“Amanda, you have to.”
“But I don’t want to, Dad!”
The old man glared hard at me. His clear, pale blue eyes were as cold as ice. There were lines on his square, handsome face – although not as many as they were supposed to be.
In fact, Finn MacElroy, alias my stepfather, had always looked like that for the past 35 years – according to Mum, the love of his life who passed away when I was in college. Unlike Mum, who had somehow aged faster and had more wrinkles on her face. I hadn’t realised then as a child; I’d never really paid attention. I’d only known that the three of us were a family who loved each other.
“Come on, Amanda!” he barked at me, his glare still steely. “You know damn well what this is all about. Remember all that training.”
A lump was forming in my throat. I held my breath. He never liked seeing me cry; he’d treated me more like a son.
“Daddy, I can’t…”
— *** —
Of course, how could I forget? Aside from the fact that we’d been moving around every five to six years, Dad had always trained me really hard. I didn’t have a social life, no friends and no other after-school activities. Boyfriends? Forget it. The minute he learned that I was sneaking out to date, Dad would always put a stop to it. Locking me up in my room while telling them to never see me again had been a painful routine. There were times when I’d hated him for that. He didn’t seem to care; he’d always said that I’d thanked him later.
Soon I stopped making friends at all. Why bother? It was always a matter of ‘when’ before we had to move out again. It was only logical to keep to myself.
Besides, there was always the training. Everyday after school, after finishing all my homework – whenever possible. Even I’d learned to sleep with one eye open. The gruelling workout. The long run and the skip and jump. Kickboxing. Martial arts and swimming and diving. Parkour. Gymnastics.
Most importantly, fencing and how to fight using a sword. I wasn’t allowed to fail in these. He’d be furious as hell if I made even the slightest mistake. One false move, one missed swing – anything.
And my straight, mousy brown hair was always (kept) short.
There was one thing I’d thanked Dad for that: I was always the most athletic in school. I never had to starve myself like other girls, which made them – especially the cheerleaders – hate me. Well, especially after I’d rejected their invitation to join their cheerleading squad.
Guys feared me, especially after I’d broken the arm of Mr.Quarterback’s because he’d tried groping me as I passed him by. I didn’t even care with the rumour about me being a lesbian. It was better off for me; they’d just leave me alone that way.
Later in college, I learned the truth the hard way.
Mum and I were driving home that night for my winter break when a van suddenly rammed our Honda from the side. Mum had lost control of the car and we were slammed into a tree. She’d died instantly.
I’d been rushed to E.R., all bloody and half-conscious. Thick shards of glass from the car windows were stuck to me like some cheap and gory, extra decorations on a grotesque artwork. They also hurt.
“Mummy…” I breathed. Somebody started removing the shards and I slowly opened my eyes. Dad. He was concentrating on removing the shards as quickly as possible, without wearing any thick gloves or even using any metal pinchers!
“What the—“ I stopped as I got up to sit, horrified at the sight. The shards cut his fingers, but not for long. Everytime he washed his hands, his bleeding also stopped. No cuts, nothing.
Suddenly, I felt that way about me too. No more pain. I looked at my arms and touched my face. No blood, no cuts – as if I’d never been in that accident at all. Just some tearings on my clothes.
It was as if I’d somehow regenerated, automatically healing myself. I stared at Dad, but he seemed calmer and more understanding that I felt a cold, creeping sensation within.
“I’ve always known,” he said slowly, “that you’re one of us.”
— *** —
Now here we are again, I thought sadly, facing the now ageless old man in front of me. Despite the harshness in his voice and his tough exterior, his blue eyes couldn’t fool me this time: they radiated sadness.
“Please, Amanda,” he finally begged. “Do this for us. It’s the only way to give you more power, so that you can be stronger.”
“NO!” I screamed, tears now running down my face. I didn’t care anymore. “Why? I’ve never asked for any of this.”
“Neither have I.”
“How could you do this to me?” I shook my head in utter disbelief. “You’re the only family I’ve got left. How could you ask me to do such a horrible thing?”
