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A short story from Selina’s Empath Chronicles series, FREE for your reading pleasure…
Emma has been bullied her whole life. Her supernatural ability to sense other people’s emotions makes their cruel words even more painful. When Emma changes schools she hopes things will be different, but a prank and a risky plan turn into a life or death situation. Emma will discover she has more power than she thought, but will she use it for good?
Emma is a character from my novella Emotionally Charged, and this the story of her past. It may cause some spoilers for Emotionally Charged if you read this first.
Want to read this on your ereader? It’s available as an ebook through most ebook retailers.
I wish I could use magic to stop people staring at me, or enchant myself to be beautiful, but the magic powers I have are different. I’m not really a witch, no matter what the other kids call me. I’m not a superhero either, even if I do have special powers. Heroes aren’t ugly.
The lime-green shade of my new school’s corridors set my teeth on edge. Everyone watched me, and why wouldn’t they? I was the new girl with a target right on her face. My sneakers squeaked as I walked and I felt so completely conspicuous. Cruel laminate flooring. My own body betrayed me as well. I was taller than most girls, which just made me easier to spot. I wanted to love my bright red hair but I hated that it attracted attention to my face.
The other students stared openly at me and gossiped as they pretended to poke through their lockers. A tide of emotion followed their stares, the usual mix of sympathy and disgust that I was used to. That was my superpower — to sense how people were feeling, so strongly that I felt their emotions burrowing into my pores. I hated it. I hugged my new textbooks close to my chest and tried to ignore it.
Chin up, Emma. Don’t let them get to you. You’re beautiful on the inside. You’re special and important, no matter how you look.
I tried to believe that my outer appearance didn’t matter and that real friends would like the real me despite how I looked. But I was smart, smarter than most kids my age, and it made them think I was even weirder. My intelligence made me as much of a target as my face. I tried to act like everyone else, dress right, talk right, do all the right things. I had gone from being a child prodigy down to a C average. I stuffed tests on purpose, half-hearted my assignments, and worked harder on giggling mindlessly, and pretending I actually like music where dudes sing about their sexy bitches. Anything to just fit in.
It didn’t work.
This year was supposed to be better. Operation: New Me. I finally convinced my parents to let me change schools. Well… by convinced, I mean I was expelled from my last school when I got into a fight with this girl who kept calling me names. I had a weird adrenaline rush and broke her arm. Oops.
A little extra begging on top and my parents finally let me have the mole, the bane of my existence, removed. The mole that had made me the brunt of bullying my whole life. This was no cute beauty mark, oh no, but a brown blob of ugly flesh that covered half my chin. That’s why I was called a witch at my last school. Marked by the devil, dribbling sewage, fecal face; I heard it all from the other kids.
My life was a living hell. If they also knew I could read their emotions like some kind of freak…
But all that changed. I was going off to a new school, and in between, I’d have the mole removed. Then it was meant to be like in the books, where a group of great friends would adopt me and the hottest guy in the school would fall for me. I wouldn’t be teased. I would be happy.
The whole plan plunged into epic fail. My plebian parents didn’t realize I needed a proper cosmetic surgeon for the work, to actually make my face look like the mole was never there. Sure the doctor removed the mole, but in its place he left a jumbo pink scar like a deformed fetus.
Determined to be positive anyway, I came to this new school with a plan. I dressed up, smiled, and waited for people to ask, wow, where did you get that scar? And I would tell them crazy cool tales of my heroism, saving a baby girl from a pit bull attack, only to have a chunk of flesh bitten off my face. I’d say it was nothing, I did what I had to do to save a child. Beloved school heroine, here I come!
Except I didn’t have a chance.
Someone knew someone from my previous school and gossip of my mole, and the botched removal attempt, became the new school joke. It took no time for mortifying “before and after” photos to make the rounds, and the fact that I’d lied about how I got the scar turned everyone against me. Not one student would even talk to me. Their hateful emotions seeped into me like poison, chilling my veins, making me ill.
I hadn’t escaped.
I wish I could turn my powers off, to just ignore all those emotions for just a second. Or turn them back the other way and make everyone else know how I was feeling. Because right now, walking down this school corridor with my chin up pretending to smile was the hardest thing in the world.
