Work Header


Chapter Text

        Some things just couldn’t be fixed, no matter how hard you tried.

        I was sitting bolt upright on my ugly moose-patterned futon. The reflection in the mirror I’d hung from my door locked eyes with me, the muscles of her jaw -my jaw- occasionally twitching with latent tension. The phone in my hands piped out narration from a nature documentary I was only half listening to, most of my attention on the harsh voices of my roommates echoing through the thin walls of our apartment.

        Not gonna be my apartment much longer, I thought, a queasy mixture of shame and relief welling up in the back of my throat. As much as it galled me to go crawling back to my parents after trying so hard to escape their expectations and obligations, I had to admit that finally accepting defeat was a weight off of my back. Bitter though it was, at least I knew how to predict them.

        The door slammed open with no warning, smacking into the doorstop with a bang that made me jump. Ray stood in the threshold, face twisted into a mask of rage. He gave my room a look you’d normally reserve for a rotting garbage heap in the middle of the carpet, and his gaze grew uglier and colder still as it turned on me.

        I froze. My mind raced on a separate track, disconnected from present circumstances. Ray and I sitting on the couch of our old dorm and laughing as we played video games together, bonding through our mutual annoyance with another one of our dorm-mates. Zeroing out of college and moving to a nearby apartment complex while the money I got from student loans slowly ran out. Making a deal with my parents for monetary support while I tried and failed to get a job.

        Ray and two new people -Bill and his girlfriend- moved in a few months ago, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t seem to get things right with them. They’d bothered me any time I was nearby, loudly complained about me right outside my door, yelled at me when I was in the shower, but they’d never forced their way into my room before. Some part of me noted how many dirty dishes there were on the floor, how long I’d procrastinated on washing them. It was just… hard to leave my room sometimes, no matter how much I told myself I needed to clean up.

        I pushed past my shock, forcing myself to my feet and meeting him stare for stare. He was at least half a head taller, with a broader frame and more muscle than me despite not really being an athletic guy.

        “Get out of my room,” I managed, barely keeping my voice from trembling. Something in me whimpered at the noise and emotion, and I could practically hear it babbling and weeping for mercy. I crushed it ruthlessly. I wasn’t going to let anyone treat me like this, no matter how shitty a roommate or how scared I was. Besides, if every time I did what they wanted they got mad about something else...

        It was pointless to try and reason with them.

        “You’re like a child,” Ray said, lips curling into a sneer under his unkempt red beard. “You know how much your little stunt cost?”

        Nothing? I thought, confusion and outrage warring for dominance inside me. A hundred protests sprung to mind, but I kept my mouth shut, contenting myself with glaring at him. All I’d done was press the reset button on the back of the router, easily fixed if they weren’t so busy haranguing me. But I knew that didn’t matter to them, the only thing that mattered was that I’d circumvented one of their ‘punishments’, and now one of them had to put me in my place. I just wished I understood why they hated me so much, wished that I could have prevented this somehow.

        “Sixty dollars a month for our internet,” he said, “and you’d understand what that meant if you didn’t make your fucking parents pay for everything.”

        I ground my teeth, trying not to growl. I hated the way he did that, hammering away at whatever got the most reaction, making out my every action to be some horrible disaster. He didn’t know shit about me, but it still stung.

        “We could shut the power off in your room, you know that right? Maybe then you wouldn’t waste so much money leaving the fucking lights on all the time,” he said in that aggrieved tone he always did, like I was the one being ridiculous, like it was my fault he had to take every opportunity to shout at and belittle me. It was so confusing. I’d tried apologizing, tried offering to set up a chore wheel, tried just cleaning more often, but it felt like nothing I did was enough for them.

        “How can you be so worthless?” he demanded, indicating me with a broad gesture. “You can’t get a job, can’t clean up after yourself, dropped out of college. What are you even trying to do?”

        “I say it’s shit parenting,” offered Bill from out in the hall. “She always got what she wanted, so she expects other people to do everything for her. She’s a disgrace.”

