Severed Chapter 5

Kyla

I’d never been in a position where I felt like my father had been lying to me- he had things he didn’t tell me, adult secrets and whatnot.

This, however, was something else entirely.

As far as what the hell was going on, I didn’t know as much as Carper, not by a long shot. What killed me was that my father somehow knew more than Carper. Hell, he knew Carper without Carper ever knowing him. What was that all about?

I better get some freaking answers, and fast. I growled inwardly, and felt a pang in my chest as I attempted a sigh. And I’d better freaking get these ribs healed before I break someone else’s.

My father made his way off the path to a few rocks that could serve as a dry place to sit. I followed, as did Carper. As we sat down, I noticed something at my father’s side; it was a large sword, wrapped thoroughly in a thick cloth. I held my breath a bit in anticipation for what my father would say- about us, about the sword, anything.

After a few moments of my father glancing back and forth between us, taking us in, Carper coughed uncomfortably. I screamed inwardly for someone to say something.

“So, sir- ah, Brian. I ‘ad explained to Kyla just earlier about my world- which, apparently you’re already aware of.” My father nodded, so Carper continued. “I also told her that I was sent her by my father, General Brenos, to retrieve the package. Are you also aware of that?”

He nods. “You’re father entrusted me with it,” he smiled a bit, shifting the sword from where he had placed it leaning on the rock onto his lap. He held it gingerly. “This is the package.”

“Why would my father entrust you with the package?” Carper asked accusingly.

The smile dropped from my father’s face. “Did Brenos not explain everything to you? What happens when you cross into the parallel world, why you, of all his soldiers, ‘ad to be the one to go through?”

Carper merely shook his head, freckled face paling. His eyebrows were deeply furrowed, as were mine as I watched the exchange.

“So neither of you know,” my father sighed, rubbing his forehead, one hand gripping the sword- the package. He muttered a curse under his breath directed at Brenos. “So… For someone to be able to cross over into the parallel world through a regular old portal, without the power of something like this,” he gestured to the sword, “you ‘ave to ‘ave an alter- someone on the parallel world that is an alternate you. Someone so genetically similar that you’re nearly the same person- or twins, if you’d rather think of it as such.

“Carper, your father and I… Brenos and I are such twins. You may ‘ave noticed our stunning resemblance. It’s no wonder you were suspicious of me.” He smiled. “That also means, Kyla, Carper, both of you… You two, you’re…” He hesitated. We got the message.

Carper and I turned to analyze the other. I met his gaze with newfound suspicion and disbelief at my father’s implication.

“You mean to say that…” I began, not taking my eyes off of Carper.  

“Kyla and I…” Carper continued.

“Are… twins.” I finished flatly, finally looking at my father. He rubbed the back of his head with an awkward smile.

“For all intents and purposes? Yes. In actuality, you two are the same person, just from a different timeline. But if twins is easier to understand, then yes. Maybe cousins, since Brenos and I are twins and your mothers are twins- although Brenos and I don’t act much alike, but your mothers on the other hand are a riot together, they’re so similar.” He laughed to himself, lost in thought now. I felt a vein pop in my forehead. “I remember this one time Amanda was chatting with Gillian-”

“Wait- my mother?” Carper and I gaped in unison, not bothering to exchange any sort of glance.

He stopped, realizing the situation. “Ah, right. Kyla,” he turned to me. “I’m not sure how to say this but… And, um, Carper,” he turned to him briefly, “you probably don’t know this either, but… ah, your mothers… they knew each other. Know each other. They’re alive, both of them. They’re just… in the wrong place. Gillian, Carper’s mother, is here, on this world. Amanda- Mum is on Carper’s world. They swapped; that’s how Brenos and I met and found out about this alternate world thing in the first place.

“Kyla, darling,” he turned to me with a grave expression and deep regret. Carper and I could only sit in shock. “I’m sorry I kept this from you. Your mother… she asked me to keep all this from you. She thought it’d be best for you not to go looking for her and for you to learn of her when the time was right. She and Gillian,” he turned to Carper, “both were so brave. Are so brave. They knew the package ‘ad to be used when the time was right, not in silly circumstances- their words, not mine.”

I shook with anger. Carper stood. “How could you- my father- whoever keep this from me?”

“It was your mother’s request. She knew you would go tromping around, fighting everyone who got in your way until you found her, and that wasn’t the point. The point is you ‘ave a great deal to do yet before you can reach her. You need to take the package-”

“The package? You think I give a shit about the package right now? Máthair is alive, here, and I can finally-”

“No, Carper, you can’t. I won’t allow it.” My father snapped, voice stern in a way that I’d never heard before. Carper immediately stiffened into a militaristic stance.

My father stood, hand sliding to the hilt of the sword and placing it to his side. I was shocked at how my father held so much authority as he stood before Carper.

“You ‘ave a duty. You must take Kyla and Claíomh Solais to your world. You and Kyla must stop King Andreas. You and Kyla, together, are the only ones on our side of the war that can wield it. Your mother understood this. You ‘ave to understand this as well. Is that clear?”

“Yes sir.” Carper snapped. He was clearly irate, but he swallowed any other response.

My father’s stance relaxed a bit. “I’m sorry it ‘as to be like this. I wished it to be different from the moment your mother left. We ‘ad to change how we lived our lives because of this new circumstance- hell, we ‘ad to move from our home to a new country because of this. There was no way Gillian could leave the country feasibly without going through all kinds of illegal measures, so we housed her with a close family friend.

“Then I ‘ad to leave the country with Kyla. I couldn’t risk her meeting Gillian and thinking she was her mother. You were both so young when it happened, we couldn’t tell you the truth. It’d interfere with what you ‘ave to do now.”

Carper had tears welling in his eyes, but he blinked them away easily, regaining his stoic expression. He nodded. “I understand, sir.”

My father suddenly embraced him. He hesitated, but finally Carper brought shaking hands around my father.

I seethed as I sat on the rock, anger temporarily blocking out what pain I still felt. I was livid. As touching as the moment was, I was still stuck on my mother being alive. I hadn’t been trained from birth for some big ‘destiny’. I didn’t have a reason to put up with this bullshit. I was, however, the one who moved to a new country because my father told me my mother had passed away. I didn’t have magic or monsters or mad kings to distract me from it. I was left to wander and navigate life with a new school and no mother.

I glared at my father, tears threatening to spill down my face as he broke away from Carper. How great, he found an understanding with his son. I thought bitterly, feeling utterly betrayed on many levels.

I caught my father’s gaze. I watched his heart break as he took in the betrayal painted on my features. “Kyla…” He floundered for a bit, but had no words.

“You told me we ‘ad to move because you found a new job in the United States. You told me my mother ‘ad died. You woke up every single day and lied to my face.

“I did it to protect you.” He defended, voice barely above a whisper.

“You did it to protect yourself! To save yourself the trouble of explaining something you thought I wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t believe! You were right, of course, I wouldn’t ‘ave believed you- unless you would ‘ave actually tried to help me understand. But you never even tried! You never even tried to tell me, when I would cry at night because I missed my Ma, that no, she’s alive, just far away; you never-”

“You’re right!” He yelled. I shut my mouth, lip quivering in the brief moment of silence. Tears dripped down my cheeks. “I was scared. Terrified. How do you tell an eight year old, nine year old, twelve year old, seventeen year old that her mother is alive, years after telling her otherwise? I didn’t know. I don’t know. Besides the fact your Ma asked me to keep it from you, besides the fact you needed Carper as proof and I knew I ‘ad to wait for him to arrive before I could tell you, besides all of it- I should ‘ave told you. I wanted to tell you, and I didn’t know how, and I’ll regret not telling you- from keeping you from your mother- for the rest of my days.

