The Power of Wanting
Iria's eyes had always been bigger than her stomach. She'd load her plate with food at buffets, her cart full of clothing at stores, and her phone full of numbers she'd never call. It was an undeniable want that sat in her chest and refused to be satiated. The refuse she collected in doing so was always tossed to the wayside, forgotten completely once they left her sight. Liam was no different in the beginning, just another thing she thought she needed that she'd never think about again. She'd met him at the spring festival and the boy had fallen head over heels for the roguish brunette. Her violet eyes held seas of secrets one could lose themselves in for hours, her voice was like the laughing streams that bubbled between the trees and led you to amazing places, no one could get enough of the girl.
Besides her stunning beauty and her impulsive actions, there was just something about Iria that made her predicament even more difficult; people never said no to her. If she wanted extra pancakes, her parents caved, if she wanted those ridiculously priced shoes her friend Vero had just gotten for their birthday they'd hand them over, and if she wanted your attention, she became the apple of your eye. In such a small town situated right at the edge of the forest and the base of the mountains, Iria's beauty was a rare enough commodity and the people of the town had stopped questioning Iria's strange ability ages ago. She'd grown up in the town and everyone just accepted it, questioning her abilities wasn't something Iria wanted; so, no one did.
The combination of her lack of control and the town's willingness to go along with whatever Iria wanted was a dangerous one. When Iria was seven, she'd asked Mrs. Vanderbelt, who owned the grocery store on Main Street and whose son Sean had been a favorite of Iria's for a while, for the keys to her Buick and the woman happily handed them over. Officers Tandy and Foley, long-time guardians and upstanding law officers that found Iria in the smashed-up car at the edge of town had been pretty upset at first, but once she regained consciousness, Iria just asked them to take her for ice cream and all was well once again. Even Iria's parents Mr. and Mrs. Barnum had simply smiled and nodded when Officer Foley gave them the cursory phone call explaining that Iria had missed the bus, gotten into an accident, and would be home in time for dinner after getting ice cream and riding around in the patrol car for a while. When she was twelve, Iria convinced her teachers, principal, and the school board that there was no reason she should have to attend school and had been privately tutored for free at her leisure ever since. She only showed up at the school for fun events or on days she was just plain bored until she was eighteen. If that's what Iria wanted, then that's what happened. What if she got upset and left? That would be devastating, no one wanted Iria to leave, she was the sunlight in the trees, the welcome respite that came with the first drink of water of the day. If she went out of town for more than an afternoon businesses began to close early, the suicide rate spiked, and the school closed down.
Liam most definitely had not been prepared for such a whirlwind of woman to enter his life, and once she was there, he never wanted her to leave. He was a well-established ecology major in his sophomore year when he met Iria. He wasn't sure if she had spotted him first and had intentionally danced into him at the festival or if it had just been the happiest accident of his life. She smiled at him, and the world constricted to just them. A silent vow passed between them the moment they made eye contact, he'd do anything in the world to bring her what she wanted. If we looked back at Iria's long list of ex attractions, there wasn't really a distinguishable trend, blondes, brunettes, redheads, boys, girls, she had loved them all. If she lost interest, they'd be devastated, but if Iria didn't want them, they wouldn't try to be hers anymore. Iria didn't seem to have a type, but Liam had interested her from the moment she saw his curly hair bouncing to some riff that echoed from the speakers at the festival. Iria had been gone from HANSCOMB (?) for the festival for three days when she'd met Liam and after he missed all of his classes the following week and never returned to his dorm, his parents called.
"Liam? Are you okay? What's going on? Where have you been?"
His mother's voice travelled through his phone's speakers into the beat up pickup Iria had asked him to take her to the mountain in.
"I've been with Iria, mom! It's been amazing, you have to meet her!"
An award-winning smile lit up the violet eyes in his passenger seat, it was enough to encourage him to continue.
"You'll love her mom. I promise."
"Who? Liam you're not making any sense. Are you saying you've been ditching your responsibilities over some girl I haven't even heard of? Have you lost your mind? What about your scholarship? Get your ass back to campus. Now."
Iria's frown made the air in his truck seem positively frigid. How could she possibly say that? He couldn't just go back to school, Iria needed him.
"No. Mom you don't understand. She's important and she needs me."
"Mrs. Cove, why don't we come by? You don't live too far away, just a day's drive or so. You'll see Mrs. Cove. We'll be there tomorrow!"
Iria grabbed the phone up from the middle console and hung up on Liam's mother before she could finish stuttering past her initial reaction, though a few choice words made it through the speaker before she could hit the little red button to end the call. Her abilities didn't seem to work over normal phone calls, but the woman would see sense. Then she could have Liam all to herself.
"Come on Liam. Introduce me to your mother!"
She kissed his cheek quickly, smiled, and curled up in the passenger seat as the smiling boy started the truck's engine. They drove through the night, Iria didn't want to keep her town waiting too much longer, she enjoyed her life there. If Liam hadn't been powered by the need to make Iria happy he would have needed to stop, at the very least pull over and nap, but Iria wanted to keep driving so he did so, with a big happy grin plastered to his face the whole time. When they pulled into the driveway the next morning, Cinthia Cove and her husband Tim were waiting at the door, their expressions filled with anger. The second Liam shut off the engine, Iria hopped out of the vehicle, her bare feet slapped the pavement and her black, ankle-length skirt flowed gently in the wind as she flashed the Coves her biggest smile.
