Prologue

Sometimes you can't run from the past.

 

Vampires.

Celeste’s fantasy has just come true – but now that she knows vampires really do exist, it’s not so much a dream after all.

There’s a secret war raging between witches and vampires – and Celeste has just been dropped in the middle of it. Sebastian is a ruthless vampire out for Celeste’s blood - and his twin, Jasmine, is a vampire disgrace, trying to save Celeste’s life.

But when a vengeful witch, Megan, comes into the picture, Celeste’s life comes to depend on the heart of the very vampire who wanted her dead in the first place.

 

Prologue

I knew I shouldn’t have returned to the park after this morning; but Megan had caught up to me before I’d even found a victim and thirst had eliminated any rational thought I could have possibly produced.

Now she stood behind me, waiting for the right moment. I ignored her for now, desperate to drain the girl I clung to – the teenager was small, but I hadn’t had much choice and I was in no state of mind to be picky.

It wasn’t until Megan began to craft a spell and the air was charged with magick that I abandoned my meal and blurred. Moving at vampire speed, I tried for my escape, knowing Megan would be unable to track me.

Something invisible collided with me and I was forced back, skidding in the dirt. Megan had set a cage, trapping me until she was too weak to maintain the complicated spell. Considering Megan’s strength, that could be long enough to kill me.

I felt the static energy rather than saw it as the witch threw lightning at me, forcing me to leap for cover. I aimed for a pine tree and blurred to climb as high as possible. I was grateful for the speed of a vampire, so fast that to the human – or witch’s – eye, a vampire was nothing more than a blur. It had been witches that named the action ‘blurring’; a little obvious, in my opinion.

She shouted furiously, “Get back here Sebastian!”

In any other situation, my pride wouldn’t have allowed me to hide, but I kept my cover as she scanned the area, unable to track me with magick while holding the cage. It would seem that even the most powerful witch in history had limits.

The sickly-sweet smell that clung to witches tickled my nose, stirring hunger inside me. The brief distraction was long enough for Megan to attack the tree I hid in and a moment later I was hurtling towards the ground. Jumping from the branch at the last moment, I seized the branch of another tree.

I met Megan’s gaze. The illusion of a 16 year-old girl was betrayed only by the multi-coloured eyes, vaguely hinting at her actual 32 years of life.

I grinned at her, simply because I knew it would piss her off and she cried out in frustration. My amusement was enough to distract me from the charged bolt she sent at my feet and I began to tumble down, my weight snapping every branch I hit. The air rushed out of my lungs as the motion stopped and I was lying on a pile of wood.

Though a vampire’s heart barely beats, mine raced in fear as I checked the fall hadn’t staked me. When it was obvious I was merely bruised but otherwise uninjured, I laughed, and I kept laughing until a shadow cast over me, blocking out the setting sun.

When my eyes focused on the witch above me my muscles tensed, willing me to kill her – to taste her blood; but I set my mind to one goal: escape.

I wasn’t thinking fast enough, my mind sluggish from lack of feeding, and before I could react Megan’s blade sliced deep, piercing my upper right thigh.

My cry of pain was satisfactory to Megan as the poisons on the blade seeped into my blood and burned like boiled water.

A shudder shook me and for a moment my mind spun – making my focus turn inward rather than to the witch. I would always recognise the sign of a human’s mind trying to surge into my own.

There were too many distractions today, I was making too many mistakes – my most recent was not paying attention to the magick directed at the branches beneath me. I rolled away just before the fire burst to life. Pain flared where the dagger was still imbedded in my thigh, but I forced my mind to focus on blocking out the human I was far too familiar with.

Megan stood over me and smirked, enjoying the moment – her first mistake. I took the opportunity and kicked at her legs as I rolled to my feet, making her fall on her back. Megan’s second mistake might have gone unnoticed if I hadn’t been focused, but I noticed the second heart beat as soon as she clutched at her stomach.

The red seeped into my eyes and I vaguely registered the pain in my nails and teeth as both extended to points, the skin around my eyes stretching thin and dying as the umbra flared, realising what lay before me.

It was the ultimate meal: a witch’s blood was the sweetest, but if you added a double life force it was irresistible.

Before I could move there was a crack and electricity exploded, rolling over me like a wave; for the first time in history, Megan had teleported – she had run.

I stood still instead of taking the chance to leave, taking a deep breath as I focused now on putting the beast to sleep, on taking control of my vampire nature; slowly, the umbra receded, my nails returning to normal, my fangs retracting, and the black of dead flesh around my eyes receding while the red drained away, leaving my eyes violet once again.

I attempted a step forward and collapsed as pain flooded my leg where Megan’s enchanted blade still sat firmly in the muscle. The weakness allowed another shudder to run through me, reminding me of the human’s presence at the edge of my mind. Just the slightest error could allow our minds to merge, could allow her mind to invade my own, or trap my consciousness within hers.