        I set my jaw, blinking tears out of my eyes. I wouldn’t just let them run roughshod over me like I didn’t even matter.

        “I said,” I started, grinding out each word, “get out of my room.”

        “No!” Ray shouted, and I instinctively flinched at his ferocity, the noise ringing painfully in my ears. “You’re such a slob. It’s no wonder there’s flies in the apartment with all the fucking dishes you leave lying around here. How many times do we have to tell you to clean up after yourself?”

        He took a step forward, and even though he was more than a pace away it still felt like he was looming over me. I swallowed, hoping he wouldn’t notice how tense I was. I clenched my teeth to keep them from chattering.

        “You’re like a fucking child,” he said, voice curling around the last word like he’d bitten something sour. I tried not to quail at the quiet menace in his voice.

        “Shut up,” I said.

        “What was that?” he asked sarcastically, voice thick with contempt. “You want me to wipe your ass for you?”

        That was enough. Pushing aside my abject terror, I made myself stand toe to toe with him despite wearing only my nightgown and being outclassed in height, weight, and overall fitness. As broad as Ray was, I could still just barely see past him into the hall where my other roommates, Bill and his girlfriend, were waiting in the wings. I couldn’t watch all of them at once, and I had- I had to get Ray out of my room. In the back of my mind, I cursed whoever built this apartment without locks.

        “Get out!” I shouted, outrage and self-loathing and fear driving me to punctuate my statement by trying to push him out the door.

        He didn’t budge. A cold pit grew in my stomach, and I tried pushing him again. It was useless, like trying to knock over a brick wall with nothing but my body weight and stubbornness. I looked up at his face, eyes wide. He was going to hurt me, I could see it in the way his eyes screwed up in anger, how his body tensed, how his whole face twisted in furious outrage.

        He growled and pushed back harder. Much harder.

        Time seemed to freeze as I fell, and it hit me all at once just how serious the situation was. Bill was starting to crowd in beside Ray, and I didn’t- I just didn’t know what to do. It was too-


        Everything went black. Lights out, curtains drawn, props and scenery brought in from backstage with long practiced efficiency.

        I was the audience, and the ink-black stage surrounding me teamed with innumerable fragments of a creature that was the blackness of the stage twisted in on itself until it all but glowed with the tension of it. Each fragment had a place, a purpose in a larger structure, meshed together inextricably like the cogs of a clock or the cells of the human body. Time moved forward in fits and stops as I watched, cast and crew taking their places to patiently await their cue. One of the fragments grew larger and larger in my vision until every horizon held nothing but more of it, crystalline body shifting and adapting its physical form to better withstand atmospheric entry.

        The vision shattered as it made impact, and for a brief moment I saw into an array of possible futures as vast and uncountable as grains of sand in the desert. As it began to slip away I caught a glimpse of a small child in a cluttered room, simulating social interaction with a small army of articulated plastic figures. A door slammed on the other side of the house and she sat bolt upright, every muscle tense.



        I was falling, Bill still squeezing through the doorway Ray stood in. There was just enough time for me to register a brief sense of something profound before my back collided with the futon and an alien awareness unfolded in my mind. I felt cloth, stuffing and springs compress as though they were an extension of me, could trace the forces of the collision as they transferred from mattress to frame to the carpet my feet were on. The sensations were so detailed, so unexpected, so clear that in spite of everything I spent long seconds too dazzled to do anything but sit there and try to come to grips with whatever this was.

        I distantly registered that Bill was saying something, and his voice echoed back and forth through the enclosed space. I felt each step as he walked forward, and some part of me noted that I could probably give a good estimate of his weight now. He snatched my laptop from where it sat next to me on the futon, spouting off something about how much money I’d cost all of them.

        He made it halfway out of my room before I actually managed to put together what was happening.

        “Stop!” I shouted, or rather tried to shout. It came out as a strangled scream that resounded through my room like audio feedback, and I clutched at my head as if I could somehow relieve the sensory overload by manually clawing it out of my brain. My touch felt so small, so hard to focus on, like trying to think when there were loud noises and crowds and bright lights.