“But,” he took a deep breath and knelt beside me, “for now, I need you to understand. What Carper says is real. What I say is real. They are fighting a war- a war that cannot be won without Claíomh Solais, the package. Before you can get your mother and bring her back home, you ‘ave to travel to Carper’s world and help him fight, using the package. Once everything’s settled down, you’ll return here with your mother, which will pull Carper’s mother back into her realm. Everything will go back to the way it was meant to be, and you’ll ‘ave helped Carper win the war. You two are the only pair we know capable of using the sword.”

The gravity of what was expected of me slowly sunk in. I knew I believed my father, and I knew I needed to do as he said- and that he didn’t ask this of me lightly- but still, it was hard to grasp. “What if I can’t do it?” I asked, my voice small.

He smiled at me, certainty in his loving eyes. “My darling Kyla- I know you can. You’re strong and brave, stubborn and willful, as well as kind and merciful and honest and just. You are the only one I’d trust to do it. I believe in you- your mother believes in you as well. She’ll be so proud when you finally meet her again, oh- I’m so excited for you!” His smile grew excited and child-like.

I laughed at my father’s antics. I rushed into a tight hug, emotion overpowering pain. “Thank you, Pa. I love you.”

He sighed. “I love you too, my darling. Now,” we stood and joined Carper, who watched with a forlorn smile. My father placed a hand on either of our shoulders. “You two need to get through to Eriu before the king gets impatient and sends more shades. Kyla, darling,” he turned to me, “I know you ‘ave many more questions, but I trust Carper to answer them when you two are in Eriu. I hear it’s a beautiful country, Kyla. You’ll have to tell me all about your adventure when you return.”

Carper and I exchanged a glance, both of us amused by my father’s excitement. In light of the current situation, it was probably best to carry a lighthearted air, and not dwell on the impending sense of dread.

Admittedly, I would be excited too- it was just too much to process in such a short time. I had no choice but to accept and move on.

“I will, Pa.” I nodded swiftly.

“How do we get back to Eriu?” Carper asked, tone urgent and willing.

“This.” My father placed the sword before him, grasp on the hilt. “It should be kept tightly wrapped unless you know what you’re doing; it’s dreadful on the eyes. You can use it to make a portal to alternate worlds- or just to other places on the world- as well as some other… hidden powers.”

“Hidden?” I interjected. “Hidden how?”

“Hidden as in… we have no idea how to use it.” My father gave a resigned smile and shrugged. “There’s not exactly an instruction manual- at least, none that we found. Word of mouth is how we learned it can create portals and separate those who are inside their alter. You two are separated by a weak spell that lasts less than twenty four hours.

“Using this sword to draw the blood and placing a hand on it while reciting the spell separates the alters permanently- no need to redo it, ever. At least, that’s what we’ve heard. One problem with the separation spell- it draws a lot of power. There’s not enough magic in this world to perform the spell, it won’t work. You’ll ‘ave to wait until you get there to perform it. There is, however, enough magic here to create a weak, short-lived portal in the general area where the user last was in the alternate world- or where their alter is. Brenos is in Eriu still, as far as I know,” he looked to Carper for affirmation, who nodded in confirmation. “So there shouldn’t be an issue if I make the portal and hand off the sword to you, Carper, before you go through.”

“Why him?” I asked out of curiosity, and definitely not out of jealousy.

My father turned to me with a mischevious smile. “You’ll see.”

He and Carper exchanged a glance, and Carper’s confusion turned to understanding, and from understanding to a wicked grin.

“Dear me,” I muttered, suddenly much more wary.

“Don’t worry about it, darling. Now, how about we get this show on the road?” My father broke away from us and picked up the sword. He took a few steps back and turned his back to us.

He held the cloth-bound sword in a stance as if he were squaring off in battle. I watched as my father heaved the sword above his head and made a wicked slash down through the air.

Bréife!”

The air stilled, and the line my father had drawn in the air was traced with a bright yellow light. The line expanded and seemed to rip the air apart with a scream that sounded like a freight train. The yellow portal swirled in the air, dipping into the ground and above my father’s head, so it was easy to walk through.

“Come on!” My father gestured forward, voice mostly drowned out by the noise of the portal.

Carper and I gave each other a firm glance, and both nodded. My father handed off the sword to Carper and gave a quick hug, exchanging a few words. Carper nodded. My father then turned to me and hugged me as well.

“I love you,” his voice was probably very loud but right next to the portal it was barely more than a whisper.

“I love you, too!” I gave him a last squeeze and turned back to Carper.

He was trying to hide a wicked grin, but failing. He leaned to me and asked, “Ready to be the voice in my head?”

I froze, any trace of a smile dropped from my face. “What-?”

“Yep, payback time!” He gave a hearty laugh as he looped his arm in mine. Before I could get another word out, he jumped into the portal, dragging me along with him.

Severed Chapter 4

Kyla

Wind nipped my ears as my sneakers crunched over the snow covered leaves. As I drew deeper into the forest, I pulled my hair into a haphazard ponytail, ignoring the persistent gabbing in my head.

Kyla, you need to stop already. It’s hard to grasp, but you need to accept it, or at least try the spell so I can show you I’m right. You have to believe me.

“Shut up.” I snapped, veering left down the path, heading further into the woods.

We’re in danger- or at least, we will be. Soon.

“Shut up. There’s no we.”

Kyla! The king knows the package is here, and if he hasn’t already, he’ll be sending monsters through a portal- and monsters have no form on this world. They have no desire other than what the king wills them, and that puts you and I in serious dan-

Shut up!” I screamed into the evening air, angry tears pricking my eyes. I’m so done with this bullshit. At any other time, I’d have been undoubtedly grateful that I was in the forest and alone. “There’s no we, there’s no alternate world, there’s no portal, there are no monsters, there’s no dan-

I cut off as I was knocked flat on my stomach by a harsh shove from behind. I landed flush against the dirt path, face protected by my fisted hand. My jaw smacked hard against my knuckles as the wind was knocked out of me as I landed on my other fist.

What-

The thought, which could have been my own or Carper’s, was interrupted as I was hit on my side and hurled hard to the right, soaring in the air, hitting something- probably a tree- and crumpling to the ground.

I wheezed desperately as I felt my lungs burning. I winced and coughed at the sudden intake of air.

Kyla… g-get… up… Carper urged, sounding in as much pain as I was.

I opened my mouth to reply, but I could only manage a violent, drawn out cough into my hand. I felt warmth on my hand that hadn’t been there before. Splatters of crimson met my blurred vision, and a sickening dread slowly seeped into my abdomen.

A dark flash passed my peripheral, and I slowly peered to the side, fearing what would lie before me- a deer, if I was lucky, a bear if I wasn’t.

If encountering a bear was unlucky, then my luck had turned dastardly.

S… shit… Carper cursed, fear lacing his voice as I trained my eyes on the terrible beast.

It stood ten or so feet away from me. It was entirely black- from its gnarled, growling snout, to its hooked claws- and had an energy that radiated darkness into the space around it. It stood on two legs with long arms to its side. It’s hands and feet were large paws, each sporting a devastating trio of talons.  It’s eyes were black and glinted something akin to hatred and death.

The creature brought to mind a beast I’d heard in the myths from my childhood, the faoladh– but this creature was far from the equally benevolent and dangerous Irish werewolf. The faoladh were dangerous, but they were usually guardian spirits, helping children and those that were wounded or lost.

This creature showed no intelligence or mercy. Only menace.

It’s eyes scanned the forest as it craned its head upward, sniffing the air. It snapped its head in my direction, savage glint in it’s gaze. My chest lurched in fear as it dropped onto all fours and began to prowl, ever so slowly, in my direction.

