The outer rims of her irises were a majestic copper, and their metallic veins turned to a bright yellow as they trailed inward before plunging into the black abysses of her pupils.
The eyes bewitched Kara, but she had to focus. To do her job today, she needed to take in everything she could from the photograph while she still had time. Sadly, as she navigated away from the eyes, she couldn’t help but become ensnared by the flames that awaited above: fiery red hair that threatened to lash out and burn anyone who dared to touch it without permission.
Kara shook her head. She had precious few minutes left before her lunch was over, and every minute wasted was one less minute she had to finish her meal.
She peeled her eyes away from the photo and turned them to the nervous girl across the table.
“So, you’re saying you haven’t seen her since yesterday afternoon?” Kara asked as she took a sip of her Coke.
Her client sniffled and looked as if they were on the verge of tears.
Kara hated it when they cried. She could never tell if they were actually worried or fishing for a discount by trying to make her feel sorry for them.
“That’s right.” As the client spoke, she took long breaths between words as if trying to summon the strength to continue. “I got home and fed her like I always do. Afterward, she went out to play. Usually, she gets back before nightfall, but she never did. I stayed up all night, trying to track her down. I went around the neighborhood to about a hundred times, but I couldn’t find her anywhere.”
Fen placed his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry. If anyone can find Paige, it’s Kara. She’s never failed before.”
Fen was Kara’s partner. She’d known him for around two years now, and whenever she felt her pockets grow lighter, he was the one who always managed to fill them. They worked well together, and he had the one thing Kara lacked: people skills. His smile effortlessly bared his soul to people. It lowered their defenses, made them trust him, and before they knew it, they’d told him their favorite color and their grandparents’ birthdays.
This particular client went by the name of Olivia Ringwald.
Kara had seen Olivia around a few times. She seemed likable enough. She always wore a t-shirt with some sort of anime character on it. More often than not, the shirt came with a healthy helping of cat hair. Her blonde hair was always tied back into a ponytail, and it was rare for Kara to see her without her nose in a book. If Kara remembered correctly, Olivia seemed partial to trashy romance novels.
However, like most people who needed Kara’s services, she now sat on the opposite side of the table, begging for help. Olivia’s hands clasped around her own, and she spoke with an edge of desperation. “Please. You have to help me find Paige. She’s all I have in this world.”
And there it was again. Number five on the most commonly uttered phrases to coerce Kara into helping. It was pointless. There was really only one thing that mattered to her.
Cold, hard cash.
“Did Fen tell you how much this was going to cost you?” Kara asked without an inkling of emotion. Honestly, she was pretty proud of her current demeanor, as she had spent countless hours in front of her mirror trying to master it.
Olivia nodded and took out an envelope. Fen took it, flipped it open, and quickly skimmed through the bills hidden within. After he was done counting, he gave Kara a single nod and stated flatly, “It’s all here. Looks like we’re in business.”
“Great,” Kara said as she tightened her grip on the photo. She cleared her throat. “Listen carefully. From here on out, I’m going to need complete silence. As I’m searching for Faye, there can’t be any interruptions, and—”
“Paige,” interrupted Olivia.
Kara felt her face blush, but she quickly hid it. “I know that,” she said with a tinge of spitefulness. “It was a test, and you failed miserably.”
“I’m sorry,” Olivia said dejectedly. “I thought you’d need to know her name, and I got worried.”
Kara took another sip of her Coke and cleared her throat. “Tell me, did Fen tell you about our no-refund policy?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Well, if you want to get bang for your buck, then let me do my job, which is to find little Sammy. I can’t do that if you keep questioning my methods.”
Olivia opened her mouth as if she wanted to say something, but she quickly closed it again when Kara glared out her.
Kara smugly threw the photograph back onto the table. Then she clapped her hands and, with an air of finality, said, “Great. Now, let’s begin.”
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, blocking out the chattering of the patrons around them and focusing on the photograph: the beautiful eyes that held the light of the world within them, the fiery red hair that might die out if Kara didn’t save it. She slipped past the normal constraints of the human mind and peered down a long, dark tunnel. She gasped as she saw a fleeting light, and within that light was a shadow.
Kara opened her mouth to call out to Ginger, and…
The lunch bell rang, snapping her concentration. She was so deep within the mystical realm that the sudden interruption caused her to jump nearly three inches off her seat. Olivia, seeing Kara lose her concentration, teared up immediately.
