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Chapter One - Fire Within

Every time Evelyn Davonport stood next a camel, it spat at her. The herdsmen found this hysterical. Evelyn certainly did not. She decided to nickname her beast ‘Rah,’ which in Sumerian meant ‘flood’ with an emphasis on ‘killing’ or ‘disease.’ Either interpretation worked just fine for her.

The camel-puller whistled to have Rah kneel for the girl to climb onto his back. Reluctant to be humiliated yet again, she remained rooted at a safe distance.

“Ready, Evelyn,” her father, Harold, called, jumping onto the back of his camel with practiced ease.

Her father’s assistant and her mum Lillian were already mounted and waiting. And they were all staring at her.

“Evelyn darling, let’s go,” he insisted.

Evelyn sighed. Inching closer to the beast, Rah appeared not to notice her. Lurching forward, she reached to grab the handlebar of the saddle. Rah’s cheeks bulged, full and ready. In a desperate attempt to scamper up before she was hit, she tripped over his bent foot. A seemingly never-ending stream of green liquid struck her ankle. She jump-flopped onto the saddle.

Why do bad things always have happen to me?!

The stifled laughter of the camel herders hit her ears. Pink spots blossomed on each cheek. Resolved not to make a scene, she squared her shoulders and waved to her father. Biting her lower lip, she used the sudden pain to squelch the tears that threatened to embarrass her more.

Grace was not on her list of attributes. She heard her mum’s voice from just yesterday, ‘You’ve many fine qualities dear. You pick up languages rather quickly, you can focus on a task long past the time others would give up, and you don’t complain. But, dancing, climbing, running, sometimes even walking.’ Her mum’s twinkling laughter filled her head for a moment, easing her mortification just a bit. ‘Anything to do with motion is certainly not one of your strengths.’ The rotten part of listening to the speech again in her head was she knew her mum was right. Heat filled her cheeks.

Her father set a brisk pace across the Afghan border. Evelyn swayed with the camel’s gait as they rode single file over the small hills dotting the area. It was a barren, dusty landscape, a vision she’d seen countless times. Really, once would have been enough to sear its dullness into her memory. The smell of fermented cud clung to her. She wrinkled her nose, breathed through her mouth, and tried not to gag.

The Davonports had made camp not far from the recently discovered ancient city of Kapisa, a crossroads between Rome, India, and China in the 2nd Century. Evelyn’s parents were convinced the city was a good indication they would find an anomaly—an object from the wrong time, buried somewhere in the bland hills. Harold and Lillian Davonport hunted the world for anomalies to prove their theory of space and time travel. Their search dictated every aspect of their lives, and of course Evelyn’s too.

“Up, down, over the hills we go,” Evelyn hummed. To overcome her boredom, she counted each up: one . . . four . . . nine . . . sixteen . . . twenty-four. Bits of dust clung to her nostrils and lips. Rah belched.

I’m sick of camels. I’m sick of dust. I’m sick of going.

The family set off on this latest hunt two years ago. Evelyn never protested her odd nomadic lifestyle out loud. But she was tired of going, and, it was hard to make friends when she was always in motion. Not that she knew what a friend was, she’d never had one. Her journal was her confidant.

When the sun was directly overhead, Harold finally suggested they stop to examine the area. Evelyn looked around and couldn’t see what made this place any different than the scenery from the last hour, but she was glad for the break. Harold’s assistant poured chai from a metal thermos and set out the bride’s finger pastries and pistachios Cook had sent with them.

Evelyn managed to descend from Rah without another incident despite the suppressed snickering she heard from the camel-puller. She sat on a boulder in the sun far from the animal, sipping her steaming tea with a pile of sweet fingers on her knee and watched her parents roam the closest ridge—another image she’d seen thousand times. Despite freezing at night, the desert’s winter temperatures were tolerable during the day.

Licking sweet, sticky syrup from her fingers, she pulled her journal from her bag. Evelyn flipped to the latest cuneiform puzzle she was writing and stuffed the last sweet in her mouth, smacking her lips. She had a colossal sweet tooth, especially for anything with honey.