        Acting on instinct, I focused instead on my awareness of the floor in front of him and pushed . A weathered wall of stone bricks and aging wooden supports sprung up from the carpet, blocking Bill’s path and knocking Ray firmly out of my room. The appearance of the wall amplified my awareness of the surroundings and expanded them out into the hallway, the effect akin to someone moving from shouting at me from across the room to shouting directly in my ear. I grit my teeth, struggling to my feet in the hopes of getting rid of the wall or moving it or something ; Bill took advantage of my distraction, squeezing past the barrier and scrambling away with laptop still in hand.

        Standing was like trying to write legibly with my left hand in light so bright that all contrast and definition were lost, but patient persistence allowed me to draw up to my full height inch by agonizing inch. I took my first step and everything went wrong, a wobble sending me teetering toward the floor before I’d even registered that I was falling. Panic rose up like water boiling over the edges of a pot, and I instinctively drew more stone from the floor to break my fall.

        The information overload grew even worse as my hands touched the conjured rock, and this time I couldn’t stop an agonized scream from ripping itself out of my throat. It formed a feedback loop, the noise echoing incessantly and fueling itself from the panic and pain it caused. The surroundings reacted to my distress, constructs of wood and stone and metal sprouting from every surface and amplifying the unfamiliar sensations until I lost all awareness of my body.

        My capacity for conscious thought was reduced to fleeting fragments. The way weight transferred between components of the larger structure, guided safely to the foundations beneath. Someone was screaming, but the noise was strangely muted in the face of the greater whole. Grates, portcullises, mantraps, tripwires, snares, walls and doors and endless twisting corridors. I felt it stretch into the earth beneath, twisting it and hollowing it without undermining the structures above. My senses reached a peak, and I got a glimpse of the whole, the larger structure, everything radiating out from one point on the second floor of what was once a squat apartment building.

        The awareness retreated with agonizing slowness, and I returned to my senses piece by piece. Eventually it seemed to stabilize a few feet out from each point of contact I had with the ground, which in this case was my whole body. My eyes fluttered open and I very briefly thought I’d gone blind before realizing I was completely covered in a thick blanket of stone. I frantically pushed it aside, shocking myself with how easily I moved the ordinarily rigid and very heavy rock.

        The only illumination was the string of Christmas lights I’d pinned to the wall above my bed, but it was more than enough to see that all was not well. The walls, the floor, the ceiling, all of them had been covered and reinforced with grim, sturdy architecture. The light on the ceiling had been sealed completely under the same rough stone construction that covered everything else. The overall effect reminded me of a fantasy dungeon, or one of the castles I’d visited in the UK and Ireland exaggerated to the furthest extent possible.

        What the fuck is happening? I thought, and it was a plea.

        It took a few tries to stagger onto my feet, limbs still shaky from whatever the hell that was. I leaned on my futon for support while I surveyed the room. Mind reeling, I latched onto the laptop that Bill stole from my room. I had to get it back. The wall in the middle of my floor was inconvenient, but I was able to squeeze past it and start unbarring the now far thicker and larger door. Its weight made shifting it a chore, particularly with the extraneous wall keeping it from fully opening.

        I took one step out into the hall and heard a distinct, ominous click. The floor shifted under me the same instant a spring-propelled spear shot out of the floor. It seemed to pass by me in slow motion as I was moved just barely out of the way, stabbing through my nightgown and stretching the thin fabric taut. There was a brief stillness while I swallowed the lump in my throat and tried to figure out how to breathe again. Holy shit. Fuck. Shit. I almost just died.

        “Okay Carmin,” I said in a quiet, breathless voice. “Okay. You can do this. You’re gonna be okay, you’re gonna be okay.”

        I pulled my nightgown off the roughly forged spear with exaggerated care, saying soothing words to myself in a near whisper. Carmin was my best friend’s nickname for me, reminding myself of him was another way I staved off abject panic. Good memories were like the soothing words or the breathing exercises I’d learned so long ago, tools for navigating my internal landscape in an unpredictable world I’d slowly accumulated and refined over time. As was so often the case, trying to manage the tangled mess of my feelings with the tools at hand was akin to trying to bail out the Titanic with a single bucket.

