So, here’s the first working chapter of a book I wrote a long time ago, that I’m now revising, because I cannot get it out of my head. I’d love to know what you think. Should I continue? Does it grab you? Do you want more? Or should I put it back in that drawer of later. 🙂
I can’t remember a time when I ever was truly alone in my head. To get even one day without her voice taking over, and telling me what to do? That would be pure bliss.
That one. To the left. Break his windpipe and let’s get out of here.
“Yes, Mama.” I answer her out loud. I can’t help but speak when she talks. It’s the only way I pretend I’m still in control of my own body; even if I can’t resist her orders, at least I can respond.
The city’s nighttime shadows welcome me with open arms. I fall into them with ease as I wait for the unsuspecting citizen to arrive. It doesn’t take much effort to pull from the power that grows deep in the pit of my stomach, and concentrate on the beat of his heart. It pumps with a rhythm determined by a group of pacemaking cells in the sinoatrial node. I dance, and its melody fills me, the pressure of it crushes my insides as I invade his.
I lose myself more and more.
Somewhere, my body stands still, but the other part of me, the killer part of me, is moving at the speed of light, cells morphing into the creature I was destined to be from the moment I was born.
As soon as I enter his bloodstream we become one. A rush of adrenaline takes over, and then I attack his blood supply.
He grunts, as if in pain, and doubles over. Everything around my physical body becomes hazy. But my light, it travels his veins with determination. When I get to his neck, I focus on his trachea and coax it to crush until breathing is an impossibility.
The thud of his body as it falls to the ground is silent. Just like the release of the last breath of air he’ll ever take. Before he’s completely dead I remove myself. Being inside a non-living body can have debilitating effects on my energy supply, and I need all the energy I can maintain. It’s still early. He won’t be the last person I lay to rest tonight.
That’s my babygirl. Let’s get going.
The asphalt sticks to my feet as I make my getaway. A full day of baking in the sun has loosened it up enough that when I inhale the faint hint of tar hits sharply in my nostrils. Behind me heavy footfalls speed up. I’m not alone. As my body tenses for an attack I draw on my power once more.
“Hey, wait up. You know you’re not supposed to be hunting without a partner.”
The voice gives me pause. My best friend Ben comes into view and my muscles unclench.
The shadows of downtown mix with my mood. As tempting as it is to blend in with them and fade away, I wait until he catches up. He’s the only one who doesn’t judge me when we’re out on assignment. He takes my talking to myself in stride.
It’s odd he’s alone. Usually our whole squadron goes on missions together. We’re still not full-fledged Elite yet so they don’t let us into the city by ourselves.
Because of this, I know somewhere in the shadows, probably closer than I assume, a Sender is watching my every move. Whenever we leave the compound Commander Crystal sends her cream-of-the-crop to observe us and report back. Every wrong step, every hesitation, is noted. If one of us fails to take out our mark with efficiency, we all pay the price when we get home.
I cringe at the thought of being collared again. No, tonight I will strike fast and do exactly what they expect of me. I learned long ago to keep my remorse bottled deep inside.
“Where’s the rest of Leet Squad?” I ask, if only to break up the silence.
“Oh, they’re over on Pine street. Shadow’s got them running recon on a reported Given hive. I figured you’d need me more than they do.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence. I think I can handle myself out here just fine. You really think any Given would be so bold as to make a home this close to us?”
“According to Crystal. I don’t understand them. Probably never will.”
I allow myself a moment’s respite and inhale deeply before we walk on to our next victim. I can’t imagine life as a Given. To spend every day free of the binding chaos a Taken wears from birth is something I’d trade in a heartbeat.
There are those of us marked for taking life, and those that give it back. But with every life I take, I fall deeper away from who I wish I could be.
My thoughts are treacherous, so I try to clear my mind. The Sender lurking in the shadows right now might be an emotion blender, and if Crystal knew, even for a second, how I truly feel I’d be toast.
Sweat drips off my chin as I drop a hint to Ben. “What the hell is up with the weather? I can’t concentrate.”
A gentle mist hits my face and instantly cools me off. Ben’s grin grows wide as I smile my thanks. An elemental as a partner has its advantages.
“What would I do without you?” I gently tease him. We both know I’d be lost.
“I’ve been asking myself that for years actually. Funny, you’re just wondering now.”
“Ha. Come on, let’s catch up to the others. It’ll be dawn soon.”
Crystal encourages us learn while most of the city still sleeps. Less viewed mistakes, less unhappy citizens.
We fall into step easily, each footfall in sync. Every once in awhile we catch each other’s eye, and I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. To maintain any semblance of sanity we grasp at what little they allow us to keep of our childhood.
And if that means exchanging silly smiles on a hot night with a guy I’ve known since birth while we head to add one more victim to our ever growing list than I’ll take it. Each and every time.