“Because in the end, THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!!”
Cold, eerie silence filled the empty, grassy field that night. The fate of all Highlanders. I nodded slowly at his familiar, overly-spoken phrase.
“I don’t want to live to see somebody else do that to you,” Dad reasoned sadly. “Don’t make this even harder—“
“Then DON’T EVER ASK ME THIS AGAIN!!” I turned around and started walking away. It was getting late; we got to go home. He kept calling my name: Amanda…Amanda…” , until suddenly he hollered:
“NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON YOUR ENEMIES!!”
It took me only a few seconds to sense and respond, a result of the long, gruelling training. I ducked, avoiding a quick swish of his sword above my head, drew out my sword under my black overcoat, turned around and raised it high to defend myself. Clank! Our blades clanked against each other, our eyes met. His blue ones were hard and fierce, glaring at my shocked green ones.
My God, he’s dead serious! I felt my feet slipping backwards slowly as he kept pushing his whole weight forward against me. He was gritting his teeth furiously, as if saying: this is it, kid. Your final exam.
Our swords clinked and clanked against each other. I was scared; he was always a much better, stronger, and quicker warrior than I was. Once he tripped me that I fell on my back, but I quickly rolled away and his sword hit the ground. Then I got to my feet again and more clinks and clanks were heard as we moved around with our swords ready for more attack.
That was when he tricked me.
At first, Dad kept attacking me with his sword while I kept defending myself, dodging his sword with mine. At my last swing, he suddenly dropped his sword and jumped forward at me.
NO! I’d choked the word in my throat. Too late, I couldn’t stop my swinging hands. His head was thrown off a few feet away before it landed and rolled on the ground.
I stared in horror, dropping my now bloody sword. His now headless body was still standing, before collapsing right in front of me. My heart was pounding, my breath coming in short gasps.
I’ve killed him! I’ve killed him!
“NOOO!!” I started screaming, wailing. I couldn’t stop. Then I saw and felt them: a series of blue, lightning jolts coursing right through me – electrifying me. They seemed to be zapping from everywhere: the sky, the ground, and even my stepfather’s dismembered head and body. I felt myself stinging, burning…yet I was not on fire. I was aware that I was still screaming, although I could hardly recognise my own voice.
It had felt like ages before the electrical jolts finally stopped. I collapsed on the ground, my eyes still wide open as I caught the side of the body and the head nearby…once again…
Daddy, you cheated…
I managed to flee the scene before somebody found the body and called the cops. I carried the swords with me. The moment I was back in our flat, I opened his backpack and found what he’d told me I’d need when it was time:
A new passport with a new ID: Finnuala Graham. A train ticket out of town. His friend’s contact details: Joseph Olson.
Then I left the flat and everything in it for good, without looking back. Dad was right; it would be too risky for us to stay in one place too long. People would get suspicious. I couldn’t stay looking like a 25-year-old woman when I turned 40; that would be abnormal. No plastic surgeon was that good.
Dad once said that I was lucky; that gift had come to me quite early. Now I never have to worry about wrinkles on my face for the rest of my immortal life. I’ll just worry about keeping my head with me. Perhaps I could be as old as he’d been: 350 years old, without having to suck anyone’s blood like vampires do.
I’ll also need to steal powers from other Highlanders by chopping their heads off in a duel. How will I be able to spot them in the crowd? Dad had said I’d know that myself. We are all supernaturally-connected.
The question is: what will I be doing if I can reach all the way up to that age? I’ll never be a grandma with wrinkles on her face like most normal women will…
Lovely, isn’t it? Staying eternally young and beautiful by killing other people, all in the name of some cosmic survival…
(Jakarta, 22/10/2015 – from The Couchsurfing Writers’ Club Gathering @Bangi Kopi Tiam, 8:00 pm onwards. The writing challenge topic: “Wrinkles”. This fan fiction work is inspired by the movies and the TV series of the same title: “The Highlander”.