Two years ago…
At the very moment that I thought my life might finally be starting to go somewhere, a chemistry lab exploded around me.
I woke up with the sound of the blast still ringing in my ears. Sight and hearing flickered in and out. I caught flashes of the wreckage that was once a UMass chemistry lab, shouting, sirens, strobing lights, the acrid scent of smoke, and my own wracking coughs.
A flash of reflective tape before my eyes and the wheeze of a respirator. I was in the arms of a firefighter. Consciousness faltered momentarily, then I was lying on a stretcher.
“You found her where?”
“Epicenter of the blast, if you can believe it.”
A third voice. “She’s only got smoke inhalation and second- and third-degree burns to her right arm. She couldn’t have been that close to the blast.”
I giggled hysterically but it came out as coughing. I realized I was in pain. My right arm was the embodiment of agony.
“I gotta tell you. It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen.” The stretcher beneath me rolled. The firefighter was still speaking. “I mean, look at her! Her clothes are hardly even singed. The other three we pulled out of that lab were crispy critters, but only her arm is burned.”
“Yeah, it’s a fucking miracle. You mind? We got a job to do here.”
Not a miracle. A curse.
Pain. Confusion. Grief I couldn’t explain. The pain in my arm prevented rational thought.
Something clicked and an image shot through my mind. Flames encircled me. Through the flickering fire I saw my boyfriend and, beside him, my best friend. Their skin blistered, bubbled, and blackened to ash in the space of a heartbeat.
They were dead and it was my fault. It was His fault.
My mind spun with grief and horror. I wanted to flee. I wanted to stop hurting inside and out. I wanted this to be a nightmare.
Something stung my left arm. I began hyperventilating. Hands held me down and something warm slid into my veins.
NO! Stop! Don’t give me drugs!
My mouth wouldn’t respond to form the warning. I was already fading. I had no way to warn them…
Comfort, warmth, and a humming motor. I opened my eyes to see the hypnotic passing of trees to my right. I was bound in the passenger seat of a vehicle.
It wasn’t an ambulance
“You’re not supposed to be awake.”
That growling comment came from the unfamiliar man on my left. Unfamiliar and menacing.
“Where am I? What’s happening?” It was a struggle to mumble the words through my narcotic haze.
“You’re on your way to trial, Jinx.” His tone was clipped. He didn’t even look at me.
“You used sorcery to blow up a college laboratory and you have to ask?”
I just stared at him. I had been kidnapped by a madman. The thing inside me wasn’t sorcery.
“It’s just a formality,” he continued. “I wager you’ll be set for execution within the week.” His apparent satisfaction with that outcome appalled me.
My mind was starting to clear and I tried to struggle against the strangely glowing handcuffs on my wrists. Nothing happened. In spite of my growing panic, I couldn’t summon the energy to move.
That’s because you used it all up, Jacki girl.
The man’s cold eyes inspected me with acute disgust. “If it were up to me, I’d have left you bled out at the scene of the crime you committed. That would be justice for the people you murdered.”
Oh god! I had to get out of here. He was going to kill me. He couldn’t possibly know I was responsible for the explosion, but he did and thought I had done it on purpose. I doubted I could make this madman see that I would never willingly harm anyone, let alone Hayden and Rochelle.
A sob caught in my throat at the thought of my boyfriend and best friend. I couldn’t believe they were dead. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I realized I couldn’t even remember their last moments. Nothing aside from that horrible image of them being incinerated.
“Fucking Jinxes,” the man beside me spat.
His contempt broke through my grief, igniting rage. Whoever this man was, he had some serious misconceptions about justice. I wasn’t going to let him kill me.
I reached down further into the dregs of my mind. It was a huge risk, but I had to try.
The well wasn’t dry. Every nerve in my body lit with molten fire. He flowed through my veins, cauterizing everything in its passage before his force leapt from my chest. The car veered hard to the right. I saw the stunned look on the the man’s face as we careened into a guardrail.
The handcuffs had fallen off. I climbed out of the hissing wreckage and took stock of the aftermath. The man was unconscious, but alive.
I stumbled from the scene torn between relief that I hadn’t killed him and primal fear that he would wake at any moment. If he killed me, I could never make up for the trouble I had caused. Maybe I couldn’t offer justice to Hayden and Rochelle, but I wouldn’t let their deaths mean nothing.
I ran from the wreckage, ran from the man, ran from my grief and tried desperately to hold onto the hope that I was worthy of living.