HEART ON FIRE
HIS VOICE ECHOES THROUGHOUT THE VAST room. It’s a voice I feel I could
know, one that is as familiar to me as his handsome face. When he moves, the bunk’s springs
squeak like a little rodent that is desperate to scurry away. I don’t mean to stare—but those
soft gorgeous lips and strong jaw, the warm smile that brings sparkle to his honey-colored
eyes, carries forth a loud voice in my head, telling me this boy can be trusted.
Lingering beneath his gentle stare I can see something else, the embers of concern.
They drown out the spark in his stare as he waits for my answer.
Why would he show me this consideration? I don’t know who this beautiful stranger
I look around, realizing that I don’t even know who I am. Or, if the blue cotton
uniform I am wearing is even mine. I glance back down at the green tin cup I hold in my
hands, and the sweet and salty aroma of corn soup fills my nostrils.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” His voice is calm, but the quickening thump of his pulse
and the tight set in his jaw relays something else entirely.
He inches closer, beads of sweat darkening his dusty blond hair, giving away the
secret he is trying so hard to hide. He is upset. Nervous. Maybe both.
Is he withholding something?
Unknowingly, my head tilts to the side, trying to figure out what happened to me, and
who this perfect stranger might be. And why I think I might know him. The stabbing
sensation in my head throbs with each breath I take, making it hard for me to think clearly. I
feel wrapped up in a thick fog, and just beyond it lives some useable memory.
From across the room, I stare at dirty clothes disregarded near the burn shoot. They
reek of vomit and old blood. Staring at the clothes, I can immediately tell they belong to a
female. The material is new, stretchy, and cut for a slim, short figure. Quickly glancing down
at my body, I assume they could be mine―those clothes most definitely hold clues as to who
I really am.
My familiar stranger sits across from me on the bunk bed, his body turned slightly
toward mine. My hand creeps up to my head wound, making me wince at the feel of the raw,
painful flesh. At my obvious discomfort, he immediately moves closer, his breath warm and
sweet as he leans in. His gentle fingers lift the hair from my forehead as he inspects the
injury. “We need to get you to a doctor.” His voice comes out shaky, uncertainty tainting his
“No.” I jerk away. The dregs of my warm soup spill over the rim of the cup, splashing
onto my raw fingers and wrists.
He watches me carefully as I stare forcefully into his eyes. His hand suddenly moves
away and then I feel it―pain. I pull back farther, even though I crave his touch.
“Sorry,” he mumbles, moving one seat over, his back resting on the gray, concrete
wall beside the bunk.
“It hurts,” I say, confused as to what hurts more, the wound or the fact that I have no
idea what is going on. “How long have I been out?” I ask him.
He shrugs. “Not more than two days.”
I sigh at his answer, one that comes from somewhere deep and mournful inside me.
As the feeling of loss wraps around me, it’s like a vice, squeezing tighter and tighter until I
can’t breathe anymore. I close my eyes, attempting to block out whatever memory is making
me feel so utterly terrified.
“It’s okay. He can’t hurt you anymore.”
I shake my head. “It’s not that.”
But, I must ask myself, who is ‘he’? Who is this brutal attacker I do not even
Standing slowly, I place the soup cup on the wooden bench situated beside the metal-
framed bed. As he looks up at me, I feel the sudden need to run far and fast and never look
“Thank you for your hospitality, but I-I must go.” I stumble over my words.
Moving too quickly, my head meets with the source of light above me. The light ebbs
out for a second, and I pull in a sharp breath as pain shoots through me once again. Suddenly,
I am terrified of the dark and feel myself reaching out for him. His forearm is soft, warm,
strong, and alluring all at the same time. The fear that makes my pulse race alters slightly. I
suddenly fear being trapped by an emotion I do not understand. Ruled by a feeling that is
strong and fatal. I lose control of my thoughts.
He chuckles. “Where are you going to go in this storm?”
The light flickers back on. I look up as it continues to sway back and forth above us,
searching the room for something, anything, yet I’m not sure what it might be. A feeling of
anxiety washes over me. It’s so intense it spreads and enters my chest, as if a bald eagle has
flown down to take my heart on gilded wings. The feeling to run tugs at me again. But when
I look down, I notice I’m still gripping his arm. Instinct tells me that what I’m doing is
wrong, that I should never be so close to a human.
