Beginnings are easy.
So easy, in fact, that there’s usually a beginning before the beginning: the rain that falls and makes the pavement slick; the imperative that sends a hunter in search of prey; the gene therapy that mutates the DNA of an entire generation of children. The steps on the path that lead to a crossroad are no less beginnings than the choice at the crossroad itself. Go back far enough and you can trace a beginning back to a million tiny little choices made by long dead people who had no idea that their story would spawn stories of its own.
The off-kilter chiming of three different sets of church bells clanged through the darkness. Zefani groaned. She hated living in a valley ringed with religious enthusiasts. It wouldn’t be so bad, she thought, if they could at least synchronise their exuberance. The neon glare of the clock – as intrusive in its own way as the bells – proclaimed seven am but at least it was silent since the incident with the snooze button. Dust tickled Zefani’s nose, mingling with the damp odour emanating from the rotting walls of the attic. She sighed, throwing the covers back and rolling onto the floor. She had no reason to get up, nowhere to go; not any more.
Still, she knew sleep was out of reach, so she flicked the switch on the kettle. Nestled next to it, in a crowded nook where the sloped ceiling met the floor, were a pair of mismatched mugs and a chipped but matching plate/bowl duo. Zefani fished a tea-bag from the pitiful pile tucked inside one of the mugs, and dropped it in the other. While the kettle boiled, she rooted through the sole set of drawers for something to wear. She settled on a pretty, floral blouse over pale jeans just as the water reached the boil. Tea in hand, she slipped out of the attic, down to the landing and out onto the rusty fire-escape. It had rained in the night and the rising sun reflected in a thousand drops of water, caught on rooftops and in trees, setting the morning on fire.
Voices in the hills rose in song, enchanting only because the words were disguised by distance and the deceptively joyful melody. Zefani had always loved the hymns. Until the day she heard them up close. Now, they dragged claws of terror down her spine. She gulped down a mouthful of too-hot tea, scalding her tongue. “Fuck.” The word escaped into the hills and echoed back across the valley. Judgemental eyes turned up from the street, daring her to say it again. She rolled her eyes and raised her mug in silent salute. She knew she shouldn’t provoke them, that they could be dangerous to her, but she couldn’t help herself sometimes.