My eyes stung. No way, if I cried in the middle of everyone, it was all over.
I turned to face the wall and got lucky. There was a notice board right there, covered in fluoro fliers for me to pretend to read while I got myself under control. There were fliers for cheerleading try-outs, chess clubs and the whole spectrum of other cliques that wouldn’t take me.
The corridor stank of bleach from a recent cleaning. If anyone saw my eyes damp and asked if I was OK, I’d say my eyes were sensitive to the chemicals. I always had an answer for everything. I just needed someone to ask.
I closed my eyes, and when I opened them again, Rafael, who I’d already identified as the most handsome guy ever, was leaning next to me. He had one elbow against the wall and his hand played with his sun-bleached hair. I don’t blame him; my hands would love to do that, too.
Rafael had the looks of a 1950’s movie star and he knew it. He played it up, wearing a leather jacket with turned-up collar like he was James Dean and said things like doll, daddy-o, and swell. Yeah, I’ve been eaves-stalking. Just a bit.
And here he was next to me, looking at me. What was going on? I scanned my surroundings for hidden cameras.
“Since you’re new, I’ll give you some advice.” He spoke in my ear, closer than I’m used to anyone getting. I shivered.
“Don’t join the chess club,” he said.
I let what must be a dumbfounded expression stay on my face and spoke slowly. “But… the checkered boards are so pretty, and I like the little horsies.”
Rafael looked at me like I was a poor dumb girl and I worried I’d missed my shot. I raised an eyebrow dramatically, hoping he got the point.
A moment passed, then he chuckled at my joke and I let out a massive sigh. Internally. Externally, I kept my cool and gave a flirty-yet-coy grin. I was stupidly proud of myself. Maybe I could do this. I could be funny and charming and fab-u-lous. I was beautiful on the inside, and he would be the first person to see. And really, I’d kick ass in chess club, but I’d never let him know that.
“I’m Raf. That’s the other important thing you need to know, new girl.”
“Emma,” I said. I extended a hand to shake his, leaving just one to hold up my books. They shifted, almost fell, and I rebalanced them in a way that squished my boobs up into prominence.
“Oops!” I giggled as though I hadn’t done the whole thing on purpose. His smile in return was hungry, almost predatory. I could sense the lusty excitement in him, but also something chilling, a darker emotion hidden under his grin.
“Careful, you’ll need those, for, you know, learning.”
“No problem. I can shake hands and balance books. Get me a job in the circus, I have the skills.”
The bell rang. Too soon… I didn’t want my time with Rafael to end. This was the nicest anyone had ever been to me and my heart raced with hope and confusion and the close proximity to hottest guy in the world.
Rafael sighed as the bell finished clanging. “Better move. I don’t want to get you in trouble on your first day.”
Right. I’d been here two weeks. Well, he’s noticed me now at least. I had to give him a reason to remember me. Dare I?
“I don’t mind getting into trouble sometimes, if it’s for a good enough reason.”
Raf bumped his shoulder into mine. “You’re a firecracker, aren’t you? Say, you want to meet up after class? Hang out?”
My lips trembled. “Sure.”
“Come to Siren’s Haven. You know it?”
I nodded, casually, like I went there all the time. Siren’s Haven was an abandoned set of a failed pirate movie, still standing down by the river. I knew all about it because Dad was big into collecting movie props. Tacky replicas mostly, but real stuff too when he could.
“See you there at six, at the main pirate ship. It’ll be a gas.” Rafael winked at me then headed off down the corridor.
This was too good to be true. I hated that I doubted this, doubted that there could be anything about me he’d find attractive. I was about to split apart, torn between hope and suspicion.
Too jittery for class, I skipped out, went to the girl’s bathroom, and did the Snoopy Dance.
Between when I talked to Rafael and the time for our meet up, everything changed. I almost didn’t go. I almost curled into a ball of sobbing tears never to face the world again. Then I came up with my plan.
