Part V of my short story New Beginnings. Part I is here, Part II here, Part III here, and finally, Part IV here. We left off with a roar of thunder and our narrator leaving home and everything she knew for Montreal.
Eric grabbed my arm, digging his nails into my jacket. I glanced down at his fingers and raised an eyebrow wordlessly. He chuckled. “Sorry. Storms make me a little leery, especially when I’m traveling.” I did not speak because I knew before it got better, it would get worse, but how could I tell a stranger that?
I chewed on my fingernail, scraping the black polish off with my teeth and trying my best to remain calm. Maybe it’s just a pop-up thunderstorm, I told myself, these things happen. That’s when the whispering began swirling around in my mind. The voices that haunted me every step of leaving home from pulling my duffle bag out of our closet to paying for the bus ticket. I couldn’t discern what they were saying, but from the way my heart was pounding in my chest, I could tell they were displeased.
“Do you believe in spirits?” I asked him.
“Like ghosts?” he asked, wrinkling his nose.
“Yeah, sure,” I muttered, “something like that.”
He looked around, then admitted, “Yeah, I do. Veronica swore up and down there was a ghost in the cellar of our old place. I never went down there, but she told me sometimes, when she was doing laundry… I don’t know how to explain it, but she said she didn’t feel alone.”
“Fool,” the voice hissed in my ear.
“You think you can run,” it continued, “but you are dumb, girl.”
I remembered what my psychologist had said about grounding myself. I took a deep breath, feeling the air whoosh through my lungs. It wasn’t a spirit, I tried telling myself, it was a shattered part of my psyche.
But that thought wasn’t reassuring.
As I boarded the bus to Montreal, I could sense that, as well as Eric, my ghosts would be my traveling companions, try as I might to escape them.
Part IV of New Beginnings, as requested by one of my readers. You can find Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.
He offered me a sheepish smile. “Sorry about earlier. You know, the pissy attitude and all.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Guess this whole trip is eating away at me more than I expected. First-time traveler and all.”
“Oh yeah?” I grinned back. “Not a veteran of long bus trips up North?”
He chuckled, shaking his head. “Not a veteran of any trips. Haven’t left town since we moved here back when I was three.” A distant look crossed his face, then he stuck out his hand. “Anyway, I’m Eric.”
I glanced down at his hand and shook it. “Nixie,” I introduced myself.
“Nixie?” he echoed, raising an eyebrow. “As in, Nikki? Nicole?”
I corrected him. “Nixie. It’s a name most people get wrong. Nixie, as in, Phoenix.”
“Rad,” he replied, “you reinventing yourself?”
I wrinkled my nose at him. “Rad?”
“I’m bringing it back.”
I shrugged, then slouched back on the bench. Somehow, his being eager to talk exhausted me. It was like being around a wound-up puppy when you were used to old dogs. He sat down beside me. I rummaged through my beat-up bag and yanked out my tarot cards. I did a three-card spread for myself.
He sunk into himself, humming a melody under his breath. “You hungry?” he asked, gesturing toward a food cart. “Thinking about getting a sandwich.”
I gnawed on my lower lip. Out of nowhere, my stomach gurgled. Must be hungry. “Sure, I guess.”
Eric strolled over to the food cart with a sloping sort of confidence, the nonchalance of a kid who didn’t care much about anything. It was in his walk that I realized this guy could actually be a powerful weapon to have in my arsenal.
I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I definitely wouldn’t have any friends in Montreal.
He came back, small triangular cardboard boxes in each hand. He tossed one my way. “Didn’t know what you liked, so I got you a vegetarian one. Cucumbers, mayo, sprouts, I don’t know, maybe shredded carrots or something. That cool?”
I nodded. Anything sounded good in that exact moment. My phone rumbled in my bag, vibrating against some of its contents. I ignored it, some of my old nerves reawakening as I ripped open the cardboard.
Eric shoved a mouthful of egg salad into his mouth and began asking about the cards I had pulled.
I told him what each one meant, but I didn’t tell him that I saw trouble in my future.
Correction: I saw trouble in our future.
He said, “I play an instrument, and I was in a band. The band kicked me out when they realized they’d rather shoot up than play gigs. I heard you can make a killing busking out in Canada.”
“An instrument, huh?” I replied between bites. “What do you play? The mandolin? A didgeridoo?”
Eric sighed, exasperated. “I used to play drums, but I’m not bringing those on the road, so I stuck with guitar.”
Through the glass dome ceiling, a streak of lightning split the sky and thunder shook the building. The hairs on my arm rose.
It was time. I bit the bullet until all I could taste was metal, but maybe that was the rust in my mouth from my teeth serrating my tongue. I have a duffle bag packed. Who knew my whole life could fit in a bag? The clothes were nothing, but packing away my crystals and tarot cards, that was when my eyes began to grow wet and puffy. I snatched my favorite photograph off the clothesline it hung from. The room began to tilt as though I had just gotten off a carousel.
I was doing it.
I couldn’t look back.
I had slipped a note inside of her favorite book so she’d see it before she settled in for the night. It was like pressing dried flowers between the pages. I put another note on the leftover Pad Thai she’d reheat when she got home from her shift at the hospital. I kept fidgeting withthe ring she had bought me last year for my birthday. My legs were restless as I sat at the bus stop.
All these people coming and going, and I still felt alone.
My lips were dry but tasted of fear. I did not know how to cry, but my heart drummed like it was sore. I didn’t know anyone in Montreal, but that was the point.
The terminal grew quiet, and I could have sworn I heard her whisper my name. It was like a pair of butterfly wings fluttering together. Her lips buzzed with the familiar sound, and I turned my head at the sound. A ladybug sat on my shoulder, its antennae twitching like it was sending telegraphs, using wires and needles. I never felt at home in my own skin, but today, my body was a map, the veins riddled with roads.
Stay tuned! On Saturday, July 10th, I will post Part II