Disheartened, she complains, “I still hear them. They’re still loud.”
“This is only the first step. Overcoming the anticipation of fear is the beginning. After fully experiencing the attack you can know what to expect and then control it.” Mechteld answers, ignoring Marquita’s displeasure.
“That was the most intense it’s ever felt.”
Marquita lowers the now red tissue and checks her nostrils for blood. Mechteld holds out her hand for the tissue.
“This is only a bus ride. Believe me you’ll have worse to come.” She crumples the tissue and buries it in her pocket. “You’re more powerful now. The power will grow as time goes by. That’s why you need to learn control now. You don’t need to make my mistakes.”
“What mistakes do you make?”
“Let’s just say there are a lot of mistakes to be made. When you’re young and untrained you’re basically a child, more so in your case I guess.” Mechteld adds, gesturing to Marquita who begins to scowl. “You don’t know the rules and it’s easy to get into trouble. Plus, there are more than a few liars out there. Even when you’re psychic it’s sometimes difficult to know the truth. You can give your trust to the wrong people or allow yourself to be fooled.”
The two women sit silently as the bus enters a tunnel. Marquita watches Mechteld as she sits completely still, her unshaking hands lightly resting on her lap. She keeps her eyes looking forward as she scans each of the seats ahead of them. Two empty rows separated them from an elderly Chinese couple reading newspapers. Despite the scene Marquita made while boarding, no one seemed concerned with the two women in the back.
“How did you learn all of this? How to calm down?” Marquita asks, breaking the silence.
“It was taught to me a long time ago.” Mechteld answers, still staring ahead.
“By the person who changed you?”
Mechteld lightly shakes her and answers, “No. It took me over 100 years to find someone who could help me.”
“The person who changed you didn’t teach you?”
Mechteld gives a small pause before replying, “He didn’t stick around. When I woke up I was alone. A few hours later he found me and told me to go to a city called Viborg, but he never came for me.”
Marquita searches her mind trying to remember what Mechteld told her only hours ago. Cautiously she inquires, “But you said that he showed you things and said you could become great if he changed you. Why would he tell you that and then leave?”
Marquita watches Mechteld fingers twitch slightly. She keeps her eyes averted as she answers, “I guess you’d have to ask him.”
The doubtful thoughts enter Marquita’s mind again. She thinks, “She warns you about liars, but she’s the liar. Her story is false. Why would someone come to her as a child and change her as an adult? Why would wait years just to leave? Why would he let her burn? .....Mechteld herself said it’s difficult to know the truth, even for psychics.” Her thoughts race more, “Had anything been true? The jungle and the sound of the ocean felt real, but how can I know for sure? Were the thoughts in Mechteld’s mind merely illusions? Could it have been a scene she created to sooth the panic attack?”
Marquita then asks Mechteld, “That place…. the jungle and ocean. Is it a memory of yours?”
“Yes. Sometimes I go back to it when I need to feel calm.“ Mechteld fingers begin to twitch again, which she relieves by cracking the knuckles of her right hand.
Marquita thinks back to the feeling she experienced. For her, the feeling was one of the most intense pleasures she experienced in her life. She thinks hard trying to recapture the sensation: the freedom from anxiety, the weightlessness in her chest, and the uncomplicated bliss. She longs to experience it for just a second more, but now finds it elusive, like trying to remember a dream. Marquita turns to Mechteld who sits stoically.
“The feeling I experienced…it was…beyond happiness.”
“It is a happy memory, but” Mechtled hesitates before carefully finishing, “…some things aren’t real.”
The answer troubles Marquita. Was Mechteld admitting to lying? Why try to fool her? Why was she working so hard take her? Why was she important?
Marquita watches Mechteld whose eyes wander from passenger to passenger.
“I know she’s hiding something. There has to be more to this.”
Marquita wonders if she is reading minds or just ignoring her. She too begins to watch the other occupants, trying to explore their minds, but is only met with blur of incomprehensible chatter.
In a soft voice Marquita finally breaks Mechteld’s concentration by asking, “What can I do?”
Mechteld blinks a few times as she unconsciously cracks a knuckle, “What do you mean?”
Slightly hesitant, Marquita elaborates, “Now that I’m like you, what can I do?”
Mechteld lightly shrugs before answering, “You’re doing it right now. You’re living”
Timidly, Marquita inquires further, her voice becoming quieter with each word. “No, I mean… you know… powers.”
Mechteld’s body goes completely still. Slowly she turns her face to Marquita. Her eyebrows crinkle together into a knot on her forehead as her lips pucker into a sneer that gives her numerous scars grisly embossments.