I took so long trying to decide what to wear that I risked being late. I ended up staying in what I wore to school that day: sneakers, black stockings with enough carefully manufactured runs to look every-day, short shorts, and an oversized dusty-red sweater. I’d spent long enough picking it out in the morning anyway and I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard by having an all new outfit on. All I did was change my bra. I also had other preparing to do, and the loose-fitting sweater worked well with my plan.
Twilight lit the fake pirate town, turning grayed wood and dusty weeds varying shades of lilac. I squeezed through the hole in the chain link fence and when my top snagged on one of the cut wires I had a mini panic attack while getting my outfit in order again, covering up what the sweater hid.
I couldn’t lose the shakes that had been with me since my conversation with Rafael. They only grew as I made my way to the half-built pirate ship, propped up on blocks down the path. Used spray-cans littered the road like a rainbow and I kicked them along to try and distract my nerves.
Siren’s Haven had been abandoned a year ago when issues with actor contracts tanked production. They closed up shop and left it all standing while they tried to get back on track, but in the meantime it had become a playground. I climbed up the weathered wooden ladder onto the ship’s deck. Empty beer cans lay scattered around the remains of fires. A couple of old lounges had been dragged in. All the signs of a regular party destination for parties I never got invited to.
Rafael waited for me, reclining on top of a cluster of barrels like a real swashbuckler.
“Hey, sweet cheeks.” He rolled onto his side, shifted over, and patted the spot next to him.
“Hey.” I strolled across the deck and paused at the barrels. A foam mattress had been thrown on top of them. It made squishy noises when he moved. Ew.
“Come on, don’t be shy.” Raf patted the mattress again and its moldering stench reached me. “No pressure, I’m not going to try anything. I’m a gentleman.”
I already knew how untrue that statement was. But even still, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Some dumb part of me still hoped that what I’d overheard wasn’t true. For the part of me that despite everything hadn’t yet turned bitter, I had to let this play out.
“Can I admit something?” My voice quavered, but that was ok, I was aiming for cute and vulnerable. But really I was super nervous about what was going to happen. “I haven’t been here before. I want to have a look around. Can you show me?”
“A tour? Sure, doll, sure.” He hopped down onto the deck with a smooth jump.
The wood squeaked in warning under us, fragile and not meant to have lasted this long. Rafael put an arm around my shoulder and led me to the prow. I hadn’t expected him to touch me. My heart thudded. If he had put his arm around my waist the game would have been over.
From the prow of the ship you could see the whole film set. There were mermaids carved into the front wall of the pirate bar (which, like most of the buildings, only had a front wall). Tall grass sprouted everywhere, even from the façades themselves. There was a fake rock pool to our left, and the place might have been pretty if it weren’t crumbling and trashed.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Raf breathed heavily into my ear. “But not as beautiful as you.”
Where did this guy get his lines? I hated that they still made my heart race, even though I had no reason to believe him. Before I could mutter the obvious denial, he kissed me.
It was a small kiss on my temple, soft and a little cheeky. I lost my breath.
“Hey,” he said, and turned me toward him. I let him move me as he wished. He smiled down at me and it was a beautiful smile. His emotions told me how excited he was. Excited, and smug.
He whispered in my ear. “Take your top off for me.”
The last fine cobweb of hope I’d clung to snapped. I knew this was coming, but I clung anyway, and now I felt myself fall. I could stop this and leave now, or I could follow through with the plan I had stupidly dreamed that I wouldn’t have to use. Rafael saw my pause and misread my internal conflict.
“It’s OK, you’re beautiful. I just want to see you.”
I nodded slowly and grabbed the bottom hem of my sweater, lifting it up over my head.
I heard the cla-click sound effect of his camera app as I dropped my sweater to the ground.
The hidden camera finally revealed.
He held up his phone, admiring the photo he had taken. “Grade-school underwear, much?”
I had changed out my nice bra that afternoon for a plain black sports tank that covered as much of me as possible. I came prepared. I reached around to the back waistband of my shorts while he examined his photography.
He stood there, still pointing the phone at me, playing his cruel trick.
And I stood, pointing a gun right back.
“What are you doing? Are you crazy?” He took a clumsy step back and looked around as though there’d be someone to save him.