The puzzle was the most complex she’d ever created in hopes it would take her mum more than a minute to solve. Engrossed in her word play, she barely noticed Harold’s assistant rush over to her parents. An incessant kicking noise eventually broke her concentration.

Evelyn looked up to see her mum focus intently on a rock, then kick over another with her toe, and repeat the action again. Her father was on his knees sketching madly next to her mum. His assistant was babbling, arms flailing and pointing at something on the ground.

“Evelyn, look!” her father yelled excitedly, waving her over.

Now what could be that interesting out here?

In the time it took her to walk to his side, her mum must have kicked over twenty rocks. Her father reverently held up a small red brick for her inspection. She still couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. The ground was often littered with cast off things from people who had lived in the hills long ago.

“You found a brick.” She tried to muster a smile and some enthusiasm. Her father turned the brick over and pointed to a marking, his face beaming. Embedded in the center of the red clay was a symbol: a half circle inside a triangle within a full circle. The symbol’s center looked like an eye.

Is it staring at me? Did it just blink?

Evelyn’s mouth opened to scream, but nothing came out. Light radiated from the half circle dancing in shades of orange, red, and yellow with just a hint of blue. When the first wave struck her, it was so powerful she had to take a step back to keep herself upright.

Her hands began to tingle and her insides vibrated like a plucked harp string. Energy swelled within her with each pulse of light from the symbol, its power collecting in her center, growing, seeking an exit. Never had she felt anything like this before.

I’m going to explode?!

Now fear grew with the light within her, fear of the power and heat barely contained inside her. Trying not to shake, she extended her hand to take the brick. Her arm moved in slow motion, gliding towards the object. Her fingertips lightly brushed the strange image. Energy pulsed from her fingers, finding an exit in the symbol.

Fire burst from the brick, glowing bright pink as energy surged from her center. The flames blinded her. She clamped her eyes shut and crouched to the ground, holding her up arms to shield her face. The brick shattered into specs of dust.

When she tentatively opened an eye seconds later, she expected to find her and her father’s arms blackened and blistered, but both looked like they normally did. Terror was written in every inch of her as she gazed up at her father.

What just happened?

“It’s okay, we have a drawing of it.” Her father smoothed the hair on the top of his head. He held out a hand to help her up, but Evelyn stood and ran back to her perch on the boulder. 

“You okay?” her father called.

She waved back to him, her lip clenched under her front teeth.

Breathe, she told herself. The smooth hardness of the rock grounded her. She closed her eyes and flames leapt into her vision as she replayed what happened.

Where did the fire come from?

Footsteps crunched in the dirt and rocks. She licked her lip, the taste of iron salty on her tongue.

Her father’s concerned face filled her vision when she opened her eyes.

“Fine,” she squeaked.

Clearing her throat, she picked up her journal and opened it to a random page. Staring down at the book she tried to keep her voice from cracking, “working on this puzzle for mum.”

She kept her head down until he left.

The power from the symbol was immense. No one seemed to feel or see the flames except me. . . Why only me? Did I make that happen? What if I spontaneously make fire and hurt someone?  

Deep in thought, she ignored the adults who continued to peck the ground searching for anything else.

What if the fire comes back?

Evelyn drew a copy of the symbol in her journal, her puzzle now forgotten.

Why me?

“Darling, it’s time to go,” Harold called as dusk approached. “There’s not enough light to really see anything.”

Evelyn looked up, surprised the day had passed. Lost in her whirlwind of thoughts, she stumbled trying to mount Rah and the camel-puller reached out to steady her. Evelyn quickly climbed up, before he could touch her.

My touch might hurt him.

She hugged herself in the in the twilight to fight the growing fear that threatened to engulf her. In her mind she repeated the same thoughts over and over: Am I burning? Am I crazy? Her repetition was interrupted by her biggest fear of all—Can I hurt someone?