A Matter of Forever

By: Heather Lyons

The way Jonah is saying my name over and over again shears my heart clean in half. Wake up, he begs me. Open your eyes. Let me know you’re okay. You have to be okay. Open your eyes, Chloe. I love you. Don’t leave me—don’t do this. You are not leaving me, not now. You’re okay. You’re going to be okay. Hold on, love. Just ... hold on. Chloe, can you hear me? Chloe?

I’ve never heard him cry before. The two pieces in my chest disintegrate until they are nothing but dust.

Chloe?

I’m here, I want to assure him, but I’m swimming in heavy, sticky darkness. All my screams and tears and words are voiceless, just gaping maws of frustrated efforts that go nowhere. I try to reach out to him, to hold on like he begs me to, but I can’t even do that.

I can’t move. I can’t open my eyes. I can’t speak.

Terror grabs my ankles from below, threatening to drag me back down into the yawning expanse of shadows I’m desperate to escape. Am I paralyzed? Did ... Jens ... no, not Jens—am I paralyzed? Oh gods, what if he gets to Jonah? What if he hurts Jonah? I’ll die. Just ...

Wait. Am I dying?

I’m not ready. Not yet. Not now, not after everything that’s happened. Not after everything I’ve gone through in my attempt to figure out what it is I want out of life.

My name spills across my face, all sad and urgent and scared, along with more demands, more assurances and threats, more pleading, and my heart reforms, breaks, dissolves, and repeats over and over. The clearer the voice of the man I love becomes, the more pain acutely defines my existence. My hands brutally ache; my brain throbs and threatens to escape my skull.

Soft pressure on my face, like hands cupping my cheeks, reaches through the darkness. More distant now, “Where is Cora?”

Someone answers Jonah, but those words are too far away. I try to say something, anything, but letters and sounds slip easily through my unmoving fingers. How is it I can feel my beloved’s hands on my face, know he cradles me in his arms, but cannot will my own mangled digits to move in response?

“I’m here, Jonah.” Each syllable of my Cousin’s waterlogged voice grows a shade louder in her approach.

Another voice in the distance turns angry. I strain to match tone to face, but cannot. Everything is too fluid right now. Too hard to grasp onto.

“Fix her,” floats by me.

Something cold touches my face, shocking me back into harsh, bright clarity hidden cruelly behind the veil of darkness.

“What’s wrong with her?” Jonah’s demanding. “Why can’t she wake up? Cora. Please. Heal her.”

My oldest friend murmurs, words as soft as dandelion dreams on the wind, “I don’t know. This is ... I don’t know.” Is that a choked cry? “I can’t ... I’m sorry, gods, so sorry Jonah, I ... we need somebody else, somebody more powerful than me. I don’t know. Who could ...” Noisy sobs dot the spaces between each breath I take. At least, each breath I pray I’m taking.

Silky strands brush across my nose and lips as a smooth slice of skin presses against my forehead for one beautiful moment in the midst of my agony. And then it’s gone, and Jonah’s yelling that somebody better go get Kate Blackthorn, the Council’s lead Shaman.

As he pleads with me to wake up again, quiet sniffles nearby punctuate thoughts spoken around me that I cannot decipher. There are angry voices, scared ones, and I think sad ones, too. So many voices and they’re all too hard to focus on, all except his. There are promises made, pleading done, and each word he utters grounds me from sinking away, even if I can barely hang on. Because, outside of the blistering pain enveloping me, I’m drowning in terror. Don’t let me go, I want to tell him. Don’t leave me in darkness again.

I’m not ready to die.

I don’t know how much time passes before I’m jolted into another sharp instant of lucidity. “Finally! What took you so long?” Jonah barks, one of his hands sliding away from my face.

“I’m here. I’m sorry, I came as fast ...” A distinct drag of air sounds above me; Kellan is here with us. “J, I’m—”

“Don’t.” Jonah’s furious and desperate at the same time. “That’s not important right now. I can’t wake her up, Kel. She should be awake right now. I’ve done everything possible, but—”