“S-shit…” I trembled as tears pricked my eyes. My breath quickened, only increasing the pain in my chest. I must have been rather desperate- or officially off the deep end- as the first thought was to turn to the disembodied voice in my head. “Carper… w-what do I…”

S-stand up… Run… Kyla…!

I pushed my palms into the ground, grunting in pain. I slowly managed to steady myself on my knees and moved to grip the tree I’d been thrown against.

Kyla… you’re b-bleeding…

“Y-yeah, I… noticed,” I coughed again, pushing myself up onto shaking legs.

You can… you can say the spell… release me, so I c-can kill the shade…

I glanced at the beast as it approached me as it’s black aura radiating a sense of dread.

I wheezed heavily, stumbling sideways away from the creature and around the tree, never taking my eyes off of it. The adrenaline finally kicked in, giving me strength to ignore the pain. “Carper, n… now is not the time for…”

No, Kyla. Carper’s voice was stern, and wavered less than it had before. Now is exactly the time. You ‘ave to believe me now that you see the shade.

I paused as I stared the creature in the eye. Should I trust him? The instant I asked myself I knew yes, I should. The proof was inching closer to me as I considered. Even if I didn’t trust him, I didn’t have another choice.

“What do I say,” I asked, my diction indicating a statement rather than question.

Léicid.

“That’s all?” I affirmed.

Yes.

I took a deep breath.

Léicid.”

At first, I didn’t notice anything happening. The beast still approached, now only a few feet away from me.

“C-Carper…” I asked hesitantly, moving to make a step back, but my leg didn’t respond. I was frozen in place.

As I spoke heat bloomed in my chest. It felt eerily familiar as it burned, growing stronger and overshadowing the cracking pain from my ribs.

Just my luck, the bitter thought pervaded my thoughts through the haze.

The beast came to a sudden halt, releasing a growl that conveyed utter malice. I barely registered the creature ahead of me as a blinding light pervaded my vision.

My senses were overwhelmed. I cried out as the pain reached its peak. The light gave a final flare before fading. A wave of relief washed over me as I felt the ever-present pressure on my head fade.

I heard a howl and my eyes shot open in time to watch the creature lunge at my throat. In slow motion I watched it inch closer to my face. Unable to move in time, I stiffened and my mouth opened to release a cry of terror, though nothing came out.

I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the end.

And kept waiting. Nothing touched me, and I only heard a frustrated growl and a grunt of anger.

I opened my eyes slowly to find my view was obscured by the shoulders of someone much taller than I. Who is-

“Get back!” Carper’s voice bellowed, but for the first time it wasn’t inside my head. It came from the boding presence before me.

What in the- “Car- Carper…?” I stammered. “But- but how-”

The beast had latched onto his arm rather than my neck. With a violent shove, Carper sent it flying several feet away. He remained crouched in front of me as he turned his head and locked his brilliant green eyes onto mine. He held a cocky smirk. “Now do you believe me?”

My eyebrows creased and a snarky response jumped to my lips, but I was interrupted as he shoved me back with a start. He snapped his head back to the creature as it regained its footing, standing on its hind legs and baring its front claws. It faced Carper with an angry roar.

“Get back, Kyla. I’ll take care of the shade, you just ‘ave to stay out of my way so you don’t get hurt.”

I was about to protest that I could take care of myself, but in the current situation I couldn’t actually make that guarantee, so I gave a small nod and backed away a few paces.

I watched Carper approach the creature- the shade- and took in his physical appearance. He was different than I’d imagined; since I’d only heard his voice, I suppose I’d assigned a face to his name, even if he’d only been around for a few days. He had orange hair similar in color to mine that was short on the sides but longer on the top, forming an unkempt floof in the front. He was obviously strong from the muscles his black tee revealed, but his build was lean; he was probably just shy of six feet tall.

Carper made a stance that matched the shade’s as it bared its teeth and claws at him. It was only then that I noticed an odd scaly green patch that ran the expanse of Carper’s right arm. His fingers slowly evolved to display a formidable set of claws, just as intimidating as those on the shade.

My heart clenched again. What is he? I thought shakily.

What skin I saw on his neck showed the green scales snaking up his spine as the claws formed on his right hand. His left remained normal- well, human, since I couldn’t be sure what normal was at that point- and he shifted his stance so his right side was facing in and his human arm was tucked behind him. Him and the shade stalked in a circular motion, sizing each other up, waiting for a moment to strike. They slowed, and both their shoulders tensed in anticipation.

As if on a command, both let out a feral snarl and lunged.

The shade slashed at Carper, who dodged and made a wound to its shoulder. It howled in pain and anger, black energy oozing out of the cut. The shade clutched its shoulder and backed a few paces. It squared up to Carper, who allowed it the time to recover, smirk evident on his lips.

What is he doing? It’s as if he’s playing around with this thing. I thought with a trace of fear, realizing I was probably right. How confident in his ability- or utterly messed in the head- did he have to be to toy around with such a menacing creature, I wondered.

Carper and the shade made another play at each other, the shade attempting to come down on Carper’s face and neck. Carper blocked with his scaled arm and used the upward momentum to knock the shade back a pace. As the shade stumbled back, Carper brought his arm around and up, slashing the shade’s throat.

It gave a horrible retching sound, and dropped to its knees, eyes wide as black seeped from its grievous wound in four matching streams, flowing rapidly.

Carper’s smile had vanished as he stepped back, giving the shade room to fall forward. As the shade’s body hit the ground, it seemed to evaporate into black smoke.

Carper remained silent, staring at the corpse as the dark wisps began to dissipate. He knelt down, head bowed. His scaly arm rested on his knee and I watched as his claws shrank back into his body. The scales retreated to his upper bicep where they formed a band around his arm.

“Carper…?” I asked, worried both for myself and him. Mostly myself, but still, Carper was the one fighting that thing. I took a few tentative steps forward, clutching my ribs. The adrenaline was dumbing down, and the dull pain in my chest had returned to its previous state. My breath was becoming more and more labored with each step.

I reached his side as he stood. He turned to me with a serious expression, eyes a bit sad, but it shifted quickly to a bemused glint, smirk returning to his face as he took a step back and watched me. He gave a humph of approval as he analyzed me.

“So… Um… Carper, was it?” I asked after a moment under his scrutinizing gaze.

He chuckled. “Yeah. I imagine it’s strange, taking in all this. You’re taking it well though.” His smile faded a bit as he glanced at me clutching my chest. “You doing alright otherwise? Felt like you cracked a rib or two. Maybe an internal bruise. Luckily, you didn’t puncture a lung- that would ‘ave been much worse. Still, you’ll ‘ave to get your ribs looked at.”

I had a million questions bubbling in the forefront of my brain, but I decided to grill him for answers after my ribs weren’t broken and my lungs weren’t burning. I just looked at him, taking in what had happened. Shaking my head in disbelief, I tried to get a grip on reality. “Who are you, Carper?”

His eyes softened from their analyzing gaze to a more understanding smile. He opened his mouth to respond, when I heard my name called from a distance. Both our heads snapped to see my father sprinting to us.

We gasped. “Pa?” “Popa?” We exclaimed at the same time, then exchanged a confused glance.

My father embraced me and I winced. “H-hi, Pa.”

He looked at my pained face. “Where are you hurt?”

“Cracked ribs, nothing serious. She’ll be alright, sir.” Carper assured him, not missing a beat.

Pa looked at Carper as if he had just realized he was there. A loving smile crept onto his face.

“Carper, it’s good to see you.” He walked to Carper and embraced him kindly, and Carper grew stiff in shock.