“I knew. I knew what you had planned!”
After he first talked to me and I danced like a happy fool, thinking he actually wanted me, the fear that it couldn’t be true took over. So I went to find Rafael, to follow him and find out more. I knew there had to be something going on with him, and I daydreamed that he just had some cool, dark secret that only I could know, like he had freaky powers too, or he really was from the 1950’s. Instead it turned out that he was simply a jerk.
“I heard you talking to Gavin. Saying you had me eating out of your hands, and you were going to get a photo to blackmail me with to make me do whatever you wanted.” I jabbed the gun at him as I talked, my voice growing louder.
“I knew about it all, and even then, I still hoped maybe you were just saying that to your guy as a cover but you really did want…”
I shook my head. I had to stop saying stupid stuff in front of him, as though I were still waiting for him to reveal he cared for me.
No. I had my plan. I knew this was coming, despite any crazy hopes I held. I came here knowing what I would do so that I’d come out of this on top either way.
“Throw your phone over,” I said.
He did, and I deleted the photo of me.
Rafael trembled visibly. His expression was frozen but with my powers, his fear was tangible to me. He had his hands raised in front of him. I pulled out my phone and flicked on the camera. Set it to video and kept the gun aimed at him with the other hand.
“I want you to tell the world, Raf, what a jerk you are. A horrible bully. Come on, I’m easy pickings, right? Go for the girl with the mangled face, why don’t you.”
His jaw moved, but he said nothing.
“I… I’m a jerk, and a bully.”
“You are. You take advantage of girls. Say it.”
“I take advantage of girls.”
The fear flowing off him made me giddy. I hadn’t felt such an intense emotion before and it filled me with energy. A grin spread on my face.
“You’re nothing but a small-dicked, derivative, misogynistic coward…”
He repeated me on cue.
“Who is about to die.”
I squeezed the trigger and Rafael twisted like he could dodge a bullet. He couldn’t even dodge the spray of water shooting from the gun. Working replica water pistols formed a large part of my Dad’s prop collection.
Not all the wet on Rafael was from the gun. His pants were soaked. I giggled as I turned the video off on the phone and slipped it into my shorts pocket.
“Wow, a better performance than I could have hoped for. Now listen carefully, Mr. Popular. You’re going to be my new bestest friend at school. You’ll help show everyone how fab-u-lous I can be. Because if you don’t, I will show everyone who you really are.”
My plan complete, I turned to strut away, the proud victor.
I felt the change before I saw anything. The fear gushing from Rafael shifted to blinding fury. The heavy sound of footfalls charged at me.
He shoved me hard from behind and I landed on my face. The aged wood deck grazed my hands, turning them into splinter pincushions. I rolled onto my back, looking up at him. The anger on his face was terrifying, the strongest anger I’d ever sensed.
“No one is going to see that video, ugly bitch!”
He reached down, grabbing at the pocket of my shorts.
I wrestled against his hands, swatting him away.
“No way are you blackmailing me. You’re going to suffer.”
He slapped me in the face.
Something strange was happening with my powers. I felt Rafael’s anger flow down onto me, bathing me, seeping into my muscles and warming them. I felt strong, the same strength I felt when I broke that girl’s arm. The splinters didn’t bother me. My cheek felt hot where Rafael had slapped me, but didn’t sting. I felt powerful.
Rafael swung at me again and I knocked his arm away easily. He pulled back, shocked, and nursed his arm where I hit it.
I knew then I was stronger than him. My powers had always felt like a curse before, but now I realized they were something more. I was something superhuman.
I leapt onto my feet, grinning and staring Rafael down. He shied away from me.
That’s where I should have left it. I should have made some witty comment, and walked away. But my hands balled into fists, wanting more fight. With this strength running through me I felt out of control. I wanted revenge for every painful word or look I’d ever suffered.
I kicked high and hard, hitting Rafael right in the centre of his chest.
He flew backward, like he was wired up for a movie stunt.
I was a witch after all.
Rafael hit the figurehead at the prow of the boat with a sound that made me feel sick. I instantly regretted lashing out, and went to help him up, to make sure nothing was broken. Even if he was a jerk, I hated myself for being so violent.