        Blinking, I realized I’d been standing completely still with my rescued nightgown balled up in my hands for over a minute. That’s enough of that, I thought at myself forcefully, turning to face the darkened hallway. I let my nightgown drop, the pale skin of my stomach just barely visible through the tear in the fabric. Visibility was limited to small cracks of light from the warped windows of our living room to the right, nowhere near enough to navigate by. Instead, I focused on the strange awareness of my surroundings that still dazzled and overwhelmed me at turns.

        I stepped delicately over a tripwire I knew instinctively would activate a flurry of arrows from the wall opposite me, carefully avoided placing my weight on a spiked pit trap covered with false flooring, danced around plates on the floor rigged to send spears stabbing from the walls or ceiling, and eventually I sagged against the wall facing my room less than five feet from where I started. My nose greedily sucked in the stale air, panting more from a roiling mixture of terror and exhilaration than physical exertion. Laying on the floor next to me was an exaggerated bear trap, constructed from what I was pretty sure was wrought iron. It was grey and roughly textured, somehow more brutal for how sturdy and utilitarian it was.

        Was there some way to get rid of it? The contraption was heavy in my hands, enough that I wouldn’t be able to move it easily. Instead I closed my eyes and concentrated on my awareness of the trap and the floor beneath it, trying to send it back to wherever it came from with another push. The wall next to where my hand rested reacted immediately, visibly rippling before unceremoniously spitting out a copy of the trap I’d been trying to get rid of. It clanked to the ground loud enough to make me wince.

        I made an indeterminate, nearly feral sound in the back of my throat. “Jesus fucking Christ, that is the literal exact opposite of what I wanted!” My voice came out as more of a whine than I would have liked, but I just couldn’t seem to stop it. “Please let me fix this, please. I can’t-”

        I shut my mouth with an audible click. This wasn’t helping anything, and I still needed to get my laptop back. Thankfully the traps weren’t as dense as they were outside my door everywhere, mostly clustering around entrances and amenities like mushrooms rather than being spread out evenly. Some more improvised aerobics got me up to the door to Bill and his girlfriend’s -I could never remember her name- room. I knocked loudly, my foot tapping with impatience and agitation.

        “Bill!” I yelled roughly through the thick wood separating us. “Where’s my fucking laptop? You know taking things without people’s permission is stealing, right? You’ll note that I’m not barging into your room even after you fucking stole from me. Maybe something to think about.”

        I growled, knocking louder. The door slammed open despite its weight, a very angry Bill shoving his way into the hall and forcing me to back up a few steps lest I be pushed over. His girlfriend was briefly visible cowering in their room with a flashlight before the door shut closed behind him. He held a light of his own, anger making it periodically shake and send strange shadows cascading down the short hallway and into the rest of the twisted apartment beyond.

        “Carmilla,” he spat, somehow making my chosen name sound like a vile curse. “You fucking freak.”

        He didn’t say anything else, the icy hate in his eyes all the warning I got before he advanced on me again. I backed up into the hallway to try and get away from him, a distant part of me noting how my surroundings seemed to react to my distress. The ground and walls around me undulated faster than I could scramble back, brushing aside spring loaded blades and small thickets of razor wire before I bumbled into them.

        I tripped near the end of the hallway, too scared and distracted to properly break my fall. The stone floor felt oddly soft as I landed flat on my ass, staring up at a man that had humiliated and mocked me for months. I remembered an argument I’d had with him and his girlfriend after they’d cut off my access to the internet, his smug self-righteousness had gotten to be too much for me and I’d just screamed wordlessly at them. He’d sneered and said I was crazy.