“Uh,” Carper’s eyes were wide, and for once he seemed at a loss for all words. “H-have we met, sir?”

“Call me Brian. You’re father and I are… ah, good friends, would be the best way to put it.” My father gave a coy smile that was new to me. “I’ve met you once when you were a wee boy. You and Kyla never did meet, however.”

“Wait.” Carper pulled away, suspicious. “How could you have met my father? Especially since-”

Pa interrupted him with a cough. “I,” he sighed, glancing between the two of us, “owe an explanation. To both of you.”

 

Severed Chapter 3

Carper

It was odd not having a physical form, to say the least. Any physical sense of stimulation came from what Kyla saw, heard, tasted, felt, or smelled. It was as if I was a puppet on strings, and she was in control.

I felt like an intruder, and she had made it clear I was unwelcomed. Not that I blamed her; she was forced to share her mind with a stranger, with no preparation whatsoever. She didn’t even fully understand the situation. I’d had months to prepare, physically and mentally. Years, if I was honest.

So, what is this thing?

Kyla sighed. She’d stepped into the vehicle she’d used at some points in the past, and after a series of buttons and turns and pressing different pedals, the vehicle was moving. “What thing?”

This thing. The thing that is moving us right now.

“The… the car?” she asked, surprise evident in her voice.

You don’t ‘ave to say it like that. But yeah. Oh, wait. I paused my speech as I remembered what I’d learned about cars- but they hadn’t been in production for hundreds of years on my world, right before people started reverting back to the ‘old ways’, leaning more on magic than technology. Yeah, I heard about them once. Old tech.

She shook her head. “You say the oddest things. I don’t know how I came up with you. And, hey, this counts as speaking,” she scolded, grabbing the cup beside her and taking a sip of the warm liquid.

You didn’t come up with me, I-

“Yes, yes. I’m sure it’s a lovely story, one which you’ll save for tomorrow. Right?” I felt her give an indignant smile.

I sighed. Fine. But I can’t be expected to sit in complete silence.

She sighed in turn. “Fine. But you should at least keep the questions to a minimum. I can’t go through my day if you’re asking ‘what’s this, what’s this?’ at every little thing. Got it?”

Fine. I didn’t speak for the rest of the car ride after that. I wasn’t happy with the situation, but at least she’d agreed to listen to me. Good thing, I thought privately, there might ‘ave been trouble if I couldn’t get to her soon enough.

At her school, I took in all the strange sights as she saw them, silently trying to make sense of it all. Nothing here makes sense to me, I sighed to myself. After that thought, however, I quickly realized that anything I say must have the same lack of context for her- and even more so since she had never even seen my world- making my words have even less value than hers to me.

Huh. I mused at the revelation.

“What?” she hissed, walking into the stone building, surrounded by other people that seemed to be around our age.

Oh, nothing, sorry. Just thinking. I apologized, unaware she heard me say anything.

“Well, think quieter, thank you very much.” she growled, unamused at having to speak to me in public.

“Kyla!” A voice beckoned as we reached a hallway lined with tall lockers. Kyla turned, and was greeted by a short Asian girl, her face carrying a casual smile.

“Hey, Missy. How was your weekend?” Kyla asked as the girl- Missy- caught up, and they began to walk in tandem.

Kyla kept her eyes in front of her, occasionally flicking back to Missy as they retold stories from a gathering where athletes were intoxicated and tried to ‘get with’ girls. They laughed a lot at the stories, but I tuned them out, trying to take in the scene around them using what Kyla saw and heard.

They walked to the end of the hallway before they split up, Missy taking the stairs up and Kyla taking the stairs down.

Who was that? I asked, unable to help my curiosity.

“Missy, friend since grade school, she does cheerleading.” Kyla informed me swiftly, eyes darting around the empty stairwell.

Got it. Is she from somewhere else? You’re accent and hers are different from everyone else’s. I observed.

“Yeah,” she paused as a student passed her. “She’s from South Korea, and I’m from Ireland. We’re in the United States. I’m about to go to class, so no more questions.”

Fine, I huffed, unhappy.

 

***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***

Kyla went through five classes, each in a different part of the building with a different instructor and different school mates. As she requested, I kept my questions to myself, aware that she needed to focus- and that my questions were loaded ones, requiring a lot more background information than she had or was willing to supply.

After the fifth class, she entered a large room full of tables and chairs, with food stations further back. Students filed into the room in a chaotic manner, claiming seats and entering lines for the food. Some sat and ate from a bag they carried on their person.

I take it this is where you eat lunch, I gathered.

“Yes, very much so. Lucky you, you get to meet all of my friends at once. Though, I guess Gi’s the only one you ‘aven’t met, technically. But either way, keep yer mouth shut as much as possible.”

Understood. Her tone wasn’t nearly as irritated as it was the prior few days, but I drew the conclusion that it was because she didn’t have the time to be irritated and dodge my questions, which I was grateful for.

She walked to a round table where her friend Harold sat and ate food, sitting next to Missy. He retold a story and she smirked in amusement. Kyla set her bag down in the seat beside Missy.

“Hey, Harold,” she greeted, and he nodded in greeting, keeping his focus on Missy.

Kyla rolled her eyes slightly as she walked away to join one of the lunch lines.

Are they together? I asked at her reaction.

“Them? Oh, no, Harold’s just beyond smitten with her. She’s waiting for him to make move.” she muttered swiftly as she stepped in line.

Ah, so he’s just trying to win her heart. Wish him luck; took me a while with my girlfriend, I chuckled at the memory.

Kyla merely grunted in response, conscious of the people on either side.

After gathering her desired fare, she walked back to the table. From far off, I notice two others had joined the table. One I identified as Archie from far away, but the other one I didn’t recognize from afar. Must be Gi, I noted to myself.

Kyla arrived at the table, eyes mostly cast towards Harold and Missy, as if she was straining to hear the conversation.

“Hi, Kyla,” a voice drew her attention.

Any thoughts I had skidded to a complete standstill. That voice. But how could she-?

“Hey, Gi.” Kyla smiled, turning towards her friend as she sat in the seat, placing her plate on the table.

Aleah? I asked aloud, shocked.

As Kyla’s eyes fell on Gi, I instantly knew she wasn’t the person I was thinking of- but damn if I wished it was. The warm brown eyes, the dark skin, the long hair; it was all the same.

“Hey, Kyla. How was Sunday? Sorry I had to skip out on you, my little brother was sick and my parents couldn’t call off so last-minute.” Archie apologized.

“Oh, you were fine, it wasn’t a problem at all.” Kyla assured him. As their conversation went on, I ignored what they said and silently took in what Kyla saw.

Gi turned to him with sympathetic eyes, rubbing his back. Archie turned to her as he talked to Kyla, smiled at Gi and kissed her forehead, wrapping his arm around her waist. My anger spiked.

I had to stop myself from giving into an outburst; it wasn’t like either of them would hear me. I quickly calmed myself. This is Gi, not Aleah. Gi can date whomever she pleases. Gi ‘as never met you. Gi is not the same person. Calm yer jealously, Carper.

Even as I thought that, I grew irritated the more they maintained their contact. I was relieved greatly when Kyla turned to Harold and Missy, allowing me some respite from the couple.

As I slowly detached myself from the situation, I discovered more that I didn’t realize to begin with.

If he’s Theobald, then… Ah, wow. He must be Circe, how odd. I guess I’m not the only one. I mused aloud.

“Shut up,” Kyla muttered between bites, not loud enough to hear what she said.

“What was that?” Gi asked, eyes wide and curious.

