There was a time when I thought I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Probably I was twelve. Young, for sure, to believe that glittering lie. Probably equally young when my brother first gave me a book on Greek mythology and I read the stories with fascination. Nothing like my worn out copies of Babysitter’s Club books, the tortured souls in the tales captured my imagination. The one about Cassandra—cursed to see the future without anyone believing her—might have struck my childish imagination as sad, if it didn’t seem so cool to be able to see what would happen next.
Who knew I’d wake up one morning to discover the keyword in creative and tortured soul was tortured?
A freak accident, the newspaper called it. One bolt of lightning, snagged by the height of a black walnut tree, filtered through its root and zapped into my feet as I stood, head tilted up to catch raindrops on my tongue. For a while, I guess they worried I might die. Even with the trip through the tree, the sheer voltage that left my body burned and my hair sizzled off should have stopped my heart and never let it beat again.
I didn’t die. I survived the strike. I survived the therapy—learning to use my hands again, since my brain didn’t seem to function correctly since the zap. I never entirely got my voice back.
I did, however, gain Cassandra’s curse. Time, slippery at best, washed back and forth through my mind like the waves on the beach. I couldn’t always differentiate between what would be and what was. Even when I recognized vision for future rather than current events, I sometimes tried to change the events.
Not that it ever mattered.
Right then, I couldn’t tell if the guy staring at me actually leaned on the light post or if he peered out of the past or the distant future. His corduroy jacket could be hipster cool or it could be historical commonplace…how could I tell just by looking at him? The thing about him that really caught my attention was that he stared right at me, like he looked at me and could actually see me. People look at other people all the time, smiling in passing politeness or glancing over them in rushed blindness. Very few really saw one another, not really.
But this guy, with his faded jacket and light hair wafting in the breeze, seemed to look into me and see the bits I couldn’t verbalize any more. If I had a voice, I might call out to him. Say something. I’d say something clever for sure, even if the only thing that came to mind was hey.
He straightened, moving closer, and I glanced at my brother. Dragged out to take me to therapy, he wasn’t even paying attention. Instead he tapped on his phone, a constant stream of words flooding out of his lips as meaningless as the babble of strangers speeding past us on the sidewalk. I wished my brother would look up, verify whether or not the handsome guy actually existed in this world or if he was for another time, but without my words I stayed powerless to actually distract him from his enchantment with his cell phone.
“If I told you your gift could save the world, would you keep it? Or would you give it up to gain back the life you might have had, the one you lost when you were cursed?” The guy’s voice was as fascinating as the rest of him—neither too gruff nor too high pitched, the perfect guy voice.
Again, I glanced back at my brother, cheerfully oblivious to my strange exchange and of no help whatsoever. I couldn’t answer the guy, so I simply shrugged as best I could, knowing the gesture came out a little crooked. Even with therapy, my body just didn’t cooperate the way it had before the lightning changed my world.
“That’s not an answer.” The man smiled, a feral expression more like something you’d see on a caged animal than a man. “Answer me.”
I couldn’t answer him, not even if I'd wanted to. My voice, uncooperative on the best of days, wasn’t my strong point in my new life. I opened my lips and all that escaped was a sound like, “Gllarrffn.” Blinking fast, I wished I could speak. If I could, what would my answer have been to his strange question?
Would I save the world at the expense of my own happiness? I didn’t think so. Everyone says they’d do it, or would like to think they were the selfless type to do what was right for the many at the expense of their own happiness. The thing was, I’d lived for more than a year with no voice. I’d been silenced and frustrated for so long, I didn’t know if I could give up more if I were honestly given a choice. Not that I thought some strange guy, anonymous to the point of being strange, could offer me such an option in the first place, but…
“But what if I could?”
Shaking my head at him, helpless and unable to speak, I finally closed my eyes. Behind my closed lids, images flickered like a dream trapped in fast forward. Colors swirled and the world tilted sickly. I swallowed hard to keep from throwing up as the sensation made me a bit dizzy. If you could, I’d keep my gift, I thought. Even if I couldn’t speak and was trapped in a way that even Cassandra wouldn’t understand.
The man laughed, a gritty sound that stuck in my ears and I shook my head as if to shake free of the tendrils of it lingering in my head. “Your willingness to sacrifice has been noted…and a boon has been granted.”
“What boon?” I demanded.
The sound of my own voice, unfettered by my uncooperative throat and tongue, shocked me so much that I clutched at my throat. I hadn’t heard the sound of my voice since before the strike, since the hoarse and awkward thing it’d become wasn’t me, not really.
The lingering echo of his laugh echoed around me, louder as if renewed, and I turned slowly. He’d vanished, but I sensed he’d not gone, not really. “You gave me back my voice.”
“It’s not the gift you might think. They still won’t listen to you, but try. The key to saving the human race is yours…use it wisely.”
Somehow I sensed the thing, because the creature was not a man even if he’d worn the body of one, was not of this earth. I also sensed that though I might have been given a greater gift than I would have dreamed to ask for, it came with a price.
“Did you say something?” My brother finally stuffed his all important phone in his pocket and looked at me, the problem. That’s what I’d become to them—a problem, a situation to be dealt with. I didn't blame my family, even knowing how they saw me now. I might have felt the same way if the shoes had been on the other proverbial foot.
“Can we please stop for coffee? I’ve wanted a caramel macchiato for such a long time.”
The look on his face would have been comical if I didn’t fully understand how I’d shocked him. Perhaps it wasn’t the wisest use of my newly returned voice, but it seemed a very good time for coffee. Dark times were coming, very dark, and in my opinion everyone should drink as much coffee as possible before the dark times took away the liberty of such extravagances.
I didn’t tell my brother all of that. I simply followed him as he called our parents to tell them the miracle. He did get me the coffee. And I watched the sky.
The darkness…it was coming. Even with a voice, I wouldn’t be able to stop it. I could, however, at least enjoy the last days we had in relative comfort and I planned to do just that.