Chapter Eight: Opened

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January came so fast. Physically, Ash was fine as long as he didn’t count the scar. It had dried considerably at least, but the skin was struggling to close, even with the help of sutures.

He had wrapped it tightly with a fresh bandage and secured the helmet before he went into the arena. He couldn’t hear Maddie, and hadn’t even seen her since his last training session two days ago. They had come no closer to understanding each other better, thumbs up in the mirror didn’t really count.

However, at the scent of engine oil, the thrum of the crowd, the roar of the bikes waiting outside, there was a hot breath on the back of his neck and he knew Maddie was there, clinging to his neck.

“You feel it too?” he muttered to her, and she answered back. He smiled but it quickly turned to frost when he realized Derek was right behind him. He had probably heard.

“You can nail this, show our sponsors they’d be crazy to let us go.”

Us was the keyword there. Derek’s reputation hung in the balance too, and he stood to profit handsomely as the determined agent who nursed his star back to his peak. Everything would count tonight.

Ash turned to him and grinned, the weight of Maddie hanging off his shoulders bolstering his confidence. “Is Kal already out there?”

“Meeting fans, mainly. We should probably take note though. The preppy little weasel.”

“I feel ready, Derek. I’ll smash it.” With his affirmation Maddie cooed in his ear, hopefully in encouragement. The faster his heart beat, the hotter her breath was on his neck. The electric shivered down his back.

*****

Now or never.

Maddie’s translucent fingers were gloriously detailed with perfectly manicured nails that gripped his neck and cheeks. They stood together on a very similar jump to the last time Ash was here, just before he split his face open on his bike. He couldn’t help his gut somersaulting and when it did, Madde’s hands became ever more corporeal in his peripheral vision.

The crowd chanted his name over and over, filling him with energy. He was going first this time, and Kal was waiting in the wings. Ash stood alone.

No, not alone. Maddie was with him, curling her delicate fingers around his neck, almost tightening as he revved the engine. Just one somersault, land across the other side of the pit.

The fear of standing here with a chanting crowd, that clapped in unison as they waited for him to go, all disappeared, and nothing but Maddie's touch could be felt. Ash took a deep breath, and took off the brake.

He flew. The wind screamed past him as he picked up an unstoppable speed. He heard Maddie in his ear as he took off, stretching the bike to its maximum as he yanked it back. The dirt appeared below him for a fraction of a second.

And reality opened up.

Light shone like spears, reaching up towards him with lightning fingers in an attempt to grab him and pull him into the chasm. It was as if time stopped. Ash was hot, cold, shivering, trembling. His scar throbbed and stung. Maddie's hand, lucid and luminous, reached down to the lightning fingers, and she breathed but two words.

Leave him.

Her voice was music, almost impossible to describe. The words crystal clear in his ear, and her bright hair tumbled down past his shoulder. Her grip became ever more real around his neck and Ash held his breath, unable to look away from the chasm just below him.

The light morphed into blackness, color, emptiness. The world of nothing, of everything as it rescinded to the ground and fizzled away.

The crowd. The crowd. They whooped and Ash's muscles were working with a force all on their own. He breathed, an inhale of hot, humid air met his lungs as the screech of the thin rubber tyre on the ramp sang into the air.

The crowd roared, and Ash slowed himself with his boot. On instinct, he looked back to the jump, and saw only the dust that clouded behind him. His breath was trembling in his throat, and Maddie’s touch disappeared as fast as it had come.

*****

“Tell me. Talk to me. Where are you?”

Ash was pacing up and down in his bathroom, the soiled bandage from his face in one hand. The wound had reopened and bled since he saw whatever the hell that was in the arena. “What did you mean? Why did I understand you?” he asked himself in the mirror.

He wanted, desperately, to hear her again. It was as if the breakthrough he'd been asking for had come - for about a millisecond. The pain in his scar had subsided but his brain was thirsty, aching for something more.

“Why don't you come? Maddie.” He sank to his knees in front of the mirror, resting his head against the cool glass. “I need you.”

His words sounded pathetic, but Ash wanted, needed some reassurance. Maddie, if she was even still there, was silent. He sighed and fished his phone from his pocket, thumbing in a number.

“Hello?” Molly's voice ran like thick cream into Ash's fretting mind.

“Mol? Are you free? I could really use someone to talk to.”

“What's wrong, Ash? Want me to come over? No, don't answer that, I'm on my way.”
   

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