Zoë hugged the tiny child and handed him a loaf of bread. She gave him a wave and a smile as he rushed off towards home, able to help feed his family for another day. Zoë continued down the muddy alleys between houses in the slums of the city, occasionally stopping at doorways to drop off food from her basket. She went to needy mothers, to the sick, finding the homes where elder brothers had to provide for siblings because the parents were dead, the places where hope was needed most.
Our little financial conversation was interrupted a moment later as a waiter announced dinner. We joined the rest of the guests in a short walk to the dining room, with the decorative chandelier. The long table was adorned with centrepieces, orchids floating in water. Though, can you say “centrepiece” when there are a half dozen and they’re not in the centre of the table?
My mother sat at the head of the table, and placed me on her right, with Calla facing me on her left. The servers brought out soup and wine, the first course.
The ability to reference current events. I like that you worked AIG and the current financial crisis into the story. Makes it seem all the more real.
Calla smiled at me, and there was a playful spark in her eyes.
“Why did I come? I could say it’s because you saved my best friend’s life. I could say it’s because you’re so persistent, I didn’t see a point to saying no. I could say it’s because I wanted to see how the other half lives, where the grass is greener. But what matters is that I wanted to be around you, too, and this was a convenient excuse.”
I laughed at her mimicry of my silly little speech, and nodded. “I’m thankful you came.”
Arm in arm, Calla Wiley and I entered my mother’s penthouse apartment. Servants who had been hired for the evening’s festivities greeted us in the front hallway off the elevator. My mother liked to keep a permanent staff at her country house, where she spent most of her time. The city apartment was scarcely ever inhabited of late.
I eventually came back to myself, lying in the snow with the cross in my arms. I slowly moved to a crouching position, using it to hold myself up. Eventually I stood, my hands resting on the t-section of the cross for balance. I looked around, remembering my surroundings, and shook my head to free myself of grogginess and sleep.
Just when I thought I could not see anything worse, just when I began to hope it would be over soon, the visions showed me more.
My friends, moving as if they were zombies, formed a circle with this doppelganger. Only Evie was left to the side, spared from whatever unholy contract had been formed. The seven linked hands in the centre, like a football huddle, and shouted in one voice, strong and guttural. I saw reality tear like a curtain and beheld what lay behind it.
My youthful self was besieged by conflicting thoughts. I closed my eyes, my fists clenched as I deliberated. I knew that no good could come from this man, if he was a man, and that to indulge his offer was to risk my very soul. But I loved my sister, and could not bear to see him get his oily clutches on her. I had already had to endure his conniving enticement of my friends, I could not stand idly by as he attacked my sister with his words.
I was blasted by heat, and air that filled my lungs with so much warmth I almost choked on it like a physical thing. I fell to my knees, struggling to breathe, struggling to move. I felt blinded by the intense sunlight, and a sky that seemed to be on fire with swirling colours. My hands clutched at the sand, I felt the tiny grains spilling through my fingers.