“Ah, nothing, just thinking out loud,” she smiled. Gi returned a kind smile, returning to her conversation with Archie.

Sorry, I muttered half-heartedly, still reveling in the new thoughts that rattled through my nonexistent head.

 

***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***

 

That school day went by the same as it started. Kyla’s track practice was just her running in circles and jumping into sand. She assured me it was a lot of work and training involved, but I was unsure. I had told her to try swordsmanship, then tell me what was a lot of work and training. She ignored that comment. I planned on prying more information from her about her world as she left her track practice, but she claimed it was ‘too late for yer shenanigans’ and promptly went to sleep after eating a small meal.

The next day was more of the same. I was bored out of my mind with school already; I wasn’t sure how she had managed doing it for so many years.

After that school day had ended, and she was alone in the car on the way back to the house, I didn’t waste a moment.

Now will you listen to me? I asked, trying not to sound too desperate. Even though I most definitely was.

She groaned in response.

You promised, and I didn’t bother you at school, like I ‘ad promised. I reminded her.

She scoffed. “Are you a child?” After I didn’t respond for a moment, she sighed. “Yes, fine. Just wait until we’re home.”

Alright, I acquiesced, amused that she said ‘we’re’ instead of ‘I’m’.

When she got home, she tossed her keys onto a table, and trudged upstairs to her desk and mirror.

She looked herself in the eye and sat. “Alright. Whenever yer ready.”

Alright. But before I start, promise to hear me out until the end.

“Yeah, yeah, I promise. Just get it over with.”

Fine. This is going to be a very existential start, but bear with me. I paused, considering my wording. I decided to take it slow. For every choice we make, there is another choice we could ‘ave made; that’s what it means to make a choice, after all. Well, every time we make a choice, there’s another, entirely separate universe made up of all the same things and people and places where you made the other choice. There are infinite universes, some differing by only one choice of one person, which means some people can exist on many timelines. Others are vastly different, almost to the point of no crossover.

Each universe ‘as a parallel one that it is closest to; perhaps there was only one choice made that makes it very close, to its parallel, or they could be vastly different from one another. But the point is, there are always two that are paired, that are closer together, making it easier to cross over from one to another, if someone uses the proper means. With me so far, Kyla?

She nodded, brows furrowed deeply in contemplation.

Great. Here’s where I come in; this universe, this timeline, the one we’re in right now, this is your timeline. It’s the timeline that is paired to my alternate one. I crossed over from my world, a world entirely different from yours, into this one, where you live.

My world is a world of magic. There are dragons, shamans, knights and wizards. It’s my understanding that your world was once like this, too; however, you had a dark period- the Middle Ages- where crusades and plagues against magic creatures wiped them out to near extinction, leaving only a sparse few magic objects and creatures.

In my world, the Middle Ages never happened, and with the use of magic, our technological advancement’s about five hundred years ahead of yours. We stopped using cars in the 16th century, and in the last few hundred years there’s been a revitalization of the ‘old ways’, people returning to a simpler way of life, where we rely on magic and minimal technologies. In fact, it resembles your Middle Ages quite a bit, but significantly… cleaner.

“Woah woah, hold up. Ignoring the parallel, alternative whatevers, and you time jumping and whatever, you’re suggesting that my world ‘ad magic? ‘As magic? So the yeti, chupacabra, jackalope, all  of them exist, just nobody believes they do because magic’s so hard to come by?”

Um, possibly, I’m not sure. But let me finish what I ‘ave to say.

The Middle Ages were a time where most, if not all magical creatures were eradicated on your world. I mentioned that already. Well, the same thing is happening on my world. I live in the country of Eriu, which is called ‘Ireland’ on your world. Eriu carried that name long ago, just like your Ireland carried a name similar to Eriu. With the cultural revitalization and the crowning of a new monarchy, the name was reverted to a name close to its original, honoring the land’s patron goddess.

The previous king of Eriu started these crusades, intending on wiping out the native populations of magical creatures, as well as capturing or killing anyone that wields magic- besides his own royal council, of course. That king died five years ago, but when his eldest son, Andreas, was crowned king, he didn’t stop his father’s work; in fact, he made it far worse. All creatures and humans who ‘ave any sentience and ‘ave connection to magic are in hiding, or ‘ave fled for their lives. Nobody stands against the king and lives.

My father, General Brenos, was a high ranking officer in the former king’s army, but he deserted the army once the king started his horrible crusades. Since he left the army, he ‘as formed an underground rebellion to overthrow the king, which consists of people and creatures with magic or magic items, all with a passion for the cause. We’re small in numbers, especially compared to the king’s army, but we’re highly trained. We don’t, however, have a chance of winning without one particularly powerful weapon- which is why I’m here, in your world

My father sent me through a temporary portal to this world to gather the weapon, which he calls the package. He hid it here eight years ago-

“Ok, hold up, crusade, wipe out magic, Ireland, a package, great. Got it. What’s any of this have to do with me? And is any of this relevant to getting you out of my head?”

I was getting to you, I assured. You won’t like it, but… ah, whatever. Anyway, I need out of your body to search for the package. My father told me your father would know where to find it.

 

“Woah wait, how is Pa involved in any of this?”

I’m not sure. But listen, because this is the most important. I need you to get me out of your head, temporarily back into my own form.

“Alright, I’ll play along. How do I get you out of my head, say a magic word, slit my wrists, what?”

I paused. Well, yes, actually. You have to cut your palm, let the blood drip onto earth- not inside the house, but outside- and say-

“Wait, what? Are you serious? Right, slit my hand, what next? Like I’m going to listen to some voice in my head telling me to cut myself. ‘First, cut your palm, then, jump off a cliff’. Like, no thanks. I’ve heard enough, thank you.”

She stood up and left the room, going down the stairs.

Kyla, listen, it’s nothing like that, just do the spell and you’ll have all the proof you need.

“Stop it, I don’t need this from you. I said I’d listen, I didn’t say I’d have to believe it.”

I wasn’t finished, Kyla.

“Oh, yes you were. It’s not my fault you filled up the crazy meter way too quickly.”

She stomped through the house, changing her shoes. I could feel the anger bubbling in her chest.

The front door opened suddenly as she put on her running shoes.

Kyla, you need to ask your father-

“Where are you off to, dear?” her father asked as she finished tying her shoes.

“I’m off for a run.” she stated flatly, brushing past him in her anger.

Ignoring her father’s concern, she ran down the driveway and veered right, heading towards the woods.

Severed Chapter 2

 

Kyla

“Hi, welcome to the Javva Hut, what can I get you?” I asked, stifling a yawn as I smiled at the waiting customer. Dear me, another seven hours of this, I sighed, glancing at the clock on the wall.

I grabbed a coffee cup from the dispenser, writing the order on the cup as the customer rattled it off.

“Anything else for you, dear?” I smiled at the woman.

“No, that’s it for me.”

“Alrighty then, it’ll be $2.57.” I ran through the usual dialogue; luckily I had worked at this coffee shop long enough to know the ins and outs of the shop and its drinks to go through the motions without putting much thought into it.

When the morning rush was over, and the mid-morning lull was in full swing, I was approached by my friends and coworkers, Archie and Harold. I met them both in our first year of high school. They’d been close friends since childhood, living down the street from one another. Archie and Gi started dating soon after our friend groups combined, and Harold had been smitten with Missy since spring formal of sophomore year.

I had tried to be chipper all morning to cover up my daze, but it hadn’t worked quite as well as I hoped.

“Kyla, you alright? You seem upset.”

“Yeah, sorry Archie. I’m just a bit drained from yesterday.” I smiled softly. Archie’s gentle nature always threw me off. He was a burly guy, easily hitting six feet tall, with spiky blonde hair and blue eyes that just screamed ‘douche’. He was the football quarterback, to boot.