I took one step and a squealing groan came from the ship, followed by popping and cracking noises of wood splitting. I felt the deck shudder, and knew the ship would fall.
I looked at Rafael, groaning as he tried to get back on his feet. My body screamed with energy. I felt strong, fast, and confident, like I could reach him, throw him over my shoulder, and leap to safety in time. But he was so far away, all the way at the other end of the ship, where I had kicked him to.
The ship lurched to the side as the hull split open and I ran. I leaped over holes that tore open in the deck. Something huge fell into my field of vision and I saw the main mast collapse down into my path, right in front of me. Unable to handle my new speed, I slammed into it and rolled to the side. My momentum spun me too fast and I fell from the side of the ship, tumbling to the ground.
Coughing dirt, all I could do was watch as the pirate ship collapsed in on top of Rafael.
I bolted away from Siren’s Haven before the dust settled. I had to sneak back inside so my parents wouldn’t see that I’d lost my sweater and come home half-dressed.
It wasn’t my fault. It was my fault. It wasn’t my fault. It was my fault. My brain was stuck in a loop of guilt and denial. There were too many variables, but I knew one thing—if I had held back, if I hadn’t let my anger loose, Rafael might still be alive.
I deleted my video of Rafael for fear it could be used as evidence against me. I fretted about the sweater I’d left behind and hoped it would be considered just another piece of trash, not a clue to a crime. I plotted various excuses and alibis for if I was questioned. I had answers for everything.
But no one came for me.
A week later, I went to the funeral.
The grief I felt from Rafael’s family ached, pounding into my skull, and I told myself it was the punishment I deserved. But not everyone grieved. Two rows in front of me, gleeful relief came from a small huddle of girls from school. I wondered what Rafael had done to them, whether they were on a long list of blackmail victims. I tried to cheer myself up by pretending I was a hero who saved those girls from Rafael’s conniving schemes. But it didn’t work. No matter what he did, I knew he didn’t deserve to die. Heroes bring people to justice, not beat them up and fail to save them.
After the ceremony, I wandered through the crowded church, exploring the mix of emotions held by the funeral-goers. Some kids from school just thought it was cool to be there, since Rafael was so popular. His death made big news, and parents were already lobbying to have the “death trap” film set demolished. They all believed it was an accident, and nothing could have been done. I was the only person who knew that wasn’t true. My brain played through hundreds of alternate endings for the night if I’d made different choices. I wish it would stop. I couldn’t take back the choices I’d made.
There were a couple of guys I didn’t know drifting through the funeral crowd, taking donations for some vague anti-teen-death charity. They looked like brothers. Both had the same cute, roguish charm. Their faces showed commiseration, but my powers told me they felt smug, the same kind of smug Rafael had felt as he pulled his trick. I wondered just what trick these two were up to. Every single person gave them money. I watched with interest from a quiet corner.
Gavin, Rafael’s best friend and blackmail confidant, found me there.
“You were with him, weren’t you?” His voice was a growl.
I acted shocked. “Me and Rafael? Why would he have been somewhere with me?”
“I know he was going to meet you. You had something to do with him dying, I know it. You’ve been acting weird all week. Why were your hands all scratched up? What happened?”
He loomed over me. I saw anger in him, bubbling under his skin like the glow of lava. But now I knew what I could do with someone else’s anger. I couldn’t let him reveal to anyone I was with Rafael that night. I had to scare him off and I had the power to do it.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I drawled. I rested a hand on the crossbar of a stone crucifix next to me. “But whatever happened to him could happen to you too if you don’t keep quiet and leave me alone.”
I squeezed my grip and the stone crumbled like chalk. The patter of the pieces falling to the floor was covered by the talking crowd. Gavin looked at me like the freak I was. My demonstration clearly had the desired effect.
Gavin ran away, leaving me with my regrets. Was I really a witch, or a monster? Was that the path I was fated for, using my powers for evil? I started to wonder how much I could achieve with my newfound abilities. Maybe, one way or another, I could still turn my life around.