        A step forward on his part brought my awareness stuttering back into the present, the light of his flashlight briefly blinding and leaving me blinking spots out of my eyes. My heart tried to thud out of my chest as he loomed over me with a cold smile and said something I flat-out refused to process or comprehend. Everything fled my mind except the need to make him stop, to make everyone stop hurting me . I’d felt the floor under me like it was one of my limbs since I’d woken up in my room, but desperation was what drove me to try moving it like one of my limbs. Stone flowed around Bill like a living thing, binding his limbs and covering him up to the neck in an unyielding prison.

        The ground beneath me rose up as well, buoying me and helping return me to my feet. I walked up to the futilely struggling Bill and placed my hand on the rock surrounding him, realizing instinctively that if I wished it I could just squeeze, and squeeze, and squeeze and reduce him to a fine paste. There was a moment -several moments if I was being honest- where it could have gone either way, but I forced myself to step back and really think about it. Was he really worth it? More importantly, was that the sort of person I wanted to be? The answer to both questions was a pretty clear no. So it was that I sighed and carted the immobilized Bill back to his room, unceremoniously dumping him back with his terrified looking girlfriend.       

        “All of you wait in here,” I said, voice firm, if still a little rough. “I’m gonna see what I can do about the traps.”

        Without waiting for a response I shut the wall back up. My room was a mess, and I knocked over a small stack of dishes in my haste to put on a pair of flannel-patterned pajama pants and grab my phone. I’d be needing the light.

        The hall was still covered in traps when I left my room and shut the heavy wooden door behind me, its hinges squeaking and groaning in protest. I moved forward with soft, precise steps, paying close attention to my sense of my surrounding to locate traps. I couldn’t figure out any way to get rid of them completely, but it only took me a few minutes to shove the mantraps and tripwires into the walls where they wouldn’t be able to do any immediate harm.

        Unfortunately my work wasn’t over, the kitchen and living room had been transformed too. The traps seemed to have sprung up in thick patches wherever there was likely to be foot traffic, largely sparing rooms with only one entrance but rendering the apartment’s kitchen, entrance, and seating areas completely inaccessible.

        Inaccessible for anyone else anyway, I thought as I had a slow wave of stone surge up beneath me and glide over a hidden pit of spikes in front of the door. A few more waves cleared off the center of the living room and freed Ray’s cat from behind the couch. The kitchen was dealt with in a similar fashion, and I let myself relax a little as the last few snares were cleared away. It had been, to put it mildly, a really goddamn stressful day, but I could at least breathe a sigh of relief that no one had gotten seriously hurt.

        Of course that was the moment I heard a very distinctive crunch from the apartment below me, followed shortly thereafter by agonized screaming. It wasn’t my ears that heard the sound, but the stones beneath my feet.

        The floor opened up, and I landed softly on the unyielding stone below. My phone was out a moment later, and what I saw drove the breath from my gut like a punch. A guy with short brown hair had gotten caught in one of my power’s mantraps, its crudely forged iron teeth digging deeply into his calf, and every attempt on his part to remove it only worsened the damage. The light attracted his attention, and even with how dim it was I could that his eyes were wild, shifting back and forth like a spooked horse.

        For precious seconds I froze, some part of me unwilling to comprehend what was happening. Someone was bleeding out right in front of me, arguably because of me. I’d never taken a first aid class, never learned anything beyond the absolute basics of treating wounds, but he was here and there wasn’t anyone else. So what did I know? I knew that removing the trap was a bad idea even if I could do it safely, since then the stab wounds would start bleeding even more freely. I knew that the first priority was stopping the bleeding, preferably with a clean cloth. What could I do immediately?

        “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I said, mostly to myself, restraining the stranger’s limbs as gently as I could manage. That done, I wrapped a stone tourniquet just below his knee as tightly as I could manage without risking permanent harm. He’d probably have some serious bruising but it was better than bleeding to death.

        I have to hurry, I thought, and began searching around furiously for something to staunch the bleeding. There wasn’t anything in arm’s reach, but as I searched I started to realize that I remembered this apartment. The ground gave me a small boost with each step as I practically leaped to the hallway closet. There was a first aid kit, but it had been crushed by the added layer of stone bricks. A few shelves below were some clean towels, which I grabbed. After a bit of fiddling I managed to retrieve a bottle of disinfectant from the remains of the first aid kit and hurried back over to the man I’d unintentionally maimed.