“Big night?” Harold asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

Harold was something else entirely- how he and Archie became such good friends was beyond me. While Archie was kind and gentle, Harold was brazen and flamboyant. He wore Hawaiian shirts and sandals year round- weather permitting or not- and continually dyed his light brown hair a myriad of colors, for no reason other than he felt like it. Currently it was a dark crimson.

That drew a genuine laugh from me. I smacked his shoulder. “No, you’re disgusting. The team won states so I was busy mothering all the girls on the squad getting positively paralytic. Nothing exciting happened.” You know, besides me having a mental breakdown in the middle of the road. I had decided I wasn’t ready to tell them, or anyone, about my brain frying and my car spinning out, at least not yet. Then again, I might never be.

“Ugh. None of the basketball players suited your fancy?” Harold asked, frowning a bit. He was my biggest cheerleader as far as getting a guy. He himself had never been successful in his love life, so he was always enthusiastically wishing my single-ness away.

I let out a short and cynical laugh. “Like I’d gamble with a drunk teenage boy. Not that I’d be much better drunk, but still, not really my thing.” I shrugged.

“But there’s gotta be- ouch!” Harold rubbed the back of his head where Archie smacked him.

“Leave the girl alone, she’s not into any of them, she made that clear.” Archie scolded him.

“How do we know she’s ruled out all of them until we’ve analyzed her options?” Harold retorted quickly.

I laughed again. Their banter took my mind away from the odd happenings of the night before.

“Thanks for having my back,” Archie and I exchanged a high five. “How did practice end up?”

“Smirnov got mega pissed when you left, and Gi tried to quell her a bit but it didn’t help and she got all upset and flustered like she does. Right as Smirnov was about to deliver the final blow, wham, this kid wipes out and scrapes up his knee. She has to escort him to the sidelines, and Gi’s home free.” Harold retold the story like it was an epic saga he was dying to unfold before me.

“Damn, sounds like a party. Who was it?”

“Ah, you know s- shoot, I just had it. Curly brown hair, gangly, glasses? Kinda quiet. S, sh, sa, shi…”

“Sherman?” I supplied as he struggled for a name.

“SHERMAN. Yes. That one. He’s in our grade.”

“I’m aware, Harold. You, however, were not.” I chuckled.

“Eh,” he shrugged, “don’t know the guy, and I can’t say I pay much attention to people I don’t know.”

“That’s evident,” Archie muttered with a smirk, and Harold gave him a glare.

The ding of the bell of the front door caught our attention. We snapped our heads towards the sound and broke our little circle, heading back to our work.

***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***

 

“Pa, you home?” I called out, locking the door behind me. I was met with the faint sound of the water running upstairs. Yep. Back early.

I went to the kitchen, dropping my purse onto the counter. Oh, good. He put the pork roast in the pot before he went to work. Pa worked at a local hospital as a nurse, and rarely got decent weekend hours, but he got lucky that day.

I walked to the crock pot, taking off the lid. My senses were flooded from the scent of oregano and thyme, moist steam hitting my face and warming it from the chill of the late-winter air outside. I wafted the scent towards me and, deciding it needed more dill, I rummaged around in the spice cabinet above the counter and added what I felt was the proper amount.

After stirring the roast with a wooden spoon, I replaced the lid and set the spoon back on the holder.

“Still needs another few hours,” I decided looking at the meat, and turned to the refrigerator to get myself some food to satiate my current hunger until dinner was ready.

“I could… but that’s too much, so…” I muttered unintelligibly to myself as I decided what to eat. Settling for a bowl of cereal, I sat at the nearby barstool and allowed my thoughts to wander.

Eventually, my mind went back to the happenings of the night before. I walked through it step by step, spooning my cereal into my mouth as I tried to make sense of all that had happened.

“There was a light and… well, no. First, I was driving home. I was passing the forest, then… then my head started to hurt, and it got worse, and then… I thought I was gonna die it hurt so bad, then as I spun out my eyes were blinded with some light, and then I nearly passed out, and then it was done very suddenly, then I was facing forward and the car wasn’t moving and I was facing the same direction…

“I could’ve had a delusion, or like, it was all in my head, and my foot just eased off the gas, and when I came to I was just slowed to a stop… but then why was… ugh!” I slammed my silverware into the bowl in frustration, spilling a bit of milk on the counter and the floor.

I rolled my eyes at myself, hopping from the stool to grab a paper towel to clean my mess. I paused to make sure my work uniform hadn’t gotten any milk on it, I knelt to wipe the floor.

It wasn’t a delusion, I can assure you of that.

I stood quickly, slamming my head in the process. “Ah! Ouch. Pa, you’re down already? I didn’t know you were… listening… ” I rubbed my head, turning to where I thought I’d seen my Pa, but was met with an empty room. I listened for movement, but only heard the same sound of the water running upstairs. Turning, I scanned the room in my confusion.

“Pa?” I called out again, unsure. It was definitely his voice…

I’m not your Pa. And, yes I was listening- kinda hard not to- but it wasn’t a delusion. All that was real last night.

The voice was right- he definitely didn’t have the same voice as my Pa; however, the similarity was eerie, as if he were somehow related, or a younger version of him, perhaps.

I scanned the room again, and began to move towards the living room.

Searching won’t do you good. I’m not anywhere you can see me, the voice stated with a sigh.

I stopped where I stood at the divide between the living and dining room.

“Microphones…?” I pondered, tugging at my shirt collar to find if I was being punked. “Harold, if this is you…” I growled, tugging at my clothing to find any evidence of tomfoolery.

What are…? The voice sighed, clearly agitated. Whatever, it’s not important. This isn’t a prank- Kyla I need you to listen.

“Listen? To a guy who just starts talking out of nowhere, with no discernable location, and- who even are you? Do you ‘ave a name, before you start making demands? And how do you know my name?”

Kyla! The voice shouted in irritation. The volume was extreme enough for me to cringe where I stood. My name is Carper Ultarin. I know your name because I listened to your friends talk to you today. What I’m going to tell you sounds unbelievable, but it’s true.

“Wait- Carper, was it?” I asked, irate, still searching the room for something to latch the conversation onto. “Why were you listening to my friends and I?”

Calm down. Let me explain everything. You can’t see me because I’m in your head- at least, I think I am.

My heart dropped, face immediately feeling pale. “In… in my head.”

Yes, Carper clarified.

“Fantastic. I’ve gone insane,” I muttered to myself, pacing back into the kitchen. “I mean, I knew I was batty, but this is ridiculously-”

Stop, you’re not crazy, and I need you to listen. I already told you, it’s true. I’ve been in your head since last night. When your car spun out, the bright light? That was me coming into this world and into your head.

“No, you stop. My life’s pretty great as it is, I don’t need a bullshit psychotic episode to send me to the mental hospital. I’ve got a track meet in a week; tell me, how can I long jump if a voice in my head is yelling at me as I’m trying to focus? I can’t. So stop.”

Kyla, listen to me. It’ll all make sense if you just let me explain everything. I’m from an alternate-

“You won’t give up, will you?” I laughed, exasperated. I picked up the paper towel to finish cleaning the mess, mentally exhausted from the conversation with myself. “This is ridiculous. I’m-”

“Kyla, you home?”

I paused, spine stiffening again. If Pa hears me muttering to myself, he’ll be worried out of his mind, I think to myself, scrambling for something clever.

Without much thought, I grabbed my phone from my pocket and put it to my ear. “Uh, sorry, I’ve got to go. Talk to you later,” I made the motion of pressing the screen to hang up the phone as my father entered the kitchen.