Anger surged at the thought as I lightly rested my hand on the handle of the dagger. The human’s name was Celeste – Ashley’s should-be-dead daughter.

A grunt was the only sound that escaped me when I pulled the blade out, though I knew it wouldn’t heal until purified with salt.

The moment of weakness was enough for Celeste’s mind to flood into my own.

Now fury took hold, at an irrational level, as I struggled to force her out. Even after I forced the link closed, I could feel her lingering emotions.

Pain, sadness, anger, frustration and fear. My pain had been as real to her as it was to me, causing her to cry. She was weak.

Even worse, she was impossible to escape.

Once I was sure I could remain standing, I began to limp my way back to the apartment I had temporarily taken for my home. Pain surged with every step, but I couldn’t force thoughts of the girl from my mind until I finally came to a decision.

I would find Kelly; this was one of those times when her psychic ability came in handy. Once she gave me the girl’s location, I’d pay Celeste a little visit and end her miserable existence.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

I was deprived of the ability to sleep the night before my junior school year began, the same as I had been for the past week. I never had slept well before school went back – it was a learned behaviour from endless years of teasing.

That was the only reason I recognised the signs before the pain set in. Nausea shook me out of a daydream, but sitting up only brought on the dizziness. It was only seconds later that the familiar feeling of echoing thoughts bounced through my mind. After sixteen years, I recognised the signs as easily as I counted to ten.

I tried to fight the process that so often ripped me from my own body and into a delusion of being a vampire. Sometimes, I kept my own thoughts as well as my body, only experiencing irrational emotions and unexplainable sensations, often of extreme pains – and other times I suffered from full-blown ‘dissociation’ or whatever the doctors had called it. Not that they’d ever diagnosed me as anything previously identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV – and they had never managed to prescribe a drug cocktail to fix the problem. It was only two years ago that I’d began to refuse the visits to a mental health professional, despite my stepmother’s constant begging.

Slowly, the sensations began to seep in, despite my attempts to keep a grip on what was real, and what was me. First it was just a dull ache in my shoulder blade, almost like a cramp – but I knew full well that such a pathetic thing could develop into feeling as if my insides were being shredded.

This was the type I fought. The type I feared.

Taking deep breaths, as much to keep from throwing up as to keep from panicking, I picked up my only plush toy, a Emily the Strange Patch Work Mystery Kitty, and bit down on it as hard as I could, squeezing my eyes closed as the pain grew. The last thing I wanted was my step parents barging in here and fussing over me.

The full extent of the wound finally hit and I cried out, muffled a great deal by the fluff in my mouth; it felt like acid had been injected into the muscle, burning it away. Tears filled and then overflowed my eyes as I keeled over, hoping not to vomit on my teddy.

Then emotions surged into the mix; a deep set hatred and rage filled me, weighing on me like a ten ton boulder, along with a somewhat masked terror and panic. They became my own and I screamed – in both pain and anger, spitting the kitty onto the floor and shuddering in agony.

Even through the nightmarish things happening to my mind and body, I heard the banging as my step parents staggered out of bed and stumbled down the hall to my room. The door flew open with no care for the wall it smashed into and rebounded off as the two anxious adults rushed to my side, Dylan somehow already with a glass of water for me.

“Celeste? Honey, are you okay? Speak to me – what’s wrong Celeste?” Emily, my stepmother fussed, parental worry drenching her voice and smothering her face.

Had I been in my right mind, I probably would have told her simply to leave, but the fury and hatred burning in my soul made that an impossible reaction.

“Get out!” I yelled at them, even as my right hand clutched at my left shoulder, “Leave me be!”

They exchanged a look and settled a silent argument that I was sure Dylan won as he set down the glass of water and led Emily away by her shoulders. Being a psychologist, she otherwise never would have left me alone. Luckily, Dylan believed in personal space.

I cried out again as the pain ripped downward, into the middle of my back as if a knife had sliced through me. Sobs shook me, my fear and horror mixing with the irrational emotions.

But just as fast as it had started, it began to fade into non-existence. First the pain vanished without leaving a single trace, then the physical sickness and spinning head settled into place, and finally the sensations and emotions faded out, leaving the barest taint of hatred and anger to linger in my mind.

I was left gasping for breath, once again unable to explain the delusion. It was not the first, and I doubted it would be the last time such a thing happened. I’d suffered from the delusions for as long as I could remember, probably from birth, which would explain the unexplainable screaming fits Emily had put up with in my baby years. She, of course, thought it was linked to my traumatic birth story.

I scowled just thinking about it as I climbed out of bed, peeling off my now-drenched pyjamas, and heading for the bathroom attached to my room for a shower.