"Hello Mr. and Mrs. Cove! I'm Iria!"
Tim's furrowed eyebrows fought for a moment to hold their positions and Cinthia's arms shook to stay crossed until Iria stepped closer. In the full force of Iria's smiling face, their frowns flipped immediately, and they welcomed Liam with hugs and apologies. They didn't even bring up why the two had come to visit until sitting down around their oblong table for lunch when Liam brought up returning to his classes.
"Of course, you don't have to go back, if that's what Iria wants?"
"Thank you, Mr. Cove! I really enjoy having Liam around." She linked her arm through his and gently put a foot atop the black canvas of his Converse. "I'll take care of him, I promise."
After some riveting conversation and many hugs, Iria and Liam made the drive and returned to Hanscomb, much to the relief of the bereft townspeople. They held a parade in Iria's honor with Liam holding her hand the whole time and Mrs. Vanderbelt's son Sean driving them through the parade in his convertible, ecstatic Iria had even remembered to ask him.
Life was amazing for the two of them, but the town didn't expect Liam to stay Iria's focus, these sorts of things just happened. Many of the town's most beautiful or handsome eligible singles had been Iria's exes who had moved to the town to make her happy after their first month and just couldn't imagine leaving. However, with Liam that usual first month passed, then two, then three and soon a whole year had gone by with Iria toting the young ecologist around. He was interesting, engaging, funny, handsome, and she liked playing with his hair and listening to him talk about his day. He'd found a job with the rangers that took care of the forest near Hanscomb, and he would lay his head in her lap, and she'd listen hour after hour of him describing the wildlife he'd seen while on duty that day. They talked about other things too and had a plethora of inside jokes, even if you had stripped Iria of her strange abilities; the two were plainly in love. After their eighteenth month together, the town began to see them as a pair, and no one was surprised when Liam asked her if she'd like to marry him at the end of the second year after he'd left his school.
Unfortunately, while Liam's presence had seemed to satiate Iria's hunger for love, her mind was still ravenous for everything else. She took the two of them on shopping sprees, eating binges, and wild adrenaline seeking adventures. Racing cars, leaping from cliffs, skydiving, white water rafting, anything and everything Iria could find they tried. The town complied, picking the lovebirds up, covering the medical bills that came with broken bones, they even invited an experimental traveling circus to town for Iria and Liam's entertainment. Their world seemed perfect, so I suppose there was always going to be some catastrophic bump in the road. Otherwise, why bother telling the story?
The day their lives fell apart started like any other; smiles, early morning laughter, warm coffee, and tasty breakfast burritos their neighbor Mr. Haliburt had woken up early just to make for the pair. Their wedding date was set for that weekend, just two days in the future, and the town was abuzz with excitement. Everything had to be perfect, that's what Iria wanted after all. Liam had the day off and there was a portion of the river they hadn't seen in a while, Iria wanted to go visit so they packed a simple lunch and took off before the sun could really start climbing the sky.
The sequence of events that ended up with Liam falling into the fast-moving water was fuzzy to Iria, it just didn't make sense. They'd been dancing near the water, the soft dirt felt cool between her toes, and she'd seen something shiny on the opposing bank. It was just a brief thought, a gentle I'd like to have that, and suddenly Liam was pulling away from Iria, out of her arms and towards the river. She hadn't even said it out loud, the water was dangerous here, they'd learned as much in one of their white water rafting experiences, she'd never have asked him into the water. She loved Liam, but by the time she realized what he was doing, he was falling. Just out of her reach, with his lovable but goofy smile plastered on his face, he disappeared under the water.
Iria didn't remember screaming, time had frozen when his form had been taken under the water, but when the cold of the night began seeping into her bones, she realized her throat was sore. She'd stared for hours at the surface of the water, begging the current to bring him back and in the silence surrounding her was the first and hardest refusal she'd ever received. The gaping maw of the river had clamped around him and taken him from her, no amount of charm worked, her abilities were useless on something as old and uncaring as the water of the forest and the mountains. Nature just didn't care. Iria was sure there was a gaping wound in her chest, the pain flared and pulsed sending shooting slivers of icy hurt down to her fingertips and the soles of her feet.
"Give him back! Give him back! Give him back! Give him back!"
She shouted again and again at the uncaring water, her sore throat rasping her voice as her fists pounded into the riverbank. Then came the hunger, without Liam it opened up inside her like a rotten wound finally released from its bandages. She began clawing at the pain in her chest, pulling and tugging the gaping hole he'd left behind and nature watched silently as her hands began to pull the flesh away from her bones. Her violet eyes raged and wept, if she could just pull it out, it would all stop hurting. Her hands plunged into the now very real wound on her chest, her fingers hooked on rib bones and her lungs felt like spasming water balloons, but she could almost reach it. Bits of her littered the bank and her blood had stained the cool dirt when she finally grabbed ahold of the pulsing source of her pain and her want. She pulled and tugged at the beating monster in her chest, screaming as the strings that held her heart in place tore free and she cast the wicked thing into the river.
Exhausted and empty, she sat back on the bank, her world and her heart lost to the river; she finally, for once in her life, didn't want. Her chest didn't hurt anymore and the raging hunger that had sat in her chest from the very first moment of her life was silent. Her violet eyes closed restfully, and she slipped away, finally at peace.
About the Author
Ember Reed studies creative writing at Stephen F. Austin State University. Ember's work has been previously published in In Parentheses, HUMID, and the Swisher County newspaper.