What on earth are you-? Carper began, but I ignored him, turning to my father. Carper gasped loudly. Wait. Popa? How is he-

“Hi Pa,” I cut Carper off, trying to focus over him talking. “Sorry, that was Missy with a homework question,” I smiled nervously, worried he’d see through my poor lie. Seeing the question in his eyes, I spoke again. “You’re back early. They send you home?”

“Hi darling. Yeah, the hospital was having a slow day and we ended up being overstaffed, which never happens, so I’m back early.” He smiled, kissing my cheek as he walked past me to where the pot roast stewed on the counter. “I seasoned it a bit, but you should add whatever you think is best for the flavor.”

I smiled and sighed a bit. “I already did, when I got home. It’ll take another few hours, though.”

“Why aren’t I surprised?” He smiled gently, turning his back to me to smell the roast. “Smells amazing. It’ll be great, darling.”

Is that your father? Carper asked, his tone urgent.

I rolled my eyes. “Obviously,” I muttered at Carper, shutting down his nonsense.

“What was that?” my father asked, turning back to me, confused.

“Ah, um, obviously, it’s going to be good. Because you made it.” I made a strained smile, internally screaming at that Carper, whoever he was.

He analyzed me a bit with his pale eyes. “You alright darling? You look extra pale today.”

That drew a twinge of a genuine smile from me. “I’m fine, Pa, sorry to worry you. Late night, long day at work, it… does something odd to your head. I’ll be fine. And,” I narrowed my eyes playfully, “who are you to say I’m pale?”

He chuckled. “Fair, fair. Alright, if you need anything, let me know?” I nodded. “Good. Now, what movie had we decided for tonight?”

I wracked my brain. “Couldn’t tell you. Did we decide on one?”

“I… Huh.” He contemplated for a moment before shrugging with a laugh. “Suppose we did, at one point, but it must not ‘ave been very important, eh?”

“Guess not,” I laughed with him.

Huh, Carper chuckled. Forgetful lot you are, eh?

I sighed inwardly. For a few moments, I had forgotten he was around. Or, maybe I didn’t believe it in the first place, so I was surprised he was indeed still around.

“Should we just settle for the cooking channel?” Pa’s voice drew me from my thoughts.

“No, that show with the house flip guys will be on in a bit,” I argued.

“Arm wrestle for the channel?” he asked, glint of competition in his eyes.

I smirked. “You’re on.”

 

***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***

 

The weekend was a blur; the only real down time had been Saturday night, where Pa and I ate pot roast and potatoes, and watched the housing channel. Carper had been fairly silent, sometimes muttering odd things, but I had gotten pretty good at ignoring him. It was like listening to music while someone is talking to you; it was hard at first, but once I tuned him out, it was easier.

I still questioned my own sanity, but since I was out and about, it was easier to distract myself and not wonder why the voice of a boy named Carper was speaking in my head.

And then, like every other week, it came to Monday. And like every other Monday, it came time to go to school. But then, unlike every other time to go school, I had a voice in my head badgering me.

“Carper,” I muttered, irritated, “do me a favor and kindly shut your trap for the next few minutes, preferably for the rest of the day, and ideally for the rest of eternity. But I’ll settle for the time it takes for me to get ready.”

Whatever. What are you getting ready for, anyway? Carper asked.

In the last day, I had gotten used to talking to him without others hearing me- which, there was a point where he couldn’t hear me, apparently. He claimed he couldn’t hear my thoughts either. He hadn’t given up on trying to make me listen to his big important message, but in moments I was actively going about my life, he would settle down a bit.

“School, dummy.” I rolled my eyes as I applied mascara, standing over the vanity in my room.

School? You still do that, at our age? He asked, surprised.

I set down the makeup, settling for minimalistic. His child-like curiosity might’ve been endearing, if not for him being an incorporeal voice in my head. “Yes. High school. You go, you ‘ave classes, you take tests sometimes, and after school you might do some sports if you- wait, you said our. How do you know we’re the same age?”

If you’d let me explain-

“Kyla, I’m heading out!” Pa called from downstairs, cutting off Carper. Carper sighed. We cut him off a lot, mostly unintentionally, but I enjoyed when it happened. A little payback.

I popped my head out of my bedroom door. “Do great today, Pa! Love you!”

“Love you too, darling! I’ll see you tomorrow evening!” He called from the garage door, out of sight. He had to work a day and a half shift, so I was on my own tonight.

“Alright, be safe! Bye!”

“You too!” He called, door closing behind him.

After pausing for a few moments, making sure my father didn’t need anything else and was gone for sure, I sat back in the chair and stared myself in the eye through the mirror.

“Alright, here’s the deal.” My tone was stern. “I ‘ave to go to school in ten minutes. I ‘ave classes, lunch, and practice- all of which I ‘ave to talk to teachers, friends, or coaches, all of which I need to focus. Get that? Which means, I don’t need you prodding me with questions or demands. Clear?”

There was a pause, which I took as him considering.

No.

I stared at my reflection. My face contorted slightly in confusion. Did he just-? “Did you just-?”

You heard me. No. Not unless you agree to something first.

Oh dear me, I sighed. “And what might that be?”

You ‘ave to agree to listen to what I ‘ave to say. Your father won’t be home until tomorrow evening, just sometime before then. Agreed?

I sighed, rubbing my forehead. Dear me. “Fine, fine. I don’t have track tomorrow, so after school tomorrow. But you have to be on your best, silent, behavior, understood?”

Understood. Even without having a face to visualize, I could practically hear the smile in his voice.

Severed Chapter 1

Kyla

“Two more laps! Two more laps, got it?” the angry Russian woman in the purple velvet tracksuit yelled.

“Yes coach!” we respond in unison.

My breath puffed in front of me in the cool February air. Why does the track training start so early this year? Last year it didn’t start until March!

I spotted a dark brown ponytail whipping back and forth a few paces ahead of me, and brushing a stray red lock behind my ear, I sped my gait to catch up to her.

“Hey Gi,” I called out, my voice breathy from the last few hours of running and practicing my long jump. “Got the time?”

Gi- Gretchen- had been my friend since grade school. She gasped at my sudden appearance, autumn leaf-brown eyes widening in surprise. She put a tanned hand to her chest in a gesture of shock.

“Oh, um, I’m sorry Kyla, you surprised me. Umm,” she glanced at the athletic watch on her left wrist. “5:14.”

Shoot. “Mother-” I began, eyebrows furrowing in frustration.

“Oh no, are you late for cheer?” she interrupted before I could get too profane. Her face was glazed with concern.

“Yeah, we were supposed to be on the basketball court at five. I gotta run, Coach Adams is gonna be pissed.” I dragged out the last word in irritation. “Can you tell-”

“Yes. Hurry, before she sees.”

“Thank, darling.” I smiled in relief as I veered to the right, towards the locker room.

I waved my farewell to Gi and ran into the lockers. I didn’t waste time changing; I grabbed my bag and sprinted out of the field house to the main school building.

Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot-

“Kyla!”

I stopped and cringed. I slowed my sprint to a halt beside my cheer coach.

“Why aren’t you on the court stretching?” Her eyes twitched as she glowered at me.

I resisted rolling my eyes at her. Glad to see she’s her typical, lovely self. “Sorry Coach Adams. I was at track. I was running, and then I was running late.” I pasted a fake smile on my lips.

“Clearly. Change, then get on the court. Five minutes.”

Without another word, she turned swiftly, snapping her blonde hair in my direction. Grumbling my protest, I trudged my bag to the gym locker room, threw on my skirt and bow- I had preemptively worn my sneakers and cheer top under my running jacket- and walked onto the court for stretches.