“Powers?” She gruffly asks, “Please do not be referring to super hero powers.”
Marquita’s cheeks grow warm as she nervously stammers, “Well, no, but-“
Mechteld quickly cuts off Marquita’s answer, “You’re the same person, only immortal.”
There’s only a short pause before Marquita interrupts again by whispering.
“Do I need to…suck blood or eat people to continue living?”
Mechteld looks at Marquita with mocking astonishment. The knot on her forehead is now smooth as her brows straighten and her eyes become wide. Her mouth hangs open before answering, “Dear God Marquita, no. You are not a ghoul or a vampire.”
Marquita speaks quickly, explaining, “Well, I don’t know. I’m still trying to understand what’s happened to me.”
Mechteld shakes her head and questions, “What on Earth would make you assume that?”
In a small voice, Marquita answers, “You have heads-”
But before she can finish her sentence Mechteld digs her fingers into the armrest and cast her an intense icy stare.
In a quiet, yet forceful voice Mechteld says, “You’re a sixteen-year-old girl and you’ll always be a sixteen-year-old girl.”
Mechteld turns her eyes to the front of the bus again. Marquita leans away from her and brings her knees up to her chest. It hadn’t dawn on Marquita that not only would her body never change, but also it would never grow again. Her small frame would never be able to reach the admirable height of her mother’s. Her arms would never reach the top self, she would spend an eternity balancing on her toes, and her hips would never show where her torso ended and legs began.
In a mournful tone she asks, “I’ll always be sixteen?”
“Physically.” Mechteld answers, but she notices the Marquita’s downcast expression.
“What’s wrong with that?” Mechteld asks, “Most women would kill for the chance.“
Marquita looks down to her body, which is easily scrunched into the small seat. Underneath her skirt, her legs feel like skinny twigs. Her knees easily pressed against her collarbone, unhindered by fat or strain.
“I’ll never look like a woman.”
Mechteld scoffs, “You look like a woman to me.”
Marquita leans back and now examine her chest.
“I’ll never have breasts.”
Mechteld cringes in her seat. She pulls her ball cap over her eyes and lets out a long sigh.
“Uhh...Are you kidding me?” Mechteld leans her head back in exasperation before saying; “I’m going to need you to not say anything for at least three hours.”
“I’m sorry, when the doctor told me I had five years left the first thing I thought was I’ll never become a woman. Now I get to live, but I have to be la enana forever.”
Mechteld lifts her hand, silencing Marquita. “Three hours, nothing for three hours.”
Mechteld reaches into the pocket of her hoodie and pulls a mp3 player with tangled headphones. She raises her hat again and delicately she begins tug at the headphone wires.
Noticing the device Marquita asks, “Wait, do I get a mp3 player?”
Mechteld continues her unraveling, never looking at Marquita. “Do you have one on you?”
“Then I guess not.” Mechteld flatly answers.
Marquita shifts uncomfortably.
“But I want to listen to music, too.”
Unconcerned, Mechteld answers, “That’s nice, but this one is mine.”
Marquita pulls at the cloth of her hijab as looks at traffic slowly passing by the bus. She gives a frustrated sigh, “There’s nothing to do.”
Mechteld clenches her jaw as the knot on her forehead returns.
“Look out the window.”
“We’re on the turnpike. That’s not interesting.”
“God damn, just be quiet.”
Mechteld untangles the rest of her headphone wires and places a bud in her ear, but before placing the second Marquita asks, “Did you bring anything to eat?”
Mechteld closes her eyes as she makes a fist around the ear bud.
She struggles to keep her voice calm as she says, “You don’t need to eat anymore. I went over this.”
“Well, I can nibble, can’t I?”
Mechteld closes her eyes and breathes deep, “All I have are cigarettes.”
Slowly, Mechteld unclenches her fist and raises the second ear bud to her ear.
“That’s not very healthy. Cigarettes give you cancer.”
Mechteld breathes deep before forcing the second bud in her ear. “I’ve been smoking since America was a colony.”
“I can’t even sleep. I’m going to be bored.”
“You need to manage your boredom. You have an eternity ahead of you and most days aren’t very exciting.”
“There isn’t anything to do.”
Mechteld reaches down to a side pocket on her bag, pulling out a deck of cards.
“Play solitaire, make a house of cards, or stare out the window. I don’t care. Just be quiet.”
Taking the cards Marquita begins to whine, “But, I don’t know how to play-“
Again Mechteld raises and hand and silences Marquita, “Lesson number three Marquita, you seriously need to shut up now.”