which felt out of place in such an empty space, was a lone picture frame on the bedside table of Sky and Alex, and Danny, who seemed to need to jump to force himself into the picture.
Alex wasn't focusing on any of these details. Instead, she was hurriedly tearing open drawers in an attempt to find... something. She didn't know what she wanted to find, but she wanted a clue of some kind. The two of them had only been together for a year, but she was Alex's ticket to a normal life. She could help her help Danny. She could--
Her train of thought was cut short by a sharp pain on her finger. She had her hands deep in Sky's clothes drawer and something had cut her. She reached in with her other hand and pulled out a yellowed rag. It had small shards of glass loose inside it, as if whatever it had contained had been smashed. She opened the rag further and her nose recoiled. It smelt horrible. Like back alleys and nightclubs at 2am.
Then she heard something. Something she was too familiar with. The distant sound of incoming police sirens. She froze in a sudden panic. Surely they weren't coming for her. She had gotten away, years ago, all her cases were cold. She waited, her breath held, hoping the sirens would fade soon.Â
But they didn't.Â
Alex flew into action the moment she heard them screech to a stop in front of their quaint brick apartment block. Alex pulled out a backpack and filled it with the essentials, throwing underwear, shirts, and a toothbrush into her bag. She slung it on her back as she ran out the door, dashing into Danny's room and doing the same. She paused for a moment, collecting his two favourite books and his schoolwork. She heard a knock on her door, and practically jumped down the small stairwell. Danny was walking towards the door to answer it. Her eyes widened and she rushed up to him to grab his hand.
"Danny!" she whispered to him, eyeing the door like it was a sleeping lion.
"Alex?" he replied, as fear and confusion flooded his face.
"Danny, you have to trust me." She pleaded, "please, you have to trust me."
"What's happening?" Danny stammered over his words. Alex hated this.
"We're... we're going for a bit of an adventure." She answered, desperate.
Danny's face hardened, and he gave a single nod.
"Thankyou." She sighed with relief, "now follow me out the window."
The brother and sister ran through the darkening streets of the city. Alex gripped Danny's hand and they took twists and turns further and further away from their home. As they passed under the street lamps beside the road, Alex thought back to her last few hours with Sky, and what could've possibly gone wrong.
They two of them had organised a lunch together at a newly opened cafe, and had sat by the window, looking out at the people across the street.
"Okay, that guy over there, blonde, hiking backpack." Alex said smiling. "He's clearly a tourist, but why is he on holiday."
"Yeah I see him," Sky replied, trying not to stare at the man they were talking about. "Hmm. I bet he's not the sharpest tool in the shed, and when his girlfriend said that they should give each other some space, he took it a bit too literally."
The two of them laughed at the personality they'd given this random tourist. Sky piped up,
"Okay, this old woman, walking past the shoe store now. Big hat, big sunglasses, huge handbag."
"Okay okay, gimme a second." Alex thought for a moment, "Oh! Inside that handbag is... one of those guns that's all in pieces! She's been in the hitman game for years, keeping her identity a secret, and this is her last job with her biggest paycheck."
Sky shook her head at the ridiculousness of Alex's story, and looked out the window to wait and see another interesting person pass by.
"To be honest, I stole that plot from a movie I saw a while back. A few years ago." Alex admitted, "Man what was I even doing back then. It was before Danny and I had moved into the apartment. So not a lot else apart from bumming around. More or less."
Alex looked over to Sky, who was zoning out again.
"Hey, what were you up to back then? Would've been something good, right?"
The expression Sky's face turned to still hung in Alex's brain. She had gone from serene calm to the look someone has when they're grabbed from behind. It held in the air for a moment before Sky shook it away,
"What about this bald man over here, why do you think he got rid of his hair?"
Was that it, Alex thought. Was asking her about her past crossing some unspoken line? Up ahead of them sat a row of display homes neatly arranged by a half-finished shopping centre, proudly boasting signs on every lawn branding them as Curtis Model Homes. Her destination pulled Alex from her thoughts, and she slowed down, giving both her and Danny time to catch their breath.
"How about it?" she asked him, "just for a bit, we'll get back home soon." Danny looked cold, and tired, and worried. "Tell you what, why don't you pick the one we stay in tonight?"
That seemed to perk him up a bit, and he scanned the row of houses thoughtfully.
"That one," he said, pointing to a modern looking house, complete with grey and white paint and an overall blocky feel, "if we need to survive in outer space, this house is it."
Alex led Danny through the to be landscaped backyard and tried the back door. Locked. Alex closed her eyes and took the backpack off, telling Danny to wait. Alex focused her thoughts and pictured the lock in the door. Then she pictured the backpack zipped up tight in her hands. She held these two objects in her minds eye, and began to think of them as the same. As if they shared the same name, as if they were not two disparate objects, but one. When it felt just right, she whispered a few words under her breath, and unzipped the backpack. Almost at the same time, she heard the locked door click open. She opened it up and lead Danny into the darkened house. She hated having to cast that spell. She hated her little brother having to see it.
The two carefully and clumsily made their way to a bedroom, where they brushed their teeth together, like every night, and went to bed.
Danny spoke up from the dark next to Alex,
"Will I be going to school tomorrow?" he asked, quietly.
"Yeah, of course." Replied his sister, "your work is in the bag, and I'll give you some money for lunch."
"Danny, this won't be forever. Things will be normal again before you know it."
"I know. You always figure things out."
Alex smiled to herself, "Go to sleep, Danny Salt- what was it again?"
"Danny Salt, Explorer Extraordinaire!" he reminded her, sounding like a game show host. They both laughed.
Soon enough, Danny fell asleep beside his sister. Alex was glad that he could, because she lay awake all night, trying to come up with a plan.Â