Emily had gone with Dylan on one of his Army-related travels, this time to Russia, where they ended up getting married; along with the marriage came the desire for kids – the only problem being that Emily was infertile. Browsing the adoption centres like they were supermarkets, they came across a fair-skinned baby girl with bright green eyes and shadow-black hair that sometimes shone brown. When they learned the tale of my birth it sealed the deal, Emily believing them to be God’s gift to me: a family.

My mother had been assumed to have been attacked by wolves in the woods. No one knows how she made it to the hospital, but she went into premature labour. With no ID, it was impossible to identify her, and the only thing she’d ever said to the doctors was “her name is Celeste. It has to be Celeste.” After dying on the table, no one came to claim her, or me. No one went looking for the middle-aged pregnant woman and her baby.

I kicked the tiled shower wall in anger. Emily was wrong – she hadn’t given me a family. A house and money, yes, but she refused to have me call them mom or dad, saying something about ‘stealing the right of blood parents’.

I scrubbed my body from head to toe with the sponge and soap and then shampooed my hair twice, conditioned it once, combing it through before rinsing, combing it again after rinsing; lastly I used my facial scrub – twice, and then shut off the water. The routine was something I’d developed a few years ago. I had performed it after one of my delusions to bring myself back into my own mind.

Instead of towelling myself dry, I wrapped the towel under my arms and wiped away a circle of fog in the centre of my mirror. My thorough scrubbing had removed most of the black that usually ringed my eyes, but not all of it.

I stared at the image in front of me, wondering if it would be what I saw the next time I looked in the mirror. I’d never seen a reflection during one of my delusions, but it was always a thought at the back of my mind that maybe the next time I did it wouldn’t be my eyes staring back, but instead those of a vampire.

I sighed, rolling my eyes at myself. I was sixteen years old and still imagining myself becoming a vampire on regular occasions; those were the type I welcomed, the type I anticipated. There was nothing I wanted more than the gift of vampirism. When I became someone else, the vampire, I felt their strength, their power; I was someone to fear. Sometimes that fantasy found me in my dreams.

Exhaustion washed over me then and I dawdled back into my room to see the glowing red digits of my black alarm clock. Two-eighteen in the morning.

I wasn’t sure when I’d drifted asleep, and I didn’t know what had woken me either, but a glance at my alarm told me I was at least half an hour late getting up and I wouldn’t have time to hobble around like the half asleep teenager I was. I’d forgotten to set my alarm and now it was quarter past eight, half an hour before I had to be in class.

I cursed. Not at my sleep-in – at the fact that today I once again faced the torment of the people who’d been with me in school since I was five. In a small town like Ashton, there wasn’t much chance of running across unfamiliar faces – especially not at Ashton Franklin Centre High School.

I wasn’t even teased because I was goth – there were a handful of us here, but I was the leper. I had been a leper since one of my lovely delusions struck in the middle of class in the second grade. My only true friend had been Jacky, a teen boy suffering with depression who found my insanity alluring rather than repelling and had been the first (and so far, last) to kiss me. That had been two years ago though, before he gave up on dealing with the world.

It took me less than five minutes to dress and pack my bag before scurrying down the stairs. I wouldn’t have time for breakfast if I made a lunch for school, so I went to the pantry and pulled out various forms of pre-packaged instant food including cookies, chips, a muesli bar and roll-up.

It was only a five minute drive to school, but if I wanted a half-way decent park I had to get there by eight-thirty.

As an after-thought, I checked over my shoulder for spies before darting to the fridge and stuffing one of Dylan’s Red Bulls into my bag. If Emily knew I was stealing them, I’d be in the tipper, but after my hellish night I thought I deserved it, if not needed it. Not that I was likely to see Emily or Dylan at this time anyway; Emily would be at her office and Dylan would still be snoring.

Rushing for the door, I crossed my fingers before revealing the street beyond. Clear sunny skies fit for burning pale skin – damn.

As per usual, I turned on Escape the Fate after getting in my car and proceeded to break most of the speed limits in the area. It wasn’t that I was in a huge rush to get to school or anything, but arriving early ensured a parking space and secured my usual seat at the back of the classroom.

When I arrived to find zero parking spaces available in the school’s car park I barely resisted the urge to slam my forehead on the steering wheel. I should have remembered there would be a rush for older students to claim their usual hangouts and ward off the newbies.

It took me almost five minutes of circling the school to find a park, by which point I was seriously considering letting the Truant label show up on my attendance. I had no desire to sit among people I’ve always hated, in a place I’ve never loved. It wasn’t like I had some sort of life/career plan anyway; my subjects were chosen purely on vague interest or necessity rather than any structured education plan.

My car was shiny and black, but that was the fanciest thing about it; otherwise it was small, old and angular, as opposed to the newer cars that were more round. It didn’t exactly stand out, but I felt like people stared at it and scowled. I didn’t bother locking it.

