It was a fortune. Enough for a dragon to tuck away in its cave. Enough for a scheming businessman to be satisfied with. Red sat at the top of the stairs, peering down at the letter her father had received. 30,000,000.
30,000,000 bir in debt. She could see the wrinkles in her father’s face deepen, his stance sink towards the ground as he read that single slip of paper. If he would turn and see her, he’d scowl and shoe her back to bed. But she was stubborn and strong willed. Her arms ached from leaning against the railing. How long had she been here? Since she had seen her father there. He had to have stared at it so long that he would need a new pair of reading glasses. He finally took a deep breath and left, grabbing his coat along the way.
Red looked at her hands. The business her father ran was dangerous, she knew. But she never knew exactly what got him into that much debt. They never had a good relationship. She’d mainly take care of herself, going to school, making her meals, and camping out in her room. Her father was always leaving; he would come home and go straight to his bedroom, with barely a glance in her direction. She often let her mind wander, thinking of what could possibly cause him to leave for so long and juggle around that much debt. Sometimes he’d get lucky and he wandered home with more money than she’d know what to do with. His face was still grim on those days though. In her early years she used to pretend that he knew a king, who was generous enough to give him money, and a rival of the King’s took their money away. Now, she equated it to something that made much more sense; her father had to be gambling. She’d been to every casino for several blocks, trying to catch a glimpse of her father rolling dice, or flipping cards. All she found were greasy old men who seemed to like young girls too much. She wouldn’t bother following him either; she didn’t know how to drive and she didn’t have the extra money it would take to convince a wagon driver that she needed to follow a fancy looking buggie for miles. So she had grown to accept it and put aside her biting curiosity. She was busy with work, and trying to save up to go to university.
As she began to lose herself in her thoughts, Red felt her hands twitch. She saw flashes of images with her mind; her father in the rain, screaming for help on the cold, unforgiving pavement of downtown Chiri in one of its many alleyways. Puddles filled the cracked pavement as he stumbled, bloody hands stretching out to escape whatever was after him. Then a familiar image, one she had seen for as long as she had these visions; a pretty girl, her age, cradling blue flames in her hands, her eyes staring intensely into the dark of night. Her braids shone silver in the light. Another; a lanky boy, his arms swinging wildly as he ran silently through streets she couldn’t recognize. His curly hair bounced along his forehead as he tried to control his breath. She felt another wave of images come on, like a light switch, but she swiftly pushed them aside, focusing instead on the peeling wallpaper.
A foreseer, she was called by some. She had started seeing the images when her mom had passed, as though some mental talent had awoken from all the pain she had felt. Her father had ignored it until it couldn’t be hidden anymore. She’d taken Chiri by storm, talking nonsense at school about a boy with a blotchy birthmark on his face, olive skin, and pitch black hair. Then it was the girl she had seen earlier, a girl whose skin seemed to glow from the blue light at her fingertips. Her classmates at Chiri District Academy had laughed at her, but eventually they had figured she had simply gone batshit crazy and told the teacher, as any elementary student would have done. They had brought a psychiatrist and a legitimate foreseer to determine whether it was her overactive imagination or some inkling of a Talent. Talents meant everything to the people of Chiri. Chiri’s small district was usually filled with tourists watching people having conversations with their animals, cooking food instantly, or painting while in midair. They were considered party tricks, but if you asked the right people, they were so much more. The talents were dangerous to some, particularly the rich. If some slum boy suddenly was able to break into the bank without a trace or a prostitute suddenly burned their brothels down with a click of her heels, what would come of them? The party tricksters were all they were allowed to be. There was a ban on the Talents going into the government, and they had to wear a telling sign that they were one; a small tattoo at the base of their neck that was a simple ‘T’. Red didn’t have one. The foreseer she had met all those years ago had told her that her sight- if she even had ‘the sight’- was weak and powerless at best. They simply put her under ‘overactive imagination’ and sent her out. She could sense relief in the foreseer’s shoulders. They had been stiff the entire interview. Now they looked relaxed as she walked Red back to her class.
“An interesting name,” she had said.
“I didn’t choose it,” Red replied.
She had liked that foreseer. Her father was much less relaxed.
“They asked you what?!”
“About the pictures I see.”
“In my head.”
“Oh, Heavens, why?”
That was all he had said. The next day, her babysitter told her that she shouldn’t speak of the images again. It was inappropriate and immature. She hadn’t liked her babysitter one bit.
There was a storm outside. Red had moved from the top of the stairs to one of the small windows below. They lived in a townhouse in Chiri, and though she didn’t see much of her father, the place still felt like a family home. She had played on the rug when she was little, moving her toy buggie up and down the symmetrical lines as though it were a street. Her mother’s portrait was in the center of the wall, a constant memory, her warm smile looking down on her producing a comfort she could never explain. But now, there were worries to be had. Her father had gone into debt a lot, but he could always save himself. 30 million bir, she wasn’t so sure of.
Though the rain had always calmed her, tonight the thunder was a little too loud for comfort. She felt her hands twitch again, and dug her fingernails into her palms, resisting the images to follow. Her days without work were dull. These ceaseless worries always arrived when she had nothing better to do, and with worries came these fragments of photos, a constant mockery of what she could never be. She had always admired foreseers. They were a good help to people; telling them what to do after their house flooded, their loved one died, or even after their kid got a poor grade on a test. She couldn’t be that. She didn’t have a name or an explanation for the foreign images that passed through her mind, and without a name she felt meaningless.
Later that night, she watched lights flash across her bedroom walls as buggies passed by on the street below, unable to sleep. Her dad would be back any minute now. She’d hear the door shut with a slam if it had been a bad night; a soft thunk if it had been good. The night before, it was the loudest it had ever been; she had jolted awake. Her father wasn’t fit to raise her. Ever since her mother left, they had skirted around each other in their house, they were less like father and daughter, and more like innkeeper and guest. Brief nods, scowls and one worded phrases were all they’d ever exchange.
It was morning now. The fiery sunrise glowed with a beauty unknown to Chiri, whose dull streets usually radiated a gray, sad feeling. Red woke up, tied her hair back and searched the house. He wasn’t there. He hadn’t come home. Her body was tense and her hands twitched. She fought it. She needed to focus, but whenever she was stressed, she’d feel herself slipping into her own imagination. She double-checked everything. It’s probably nothing. He was gone. He never stayed the entire night at his work. If she knew what he did, she might have been less worried. If he was at a gambling parlor, he most likely collapsed from alcohol. She made a decision. She would go to work, and when she finished her shift, she’d go out searching. It’s probably nothing, she assured herself.
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