As I made my way to my spot in formation, I locked eyes with Missy.

I met Missy in the fourth grade when she was adopted from South Korea, a year after I had moved from Ireland. Both being fairly new to the United States, we bonded immediately. We met Gi a few years later. She was born in the United States, but given her mixed German/Iraqi background, she sported a slight accent as well, which drew us to one another. The three of us were inseparable ever since.

“Kyla, you’re late.” she stated flatly, but her eyes betrayed her amusement. Her accent had waned since childhood, but was still prevalent. Not that mine was any better; I still sounded like I had hopped off a boat from the motherland not two days prior. “Was coach pissed as hell?”

I snorted as I sat down beside her. We kept our voices low. “Pissed to hell and back, Missy. To hell and back.”

Missy smirked. She never ran track, but she was familiar with the season and came to support Gi, Harold and I- Harold was another friend of ours that ran track.  She warned Adams I’d be late, no doubt. Track never started this early in my two prior years of high school, and this year the basketball team went to state, for the first time in several years.

So basically, I was screwed on all sides.

“I did tell Adams you’d be late, since track season is starting.” she informed me. Thought so. What a champ.

“Not all heroes wear capes. Thanks dear. Didn’t save me from a wicked tongue-lashing from the she-devil, though,” I whispered, and we giggled as said she-devil approached.

“McKinley, this is time for stretches, not socializing,” coach snapped at me.

“Apologies, Becky dear. I’m a bit stretched out from the last three hours of running and leaping I did, so pardon me if I’m not working my hamstring as hard as usual.” I pasted the same fake smile that drove Adams insane.

Becky was Coach Adams’ first name, and since she’s only a few years removed from high school herself, it drove her insane when we addressed her as such. She demanded respect, but did jack-squat in the direction of earning it. For some reason, the rest of the squad treated her like she was a descendant of a cheer goddess. I didn’t see it.

Her eyes narrowed to slits and clenched her jaw. “Watch yourself, McKinley.”

My smile didn’t move an inch as I turned away from her to Missy, who stifled laughter. Oho, was this going to be an exhausting evening.

***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***

The team won, which meant a big sloppy party afterwards. And big sloppy parties meant playing mom to a cheer squad that got big sloppy drunk. I refused the drinks as they were offered to me. Sure, I needed to be there for the rest of the girls, as the future choice for varsity captain; but honestly, drinking at home with Pa was much more fun than chugging cheap beer with some gangly basketball players who were more than willing to make out with anyone available once they got past one drink.

Besides, Pa specifically told me he let me drink with him so that I wouldn’t want to do it in a place like this and get hurt. I thought it a sweet gesture, like I find most of the things he does, and tried to pay heed to his request.

Once I had made sure everyone was safe and on their way home with nobody tipsy behind the wheel, I flashed a text to Pa, who had promised to stay up for me.

SQUAD’S ON THEIR WAY HOME. I’LL BE THERE SOON.

I put the phone back in my pocket. I had changed back into the jeans and sweater I had worn to school that day after the game, so my arms and legs weren’t entirely frozen in the chilly late-winter air.

I looked behind me at the jaunty atmosphere the party gave off. Through the windows I saw banter and drinking, a television flickering with the lights of some movie or video game the boys were crowded around, and lots and lots of food everywhere.

I chuckled. I doubted I’d ever had more than a greeting with any of these guys outside of a school assignment, or something similarly contrived. Not that I wanted to, they were a bunch of assholes, just like my cheer squad- besides Missy, of course.

Maybe that’s why they get along, I mused, turning to walk to my car. I looked at the time on my phone. My smile swiftly turned to a frustrated frown.

It’s 1:48 am, and I have work at 8 am tomorrow. Just perfect.

I had plenty of late nights like this, but I scheduled a long day this weekend to make up working less earlier in the winter cheer season. I hadn’t actually expected the team to be decent this year, let alone state champs.

I resigned to my fate of a restless night and a struggle in the morning, unlocking my car and stepping in.

The first few minutes out of the neighborhood wasn’t bad. In fact, with the radio turned low and a steady speed, I felt less exhausted and more relaxed. I had gotten my license a little over a year prior, so by now I could tune out and find my way back home without much fuss.

I reached the stretch of woods that connected my part of town to the rest. The surroundings were eerie quiet as I drove. As I passed the expanse of pine trees, my head began to ache. I reached into the glove compartment and rifled my hand around, trying to find my stash of acetaminophen while keeping my eyes on the road.

Dammit. I swore as I shook the bottle, finding it empty. My head throbbed more severely and more frequently.

My chest tightened, my breathing became labored and soon I was gasping for air. My head felt like it was going to split from the pressure.

I screamed in pain. In a sudden burst, my eyes felt like they were blinded from a bright light and my head felt like it was being torn apart. My head slammed onto the steering wheel as I felt the car swerve.

I felt the car spin out, but in my pain it felt far away. I tried to lift my head from the wheel as I felt the car stop moving, but my head felt like it was made of lead. My eyelids flickered open, but something bright obstructed my sight and burned my eyes, so I squeezed them shut once again. I slipped in and out of consciousness as I waited for the pain to subside.

It felt like ages that I was left in that half-dead half-dazed state. Then, I lifted my head and opened my eyes, feeling as if the strange incident had never happened.

I sat there for a few moments, staring blankly out into the woods. My car was facing directly where it started. I checked the dashboard to make sure I hadn’t done a 180.

Still facing east. I sat in a stunned silence, unable to process anything. Did I even spin out? Am I just insane?

Deciding it was better to just get home, I gingerly pressed the gas pedal, sighing a bit as the car rolled forward.

***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***                     ***

After another ten minutes of driving in utter silence, having turned the radio off for my nerves, I pulled into my driveway. Exiting the car, I approached the small cottage. I stepped in through the creaky oak door, locking it behind me.

“Pa?” I called out softly. “I’m home.”

I listened, but there wasn’t a response. I waited a moment and pinned a soft snore coming from my left.

Walking into the living area, I found my father sprawled on the couch, plaid quilt sliding off onto the floor.

No wonder he didn’t text back, I thought, amused. I tiptoed up to him, fixing the quilt, intending on tiptoeing away quietly.

“Oh, Kyla dear, yer back?” he asked through a yawn. I turned back to him, and smiled. His accent was very thick, since he never tried to cover it up at home. Speaking to him at home brought our roots out in me, just as speaking to me at home did to him.

“Yeah, Pa. I just got back from the party. Had an odd drive, though.” I spoke in a quiet, quick pace.

“Oh yeah? What happened?” he yawned again, sitting up.

“Nothing really, had a headache, but then it went away suddenly.” I said, waving away anything that could worry. He worked too hard, I didn’t want him to worry about my medical condition. As I spoke, my dad’s eyes woke up, pale blue and alert with sudden concerned.

He and I didn’t look much alike, him with black hair and blue eyes, and me with red hair and light green eyes. He told me I resembled my mother, but I had very foggy memories at best, since she died when I was in the third grade. Shortly after, my Pa and I moved to the United States.

“You’re alright though?” He asked.

“I’m fine, Pa. It wasn’t anything at all. Just get yourself to bed, you have to work in the morning.” I chided gently. “Good night, Pa.”

He looked at me suspiciously. “If you say so, darling. I’ll see you in the morn.”

I pecked his cheek and turned away, walking towards the stairs.

When I reached my room, I closed my door, flopped on my bed and stared at the ceiling.

I left my bag in the car, I sighed.

I was too exhausted to change my clothes, let alone process the events of the day. As I stared at the light ivory ceiling  in the low light, my eyes slowly shut as I drifted to a restless sleep.