        My phone didn’t provide enough light, so I set down my items onto a small stone platform made for the purpose and had the ground beneath me rise high enough for me to grab onto the ceiling. The stone flowed down my arms and pulled me up, giving me the leverage to get my feet into the ceiling as well. I practically swam through the ceiling upside down, the material curled around my limbs letting me move reasonably quickly despite the awkward angle. With a bit of digging I pulled the room’s light fixture from its erstwhile tomb and the room was immediately illuminated, the change sudden enough that spots in my vision remained when I turned away.

        I dropped back down, and very nearly regretted lighting the room back up when I saw the full extent of his wounds. Hands shaking, I took a towel from the small table I made and pressed it onto the wound as gently as I could manage. Blood got onto my hands, onto the carpet, onto my nightgown, and he howled with pain, thrashing against his bonds. I winced at the noise but pressed forth regardless, knowing I’d never forgive myself if I let someone die in front of me. The towel eventually soaked through and I set it aside, washing the wounds out with some of the antiseptic I’d retrieved.

        The tourniquet seemed to be working, after the blood he’d already lost got mopped up I could tell the bleeding had stopped or at least slowed to a trickle. I pressed a clean towel into the wound just in case, flinching at the pained, feverish whimper he let out in response. I turned away, trying to focus on what needed to be done.

        Once no one was dying I hastily dealt with the traps in the apartment, not bothering to keep things pretty. Remembering the apartment I was in let me realize the full extent of what had happened. When my power had manifested its range had briefly spread out over the entire building and some of the surrounding area, which was probably why it had almost completely incapacitated me. Dozens of people were affected directly or indirectly, and I had no idea how to fix it before anyone else got hurt.

        It was the largest disaster I’d ever been directly involved in, with multiple lives on the line. Still, I found myself strangely calm. I was determined to keep anyone else from getting hurt, and that sense of purpose let me push aside the panic and self-doubt that threatened to crush me.

        “Who the fuck are you!?” asked a panicked voice down the hall.

        My head whipped around, and I saw a woman around my age poking her head out of her room, eyes bugging out at me. It was just a hunch, but I suspected it was because I was a complete stranger covered in blood that had appeared in her apartment just after the entire building turned into a death labyrinth.

        “I’m Carmilla,” I said, the words coming out of my mouth before I even had a chance to think about secret identities. “My power went completely out of control and I’m trying to fix it. Be on the lookout for traps, I tried to get them all but there were a lot.”

        She slowly emerged from her room, still kind of gaping at me.

        “What—how does that even happen?” she asked, her voice incredulous.

        I shrugged, not knowing how else to respond. She ran to her roommate’s side, kneeling next to him.

        “I did what I could,” I said, “which I’m afraid wasn’t much. Please watch him, make sure he doesn’t bleed out. I need to make sure no one else gets hurt.”

        She slowly nodded and I shot off to the apartment next door, simply pushing myself through the wall instead of bothering with going around. As quick as I could I neutralized its traps with waves of rock and moved on to the next one. I flung myself upward and crawled into the apartment above, only taking a couple moments to get my bearings and start dealing with the traps. Every surface I touched or pushed off of acted like an idealized trampoline, absorbing the force or pushing back precisely as needed. It let me travel at dizzying speeds, each leap potentially crossing dozens of feet even indoors.

        The third to last apartment was on the other side of the building from mine; it had taken me several agonizing minutes to work my way there, and each passing second pressed down on me like a thick choking miasma. I closed the wall behind me and literally leapt into action, an arm above my head to keep the ceiling from colliding with it. I needn’t have worried though, as I crashed into someone’s back before reaching the apex of my jump.

        The breath was knocked out of me immediately and both of us went sprawling across the stone floor. Thankfully I didn’t hear any traps go off where they landed, though they did make a pained ‘oof’ sound.