Which is probably why I fail to register another’s presence until her hot fetid breath falls on my neck. Before I can turn around her saliva drips on my uncovered skin. It boils and my flesh bursts into open sores immediately.
Her hand grabs my wrist, squeezing it tight as the click of a collar shuts against my throat.
“Not so fast, cadet. You were breaking protocol, again. When are you going to learn? Until you reach Elite, you have to stick with your squad. No exceptions.”
Her laugh is guttural.
“Eat me, lizard. I was under orders.” I try to calm my speeding heart and hope she isn’t paying attention. It’s hard to make out any emotions on her scaly face.
“Yeah, well, taking hits for mommy dearest doesn’t count. Solitaire time for you, Taken.”
Ben speaks up, trying to deflect her anger. “Lay off, Sparrow. You know we were on our way back to squad.”
Sparrow turns, and the look she gives Ben triggers something in me I’d rather not let surface. “As for you, water boy, you better get back to Leet. Unless, of course, you’d like to run patrol with me?” She licks her lips for emphasis.
I swallow an immediate urge to vomit everywhere.
Ben gulps and stops walking. He gives me an apologetic shrug. We both know it’s no use arguing any further. We’ve done this dance a million times before.
“Go on, I’m fine with Lizard lips. See you tomorrow?”
Sparrow bends my wrist back even farther. I bite back a whimper, refusing to let her see any pain in my face. Ben seems undecided so I mouth, go on, before I follow Sparrow back home.
One day she’ll be mine. Till then she can pretend all she wants that she’s in charge. But there’s gonna be a day when the collar fails her. And then, she’s mine.
As we head back to the compound, I imagine all the different ways I could decimate her. My laugh echoes, bouncing off the compound’s walls until my head is full of its sound.
The guards ignore me. With a collar on, I’m nothing. Useless.
When Sparrow drops me off at my room I try to muster a sneer, but I’m exhausted. So, I settle for some more of her smug words of condescension, and bite back my retort in the hopes she’ll release me tonight.
No such luck. She shoves me into my room, collar and all.
Night fades into the pale pinks of dawn, and my eyes close as the day starts anew. All of my sense are dulled. But in my dreams, they drive me to panic. The sights, and sound, are too much. I’m haunted by a bright burning boy. He fills me with a fear greater than any I’ve ever experienced.
His words are mumbled, elusive. Somewhere around us drums beat a rhythm in time to his voice. My soul aches with longing for people I do not know. The heat is unbearable. As each flame steadily eats up the floor around me I reach out to him, but we melt away before we make contact.
I awaken drenched in sweat.
The fact that Sparrow’s still staring at me through the window of my door immediately makes me want to punch things. And by things, I pretty much mean any part of her body. I’m not picky—as long as she feels the hatred behind my blows, then I’d win.
Sparrow taps on the glass before she disappears.
After a few minutes I can’t sit still any longer. I need to get out of here. Anywhere is better than here. When I open the bedroom door, Sparrow’s stupid lizard-face glares back at me. Ugh, stalker.
“Where do you think you’re going?” A sneer grows on her scaly lips as she flicks her tongue in my direction. “Taken.” The word comes out of her mouth like she’s tasted something disgusting.
She’s such a condescending hypocrite; we’re all Taken here. Sparrow thinks she’s all that. But her ego’s gonna be her downfall. I can’t wait till she’s mine. Visions of her death ease me. Blood-soaked and battered, her face dissolves in all the different scenarios I create until my mind’s satisfied. With a smirk, I stare her down. Soon.
You’ll be mine soon.
“Bite me, lizard-breath.”
Sparrow’s face turns green. I back away with a laugh as I try to shut the door in her face. But my attempt to slam it is a joke. It creaks as it slowly closes, lessening the effect tenfold. Sparrow’s chuckle echoes through the empty bedroom. “That’s what I thought, Cadet.” Her words cut off as the door locks in place.
I pace the room until my mind is numb. With nothing better to do, I sit on my bed and wait. It’s almost my favorite time of day: combat class. I concentrate on breathing, turning my focus inward.
“Haley . . . hey, Haley—where are you right now?”
I breathe slowly as my eyes regain focus. I didn’t even hear him come in. My nails dig raw trenches into the palms of my clenched fists. Ben ignores all of this and sits beside me.
“Calm down, little bird. You’re spacing out again.”
The gentle pressure of his hand on my shoulder makes me jump.
Ben takes his hand off my shoulder. “Never took you for someone who likes necklaces.” Neither of us laugh at his failed joke.
His fingers trace the collar around my neck for a split-second before he lets them fall to their lap. “I’m sorry. She’ll pay one day, promise.”
I shrug in agreement.
Stale air makes me crave the taste of a fresh breeze tickling my tongue. “I can’t take these walls anymore. They’re closing me in.”