Kara held up her hand weakly and, with effort, said, “It’s okay… It’s okay. I know where she is.”
Olivia sprang to her feet with books in hand and excitedly said, “Great! Let’s go and get her, then.”
Kara scoffed as she gathered her things. “We can’t. We’re at school. Besides, I got my ass chewed out the last time I left during lunch to help someone find their shit.”
Olivia looked like she was about to argue, but before she could say anything, Fen and Kara got up from the table.
Kara gave Olivia a comforting nod and said soothingly, “Don’t worry. Little Timmy is just fine. Meet us by the bike racks after school, and we’ll go get him.”
As she and Fen left, she heard Olivia mutter behind them, “Her name is Paige.”
Olivia did as Kara said, and the three met at the bike racks. There was hardly a word said between them. Kara motioned for Olivia to follow them, and she did with eager anticipation. Kara could read the worry on her client’s face, and her heart reached out to Olivia. However, everything would be okay in a couple of minutes, and they would all be able to continue with their lives.
They walked about half a mile into town, through a maze of streets, and then Kara held out a hand to stop. She felt all the strength leave her body and staggered against the side of a building. Fen caught her so she wouldn’t fall, and she pointed weakly to an alleyway down the street. “She’s right over there.”
Olivia didn’t even spare Kara another glance as she sprinted around the corner and down the alleyway. Kara could hear the hurried pattering of her feet, and then the streets were filled with a screech of joy. Kara gathered her remaining strength and made her way to the alley.
There Olivia stood, hugging her cat with every fiber of her being.
Olivia scurried back home, clutching the cat whose name, Kara had just discovered, was Paige. She didn’t understand why Olivia hadn’t told her that in the first place. The girl must have thanked Kara a million times, and it warmed her heart to know that she’d brought joy into someone’s life in such a cold, dark world. She was truly a beacon of light that people needed to emulate.
Fen watched Olivia leave as Kara leaned smugly against the wall, thinking about their success. A few minutes passed, and then Fen gave Kara a thumbs up.
Kara walked over to the dumpster at the end of the alley, gave it a firm knock, and said, “You can come out now.”
The lid of the dumpster flew up, and Marnie crawled out with a look of disgust on her face. She took a few exaggerated breaths of fresh air, staring daggers at Kara and Fen, and said in a rather annoyed voice, “Can you please tell me why I’m always the one who has to hide in the dumpster?”
Fen smirked. “Well, the kids at school think that Kara is psychic, and I’ve known her longer than you, so that means you get dumpster duty. Plus, someone had to hold on to the cat to make sure she didn’t run away. It doesn’t matter where you go, Marnie. You’ll always have to climb that corporate ladder.”
Fen pretended to plug his nose in disgust as Marnie drew closer to him, and she scoffed. She looked like she was about to say something but then thought better of it. It didn’t matter how much she complained about the arrangement. It wouldn’t be changing anytime soon. Marnie’s shoulders slumped in defeat, and she glanced at Kara. “So, did we get the money?”
Kara took out the envelope, which held one hundred and fifty dollars of cold, hard cash within it. She split the money evenly between them, grinning evilly all the while. “I swear this is getting easier every time.”
Even with a job well done, it didn’t take long for Fen and Marnie to start yammering at each other again. It was the tenth time they’d pulled off something like this. After every job, they'd grown more confident, and eventually they’d formed simple rules to find the best targets.
First, steal something small and with some sentimentality—the older, the better.
Second, if kidnapping an animal, go after cats that wander the streets and stay away from dogs. They’re louder and bigger, and Kara just liked them better. She always felt dirty when they stared at her with those innocent eyes full of trust and loyalty.
Luckily, she didn’t feel the same about cats. She still had a scar on her arm from the last feline they’d catnapped.
Their clients would first ask their parents and friends for help. Then they’d hang up some useless flyers that some indie band would cover up with flyers of their own, and after all that, they’d become desperate. The suckers would look into supernatural means, and as they roamed the halls of the school, they’d hear Fen talk loudly about his psychic friend who could find anything—for a price, of course.
Kara said farewell to her friends and navigated the streets of her childhood to Umami Raman. She always visited the place after a job well done, as her pockets were filled and pretending to be psychic made her famished. Her mouth watered at the thought of noodle bliss, and she stared up at the night sky in satisfaction, just in time to see an object hurtling down toward her face.