“Sorry,” I apologize. When I release his forearm the golden color immediately returns
to his flesh.
“It’s okay.” He smiles, invitingly. “Quite a grip you have there.” He keeps the grin,
shaking out his hand as if I have stopped the blood from flowing through his veins.
I look away. “I can’t stay,” I announce, staring at the glimmer of light bouncing off
the silver armlet wrapped tightly around my wrist―that shine, that glow, the entire piece is
trying to remind me of something.
As he moves, the light brings out the blond streaks in his hair, and his shirt pulls tight
around muscular pecks as he crosses his arms over his chest. He grins mockingly, and ever
so slightly his feet shift toward me.
Nevertheless, I am aware of every single move he makes, like the way his eyelashes
touch the top of his cheeks when he blinks, and how the corners of his eyes crease with the
revelation of his gorgeous smile. His impeccable chest moves slowly as he breathes. His eyes
hover on my face, making me shift uncomfortably. I don’t like the way he looks at me, it’s
wrong. But I don’t know why I feel this way. All I know is that I don’t want to feel weak.
“What?” I ask sheepishly, suddenly feeling as if my dark, blue pantsuit has become
transparent. Heat rushes to my face―an unexpected and unpleasant moment.
“You’ve been stalking me for weeks, and that’s all you have to say? You’re not even
going to ask me my name? Or thank me for saving your life?”
It’s like an anchor falls, dropping me back to the depths of the uneven mattress. The
squeak fades away as shock kicks me in the gut and allows me only one long, shuddering
“I-I,” I falter. I have no recollection of my assault, or anything else that came before.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” he whispers, his charming voice now peppered with
unease. “It’s me, you can tell me anything. You know that, right?” Sitting down, he keeps his
distance, as if making sure that I do not feel I am prey to his predator.
“I’m not sure…I know anything.” My brows furrow, as my fingers tremble over the
soft skin of my lips. The frigid cold forms goose bumps on my skin as I stare into the thick,
dark, naked concrete walls of the bunker. I am just that. I am colorless and empty. I have no
present. And the past has vanished. I am back in that tunnel in the dead of night, with no
sense of anything other than the blackness and the loneliness reaching out for me, attempting
to make my soul crumble into dust.
“I don’t remember,” I finally admit, the words bitter and brief on my tongue.
I wait for a while in the silence of the moment, hoping my inner animosity will
dissolve, and that the fear will leave me alone so I can figure things out. What thought might
trigger a memory?
Gingerly, he grabs my hand and turns it, flattening my palm against his hard chest.
“Aecker. My name is Aecker. You don’t remember me at all?”
I shake my head.
His eyes are gentle, digging up unsettled feelings within me. But he is not really sad
or bothered by my sudden memory loss. In fact, he seems almost relieved.
I stare at his long fingers as they wrap around my tiny wrist. The contrast between his
tanned skin and my pale hand is strikingly beautiful. But the shiny, silver bracelet that takes
up most of my forearm is what bothers me. I wish I knew what it meant. I feel my pulse
ticking beneath his fingers, sense the beating of his heart through my palm. It’s slow and
steady at first, but as time passes and as the silence mounts, the heat of our touch grows into
a black hole, sucking me in to his endless gravity. I feel attached to him, as if my hand is
melting right into his chest. I want to grab hold of his human heart and become one with it. I
wish to wrap my hand around it and try to translate the language that’s making it move. We
are suddenly tethered to each other in ways I cannot begin to fathom.
With my gaze shamefully glued to his chest, his heart rate increases. Strangely, this
effect rubs off on me and I can feel the beat of my own heart increase to match his, causing a
perfect symmetry between us. In slow motion, I watch his Adam’s apple move up and then
down as he swallows nervously. My eyes affix to his luminous, ochre gems as they grow
wider―the darkness of his pupils swallowing up the magic of his irises.
Abruptly, it all disappears, and I am aware of another presence in the room. Jerking
my hand away, the feeling I now own is awkwardness, almost as if I have somehow been
“Aecker, what are you doing?” a deep voice calls out.