The older boy with the donation bucket stared at me. I stared back, waiting for him to glance to my scar, be disgusted and turn away. My glare was a challenge.
But instead he smiled.
He came over and introduced himself. He name was Jake, and he was there with his little brother Jamie. They’d read about the funeral in the newspaper and came to see what donations they could get for their own “charitable cause”.
“I saw what you just did,” Jake whispered, dramatically low considering no one was interested in our conversation anyway. He kicked at the broken stone on the floor and raised his eyebrows.
“I didn’t do anything. It was dodgy craftsmanship, broke on its own.”
“You’re a fast thinker, too. Perfect,” he said. “Don’t worry, I know what you can do, because I can do it, too. I’m so glad I spotted you. It’s rare to find someone special, like us. How about we get out of here and talk more. Doesn’t all this sadness give you a headache?”
I couldn’t stop my eyes widening. “You really feel it too?”
Jake grinned. “The emotion reading, the super strength, the whole deal.”
The idea of other people with powers like mine made a strong need for belonging bloom in my chest. My voice sounded way too vulnerable when I asked, “Can you help me understand what I am?”
“Sure. Come with me. I want to tell you how sticking by me will give you everything you ever wanted. Everything that people like us deserve.”
Every nerve inside me ached to go with Jake, my body rebelling against my better judgment. Jake was charming and so handsome it made my palms sweaty. There was something downright supernatural about how tempting he was, but also something wrong and disturbing. I wouldn’t fall for sweet talk again, and could already tell he wasn’t one of the good guys.
I shook my head. “No. Go away. You’re not my type.”
Jake looked stunned. I doubt he got turned down… ever. He stared, assessing me again, his gaze lingering on my face.
He handed me a business card.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“A gift, something I’m guessing is high on your wish list. I’ll let Dr Rachenko know you’re coming and to put any work on my tab. I’ve written my number on the back so you can get in touch again when you’ve seen what I can do for you.”
I stared at the card. Dr Rachenko- Discreet cosmetic surgery and enhancements.
Jake tapped the card as I held it in my hands. “Everything you ever wanted starts here.”
Jake called his brother over and the two of them left the building, counting the money they had been collecting from the grieving crowd. Definitely not on the good guy side.
I stared at what Jake had given me, my fingers clenched and shaking around the thin cardboard. Jake had offered me a new life, a new skin, and all I could wonder was what trick he would play on me, what catch this promise held. I couldn’t stand the idea that his offer wasn’t true.
And if the only catch was that I wouldn’t be one of the good guys either, could I do that?
Deep inside I had always wanted to be something good and special, but it seems that I was born to be something other than a hero. I never had that sort of strength in me, the strength to stay beautiful on the inside. Ugliness had crawled inside me, driven in by the cruel words and games of my peers. It sat there, next to the dull ache I felt in my chest whenever my mind replayed the night at Siren’s Haven. A montage it chose to replay often.
I shook the guilt and regret away, denying it. It didn’t matter anymore. I would become beautiful on the outside. Everything I wanted, I would take. I had great plans. Operation: New Me, Mark II would not fail.
A few notes about this story
When I decided to write Emma’s backstory, I knew that it was going to be the tragic origin of a villain, rather than the normal hero’s tale. That’s the sort of story I’m used to writing, and that we’re all used to reading- a person surmounting all the terrible trials thrown at them to become something better. In my mind, the difference between good people and bad people are the decisions they make in their darkest moments. Not everyone has it in them to rise above, and it’s the ones that fall, that are beaten down, that tragically become villains. That’s the story I wanted to explore in Emotionally Scarred. I don’t want readers to think that Emma’s actions are to be condoned, despite Raphael being not too nice himself. Emma has it in her to become a true super-villain. Will she, or will she have a chance to redeem herself?
Thanks for reading my short story, I hope you enjoyed it. Comment with your opinions below! You can read more about Emma and whether her “Operation: New Me, Mark II” plan succeeds and how she has to deal with what she’s done in other books from the Empath Chronicles series.
Haven’t read Emotionally Charged yet? Grab a copy here on Amazon, or signed direct from me.
Souvenirs volés - The Memory's Wake French (français) Translation
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