        “I am so sorry!” I blurted out as soon as I had breath, “Are you okay? I really really didn’t mean to slam into you.”

        “What the hell?” they asked with a feminine voice. “How the shit did you get in my apartment?”

        “Uhm, I’m sort of the person responsible for all this,” I said, gesturing pointlessly at the walls around us, “So I’ve been going around trying to fix things. I really am sorry.”

        “Okay, uh, thanks? I think I’m okay aside from some bruises,” she said, sounding as confused and overwhelmed as I felt, “But I heard some screaming a bit ago from the apartment next door, you might wanna check that out.”

        I felt a chill and sprung into action, trusting my memories of the building to guide me as I leapt around dealing with her apartment’s traps. Before leaving I pulled the living room’s light out of the ceiling, it was the best thing I could think to make up for knocking her over on short notice.

        The wall to the next apartment opened up, and the air coming out of it carried the sharp metallic scent of blood. Light spilled into the room beyond, revealing yet another twisted set of rooms rendered hostile to human habitation. I walked out into a living room that was once much like my own, and was now arguably even more similar. To my left was a hallway leading to bedrooms much like the ones in my own apartment. There was a pale thirty-something man in front of the hallway’s entrance, his left leg stuck in the ground up to his thigh.

        It was a simple but effective design, a layer of weakened rock above a small pit lined with spikes. All it had likely taken was him putting his full weight on it for a single step and his leg would have gone through, the spikes cutting into it and punishing any attempt to escape with further injury. There was a woman around his age repeatedly trying and failing to pull him out, her attempts incessant but utterly exhausted.

        I was by her side before I even realized it, and I could see that the man was still breathing, albeit weakly. He’d lost enough blood to develop an unhealthy pallor, and it dawned on me that he was almost certainly going to die before any ambulances arrived.

        The knowledge that I’d likely failed weighed down my gut like a ball of lead as I did my best to bandage his wounds with the stone around his leg. It was far from ideal, and I knew it was probably pointless, but I felt like I’d have gone crazy if I hadn’t done something. Once I did what I could I sat on the ground with a muted thump, too exhausted for anything else.

        I felt putrid. That was the word my mind kept circling back to again and again as it tried coming to grips with the fact that I’d hurt and killed people, whether directly or indirectly. It seemed like it should have been impossible, that was how strongly it clashed with my own image of myself. Almost unwillingly my mind began tracing back the cause and effect that had led to me kneeling on the floor of a stranger’s apartment, blood spattering my arms and clothing. The trigger event itself hadn’t been possible to predict, but I could have just not been in that situation in the first place. More importantly I’d wasted precious time getting my bearings and screwing around when lives were on the line, even though I hadn’t known it at the time. Perhaps most damning was that I’d never ended up going to a first aid class, even though it could have probably saved lives. The man I’d failed to save had paid the price for my ignorance and lack of preparation.

        “John?” asked the woman holding him, her voice almost a whisper. “Please don’t leave me alone, not now. Please.”

        When there was no response her head slowly lifted up, and she pierced me with a look that could have melted a hole through a block of tungsten.

        “You killed him,” she said, and her words were as quiet and unyielding as the stone beneath us.

        My mouth worked open and closed like a beached fish as I searched for something to say to make it better, to try and salvage this situation or offer some sort of comfort. There was nothing, though, and eventually my head bowed under the weight of my shame.

        “I am so, so sorry,” I said eventually, my voice barely above a whisper.

        She didn’t deign to respond, and after enduring a few moments of tense silence I all but fled from her. Clearing out the last apartment in the building was thankfully uneventful, and I practically swam up to the roof of the building with my power pushing me along. I started shivering almost immediately, the chilly November morning air easily slicing through my soaked nightgown. Hands shaking from far more than cold, I mechanically turned on my smartphone and dialed ‘911’.

        It rang twice before I got a response.

        “911, what’s your emergency?”

        “I uh, I think I may have just had a trigger event. You might wanna send a couple ambulances.”