Kara moaned as her hand unconsciously went to her aching head. For a moment, it felt like she was combing her fingers through the soil of her mother’s garden. It wasn’t until the dirt trickled down her head and a yellow daisy fell to the ground that she started to put two and two together. She looked to the side and saw a cracked ceramic pot. She nearly laughed, but then a throb reminded her that she was in pain.
What the hell? Was she in a cartoon?
Kara combed through her hair a few more times to remove the dirt, petals, and dried blood. Strangely enough, her arm also felt strange. It was like someone was tugging on her elbow.
How long had she been out? She looked to the pier. Why did she feel like she needed to go there? It was the middle of the night, and she needed to get home.
No doubt about it. She heard a voice, but no matter where she looked, she couldn’t see a single soul.
“Who’s saying that?” she called out as she clambered back to her feet. Left. Right. It didn’t matter. She was the only one there.
Kara sighed as she rubbed the nasty knot on her forehead. “And now I’m going crazy.”
Kara felt the air get sucked from her lungs as the voice resonated through her mind. Next, she could see it.
The weight of clothes dragging her down into an endless abyss.
And pain…so much pain that it wasn’t bearable. Her lungs…they were going to burst.
Kara’s legs moved before her mind guided them. She sprinted to the pier and, without hesitation, climbed over the railing and dived into the dark waters below. It was so dark that she couldn’t see anything, but she didn’t need her eyes. She could hear him right below her. She could feel the last bit of oxygen leaving his lungs and the blackness overwhelming his vision. He would soon lose consciousness.
Kara thrust her arm forward and grabbed a thin wrist. She summoned all her strength and swam to the surface. As she erupted into the night’s sky, she heard someone coughing up water and gasping for air as if trying to eat it. She looked over and saw that she held the wrist of a small boy who couldn’t have been older than seven.
“Can you swim?” Kara asked as she desperately treaded water for two people.
“My leg…it’s broken. I don’t think I can,” said the kid. His head dipped back into the water, and she had to yank him back up.
Of course it is, Kara thought with exhaustion.
She put her hands underneath his armpits and kicked frantically back to the pier. She tried to yell out for help, but after sprinting to save the kid’s life and kicking for their survival, she lacked the strength to do so.
Luckily, she didn’t need to call for help. The kid began to wail loudly enough for the both of them, and over her shoulder, Kara heard the shrill voice of a woman screaming, “Kenny! Oh, my God! How did you get in there! Hold on a second! I’ll get help! Hold on!”
It wasn’t long before Kara spotted the familiar flashes of red and blue in the night sky, and as she sighed with relief, a life preserver smacked her in the face.
“I’m here with local hero and high school student Kara Lucias.”
The reporter stood shoulder to shoulder with Kara as she shoved the microphone into her face. She beamed at Kara and asked in an overly excited tone, “Ms. Lucias, witnesses saw you sprinting from the other end of the street and diving into the water to make the rescue. How on earth did you know that little Kyle Prescott had fallen into the water when no one else did?”
Kara shrugged while trying to act as nonchalant as possible. “I don’t know. I thought I heard his voice.”
“It was lucky you did,” the reporter said as she stared at Kara with the same smile plastered on her face. “I, for one, am glad to know there are still outstanding youths like you out there who are willing to do the right thing and help a person in need.”
The reporter roped both Kenny and his mother into the shoot. Kenny’s mother hugged Kara so hard it made her eyeballs bulge. Kenny cried at his mother’s side and clung to her tightly as if afraid that he might fall into the ocean again.
Ten minutes later, the area cleared out, and Kara was left to herself on the pier. The police tried to call her mother, but at this hour, she would still be working. Kara knew full well that her mother couldn’t afford to leave unless she was at death’s door.
However, it wasn’t fair to say that Kara was truly alone. After all, she still had the voices.
Screw him! Making me work overtime! Doesn’t he know I have a life?
Kara focused on the voice and saw a middle-aged man walking home.
No one’s around, right? I can’t believe I forgot the bag at home. I hope no one saw.
As the man walked away from the mess his dog had left in his neighbor’s yard, Kara frowned in disgust.
Then she discarded the thought, and a smile crept onto her face.
Imagine how much more money she’d make after getting real psychic powers.