My eyes travel the curve of his cheek, up and over his never-ending eyelashes, to the deep wells of brown that know me so well. Perhaps too well. Against all hope, I cross my fingers. “I’ve got an idea. What would you say to a little redecorating?”
Ben’s eyes bug out. “Ohh no. Last time you tried to get us out of here, not only did you melt the floor, you ruined my best sneakers.”
The new floorboards shine in stark contrast to how they looked a few weeks ago—burned to blackened crisps. I can’t believe I didn’t set the whole room aflame. It sucks they noticed too soon. Controlling fire’s something I’m going to need a lot more practice with.
“I promise I won’t melt anything.”
Ben shakes his head. I don’t miss his eye roll, but then the voice clouds everything else.
Run. Escape. Now. Take them all out until you’re free.
“Uh, Haley?” Ben startles me out of my reverie and I blink. I’m losing my mind. Every day, every minute, Mama’s voice calls out for me. She won’t win today. Shut up, Mama. I’m with Ben; he’s safe. He’s mine. I concentrate on his features until the voice fades.
Ben sets his shoulders like he’s steeling himself for destruction. A picture-perfect soldier-in-training.
“Why do I always feel like something bad is about to happen?”
“Silly bird,” Ben says, giving my ponytail a tug. “We’re going to be fine.”
My shoulders relax against his. “Says you. I just came up with a plan. You interested?” Under the black cotton t-shirt, his muscles contract with excitement.
I whisper into his neck, “I know you are. I can feel it.” and glance up to see his reaction.
“Is there a fire extinguisher close by?” His eyes sparkle with humor when he jokes about my past, but there’s a tension in his jaw I can’t miss.
Ben mistakes my reaction. “So, what horrible torture are you planning for me now?”
“Why ever would you think that? Don’t you know I’m a lady?” My nose scrunches up in disdain as I drum my fingers against my leg—waiting for his reply.
“Sureee. I can only imagine the pain you were dreaming of inflicting on me.”
I cradle my pounding head in my hands. Deflated at his words. “I could never hurt you, Ben. The Senders on the other hand . . . ” With one last shake of my head, I dispel thoughts of what I’ll do to our jail keepers if given the chance. “So, are you going to class or what?”
“Aren’t I always a model student?”
“Well, mister model. Over the wall the sun’s shining, people laughing. What would you say to a little rainstorm? It’d be awful for all those fun-loving citizens to get wet.” I bat my eyelashes at him, trying to entice his inner demon, but he doesn’t buy it.
“That’s a terrible idea.”
Wait, what? No way. There is no way he can’t see the genius in this.
But then he speaks again. “Count me in. Who needs teaching anyway when you’ve already got class like me?” He winks, and I can’t help it—I sock him in the arm.
Feigning pain, he looks up. “Ow, that hurt.”
“Pfft. Whatever.” As I go to grab him in a headlock, his leg slips, and we both fall to the ground laughing. After I catch my breath, I try again. “Wouldn’t it be nice to get away from the eyes of Crystal? Even for a day? Think of the freedom.” The temptation’s so strong. It’s gotta be that way for Ben, too.
Every day we’re pushed to our limits. Used for our bodies, and trained to be the ultimate killing machines. In the Compound, our choices in what we eat, what we read, who we talk to, or even what we wear are made by General Roxanne Crystal: Commander of the Elite army and Leet squad. I tune back into Ben and shut the General’s image out. My stomach rumbles. A bloom of heat creeps up my face and betrays me. Ben spies my blush and laughs.
“Surprise, surprise. Look who’s hungry. Think you’ll be able to concentrate if you’re already starving?”
I’m always starving. It’s a curse. Ben constantly teases me that I have no meat on my bones because I expend so much energy.
The idea of drinking blood for food is gross. I’d much rather grub on something solid and leave the blood for my own special pleasures. Not everyone is born like me. To be able to blood-blend is rare. And I’m glad. Cause there’s a good chance the human race would already be extinct if we were the norm.
“I’ll manage. Besides, I bet we can find better food over the wall.” My hair hides my face until the heat from my blush disappears.
Without warning, memories of Mama’s screams when they took me away fill my head. My first relationship torn to shreds before it could even begin. I hang onto that memory like someone drowning would to a life vest. I just wish I could control it.
“Remember the day we were born? Would you have thought we’d end up like this?” I ask.
“No, little bird, not quite.” Ben shrugs and sighs. I totally get it. The ability to remember our birth is a blessing and a curse, but it keeps my purpose clear.
The Front’s first mistake was keeping me alive. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t their last. “One day they’ll pay for what they took from me. Count on it.” I twitch. Mama’s voice fills my mind again, and the echoes close in on me once more. “I think if we lef—”
The bell ringing for class to begin interrupts me. Crap. One look at Ben’s face and I know I’ve lost my chance. That’s okay. Time’s on my side.