“I can explain.” Aecker stands, the bed springs moaning at the release of his weight.
I stare up at yet another beautiful man, with similar eyes and square jaw. He places a
device on the center table, and then his gaze falls on me. This tall man’s eyes widen.
“What happened?” He moves closer, lifting my hair from my face, his other
hand―fingers unbelievably icy―grips my chin, raising my face to the light.
“I couldn’t leave her…” Aecker begins.
“Who did this to you?” the man asks, sitting me down beside him, allowing the creaks
and groans of the mattress to once again spring to life.
“She has no idea,” Aecker replies. It’s almost like his words filter right through me,
and I feel like I am falling into a downward spiral, face first, swirling into the void where the
It’s all sitting wrong with me; my sudden memory loss, and the fact that this boy
known as Aecker called me a stalker. But the most disturbing, are the feelings I just
experienced between him and me. It felt sinful, but I couldn’t stop myself. So perhaps it was
just as well the stranger interrupted when he did, or who knows what would have happened.
The tall man stands, clears his throat and asks me my name. From the corner of my
eye, I see Aecker shaking his head.
“Do you have a name? Or shall I just call you ‘girl’?”
“No, sir.” I shake my head, too.
“Sir?” His head jerks in Aecker’s direction then back to me, as a look of confusion
appears in his eyes. He takes a few steps back, like I’m infected with some horrific disease
that he will do anything to protect himself from. “Do you remember anything at all?”
I continue to shake my head as if I were made of nothing but wires and
conduits―something completely mechanical that is unable to think or feel, just follow
“She must be a City Dweller.” His words are said with distaste, sounding like he
wants nothing more than to spit on the floor at the mere thought of something as hideous as
me infiltrating his life.
When he notices the bracelet around my wrist, his shoulders slump dramatically.
Closing his eyes and pressing his long, dark lashes against tanned skin, he looks as if he is
trying desperately to hold back something, yet impatience appears in his voice.
“She’s a Tracker. She must leave right now,” he states with finality, making me feel
like I have successfully drowned in that black void where my forgotten memories live, where
I will be washed away and swallowed up, never to be seen again.
“She does not look anything like a Tracker!” Aecker’s words are defensive.
“There are whispers of the new generation.”
“It doesn’t matter, Dyllian!” Aecker says passionately, moving closer and pushing the
older boy away so that he is now standing between us.
“You know it does. You have to get rid of her. If they find her, if Cupola even catches
one scent of this intruder and your involvement with her, you will be killed and I can’t do
anything to stop it. Trackers bring nothing but death. You know that!”
Aecker moves even closer to me, his hands come to rest on my shoulders as he stares
into my eyes. “She’s nothing like them.”
“What is a Tracker?” My thoughts are finally voiced.
Dyllian steps back, resting an elbow against the wall. With the other hand, he pulls
out a dirty old rag and wipes his face. “Trackers are soldiers, spies, assassins. They are here
to kill any Inborns and infiltrate their hideouts. To bring violent death to Believers and make
examples of their flaws.”
“Believers of what?” I interrupt again.
Dyllian’s eyes pin mine so strongly, I feel like a deer staring down an eager hunter’s
Aecker notices my distress, and I grip my hands together so they don’t see me
shaking. Fear is a weakness.
“Like I said,” Aecker strokes my cheek with the back of his fingers, “You are not one
Despite his tender eyes holding mine, trying to offer comfort, his words still burn a
hole through my chest. A deep and intense heat causes my heart to beat erratically, because I
realize that he is looking at me like I am his only possession; his to protect until his very last
breath. And this time, I don’t mind the way it makes me feel.
As Dyllian turns to study me, something alerts my brain that my small, dark world is
about to be buried by this revelation, and the flicker of hope I saw in Aecker’s eyes just
moments ago is about to be extinguished. I know why my heart feels as if it is on fire; I want
to be his hope, but I don’t know how I possibly can be. If I am a Tracker, it will mean the
death of something that is being born between us. I might not know who or what I am, but I
know unequivocally that I don’t want to live without the promise of a future and a life
beaming in Aecker’s eyes.
I like the way it makes me feel.