“This isn’t right, this isn’t right!” Lilly screamed as she came back through the door. She had a sense of joy that faded as she exited, any memories she might have of a place beyond already fading. There were other people struggling helplessly, an unseen force dragging them towards her door. They passed Lilly and she cringed away from them. The door closed as they were sucked through and chains wrapped around the doorway, constricting it until the door could not be opened.
Lilly saw Bobby watching the scene, a look of shock on his face. She tried to reach out to him but Limbo dissolved around her and she found herself awake for the first time in months. She choked back vomit, then a gentle hand caressed her back.
“Are you ok?” said a voice. She looked up into a pair of cerulean eyes with golden flecks. She was captivated, never having seen eyes like that before, though in some ways they were closer to her own blue eyes with green flecks than almost anyone she’d met. The eyes were set in a face that was not quite middle aged, framed by wavy black hair falling down to the man’s chin.
“I…I was dead.” Lilly said in a tremor.
“Yes, you were,” said the man gently. “Hi, Lilly. My name’s Alan. We brought you back to life.”
“Those people…” Lilly said hesitantly. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around what had happened.
“Were very bad people. I’m sorry, they had to die to resurrect you,” Alan said, his voice full of regret. Lilly recoiled at the thought. People had to die to bring me back? Even if they really were bad, they shouldn’t have… this isn’t right at all. “Why? Why would you trade people? Why for me? It doesn’t make sense.”
“It makes perfect sense. Your life is worth more than theirs.”
Lilly shook her head. That wasn’t true. Her mother taught her everyone’s lives were equal. And even if that weren’t true, she had an overwhelming sense of wrongness at being alive. She knew she should be dead in the very core of her being. She could remember, however vaguely, that she’d walked through the open door in Bobby’s realm and Bobby had told her that no one ever came back through.
But still, something about Alan seemed inherently trustworthy. Alan spoke with a voice of absolute conviction. He didn’t have the slightest bit of hesitation and his voice didn’t waver the slightest bit. There was a certainty to his words, a weight to them she’d never heard before.
“Why?” asked Lilly. She felt like she was seven again, playing the why game with Jared and her parents. That was half a lifetime ago though. Now she was a big girl and the answers to her whys were more important than innocent curiosity.
“Because of your power,” Alan replied. “You can cure someone very dear to me. And you can change the world in its entirety. Will you please take a walk with me?”
“Ok,” Lilly said. Normally she wouldn’t go wandering around a strange house with a strange man, but she’d realized in this situation that she might need to relax the stranger danger rules her parents taught her.
Alan led her of the room across a hall that Lilly thought surprisingly brightly lit until she realized there was no roof anymore. “What happened?” she asked.
“Bit of a rumble. Don’t worry, no one was seriously hurt,” Alan said. Lilly wondered why he thought she’d worry about someone being hurt when she had so many other things to worry about. Like, how could she cure someone of anything? She might not be a little kid anymore, but she was still pretty young. She was maybe a fair bit smarter than average and maybe even prettier than most girls her age, but it’s not like she was especially talented at anything other than maybe the piano.
They walked down stairs, deeper into the damaged house. The walls shifted from decorative wallpaper to a sterile white. The feel of the place shifted from being several hundred years old to that of a modern hospital, old hallways giving way to a well tiled floor as they turned a corner.
A chill went up her spine and she wondered if she should run after all. She didn’t like the feel of this place. But the hand that Alan put on her back was nothing but a gentle comfort. He led her to a window and she gasped.
There was a girl there, no more than six years old. She rocked back and forth in the middle of a white room, head between her knees. She wore a white robe, though the sleeves were soaked through with blood flowing from where her nails were clawing her palms.
“What’s wrong with her?” she asked Alan. Looking at him she saw a look of ineffable sorrow pass across his face.
“A long time ago, her powers were turned against her by a very bad boy. I didn’t know at first, before I got my own powers. Her mother and I were very young when we had her, and she was one of the very first to ever get a gift. Much to my surprise, I received one not long after. But by then it was too late.”
“She’s your daughter?” asked Lilly in surprise. But now that she looked more closely, she could see the resemblance. They both had the same dark hair and, though Lilly had a hard time being sure at this distance, the same cerulean eyes.
“Yes, my darling little girl. I thought that the nightmares she had were because of… because of the accident her mother and brother died in. She stopped using her emerging abilities and I thought that maybe it was because she blamed herself for their deaths. But then I received my own gift and could see the future and, to an extent, trace out a person’s past. That was when I realized my daughter was a victim. There was a boy who hated the gifted. He feared them more than anything, but I was never able to learn why. There weren’t exactly a lot of them running around back then. And it was ironic, since he was also gifted. But his gift was the horrible ability to turn others’ powers against themselves.”
“So he turned your daughter’s abilities against her?” Lilly asked. “What is that she could do?” “*Anything, *” Alan replied. “Her gift is the power of imagination. In a localized area, she is nearly omnipotent. It is… a dangerous gift. But it also gives her more potential than almost any other gifted individual in existence. And so when that boy Mikael turned it against her, it became the most destructive gift you can imagine.”
Lilly wasn’t so sure, she had a pretty vivid imagination. The girl was clearly in pain, but she wasn’t being eaten by zombies or anything. She could sense that Alan wasn’t done though, so waited for him to continue.
“Her life is a perpetual nightmare. She is endlessly tormented by voices that only she can hear, burned by fire that only she can feel, cut by knives that only she can see. She transformed herself back to the last age she felt safe, but it didn’t help a bit. She fought against her gift for a long time, hanging on to sanity for months after her powers were corrupted. But I didn’t know what was going on. All I knew then was that my little girl never smiled anymore. I wanted so badly to see her smile again. I was willing to trade anything to see her smile, to make her safe. But things just kept getting worse, and worse, her power started tearing her to pieces, but she can survive anything. And I couldn’t do anything to stop it. No one I went to could help. No one knew what to do. But then all of a sudden, I could see how to help her, but not in the present. I could see a future where she smiled and laughed again. A future where she might be safe. And I’ve been working every day since to create that future.”
Alan touched the glass wistfully, face full of care.
“So how can I help?” asked Lilly. “I can’t cure something like that!” Alan turned to face her and kneeled down a bit to look her in the eye. His face was solemn as he spoke the words that would change Lilly Butler’s life.
“Actually, my dear, you can. And I will show you how.”