The bell was going to go at any moment, so I made my way to homeroom, my eyes scanning the new crowd. Some of my antagonists had left last year, either dropping out a year early or having been in their final year; it wasn’t enough though, I noticed, as most of the crowed parted on my way past. They weren’t scared or intimidated; though I liked to pretend they were. Instead they were smart enough not to approach the girl who broke down in random screaming fits of pain. Even the freshman noticed my social status instantly and mimicked their elders.

To date, I’d had seven delusions in public, five in school and two in town; after the two in town Emily had stopped going out with me. It wasn’t because she was embarrassed by me, but her church friends had begun to treat her differently; some insisted she’d adopted a child possessed by the devil. Maybe I was. But I didn’t believe in any religion; no god could fix my brain.

Despite the fact that the bell was due any moment, only one other girl was in class. We eyed each other distastefully as I passed. She sat in the front row, rectangle glasses magnifying her eyes into bugs; her natural brown hair was in a single braid down her back, and she wore a knee length grey pencil skirt, a short sleeve cotton button-down shirt, and black flats. Even if she hadn’t been in several of my classes for the past few years I would have known she was a nerd. She was the daughter of one of Emily’s friends, a good Christian girl with high grades; part of the math club and a student librarian.

She scowled at my black jeans, faux-leather boots, and black and red mock-corset top. She agreed with the devil-possession theory. I didn’t blame her.

After taking my usual seat in the back corner of the room, I withdrew sketchpad and pencil from my bag to begin a routine that had filled the past four years. It was my escape from the teenage jungle; while the adults practically mimicked those on desperate housewives (without the scandals), their pubescent teens weren’t nearly as ‘kind-hearted’.

Something sailed past my face, barely missing. It was a small rubber, thrown by a football player. Harry was Hailey’s boyfriend, and though he hadn’t given me any trouble last year, Hailey had converted him into an active antagonist.

“With an aim like that you’ll never make captain,” I scowled under my breath, fixing my eyes on my paper. I took a deep breath, reminding myself this was the last year I had to put up with it; I was dropping out and skipping next year.

Hailey sauntered in a moment later, laughing loud enough to drown out the others of her group like she was vying for the spotlight – though her only competition would be Hannah, her best friend.

The bell rang just as the teacher marched into the room – a teacher who was not our homeroom teacher.

“Good morning!” she tweeted, instantly reminded me of Umbridge from Harry Potter; I groaned inwardly, remembering Mrs Bether’s announcement of resignation at the end of last year.

The rest of the class began to slowly file in, all of them at the sluggish pace of half-asleep teens, which I’d already been forced to shake off.

“I hope you all had a lovely holiday,” the teacher said cheerily, bright eyes scanning the disinterested crowd, who were still chatting.

Vague recognition sparked off a game in my mind of face-placing; I’d seen her somewhere before.

Considering she wore a white church dress and had her naturally ginger hair in an elegant bun atop her head, I figured she had to be one of Emily’s friends.

My attention shifted back to the still-blank page before me, all interest in the new teacher gone. If I kept my head down, she couldn’t pester me. Or so I had hoped. My attention jerked back up when something loud sounded, and the whole room fell silent.

The new teacher stood smiling in front of her desk, a clapper like the ones used to start off races in her hands. I swore in my mind. She would be pestering me, I could already tell.

“Now that I have your attention,” she said pleasantly, “I’d like you all to come to the front of the class and retake your seats in the order I assign.”

My groan was drowned out by the rest of the class’s. A seating plan? Did she think we were six? Seriously?

I shoved my pad back in my bag and joined everyone at the front, dreading where I’d be placed. I belonged in the back, where no one could throw things at my head or stare at me. IF I sat anywhere else, I was a goner.

“I am Miss Hampher, your new homeroom teacher. It’s lovely to meet you all! Now, when I call out your name, could you please take your seat next to the person before you, starting here,” she gestured to the desk in the front corner by the door.

One by one she began to call names, and everyone knew four-names-later that it was alphabetical order via last name. That put me, being Celeste Habiling, next to Jake Hendra, one of the know-it-all’s who somehow was still popular. Perhaps if my mother had lived I’d instead be put in the S’s, or the T’s.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The second day was harder to walk into. I hadn’t done any of the homework from biology, history or English and this time I had to go in knowing what I faced in homeroom. I arrived only five minutes before the bell, so I once again had no park and was forced to circle for most of that time.

I was two minutes late to homeroom. Instant detention.

English came and went without problems, for which I was thankful, only now I had double the homework. Biology also went over without a hitch, and thankfully didn’t add any more to my workload. History was fourth, and thanks to having Mr T, resulted in a second detention.

When the bell rang for lunch I slipped out the door – before he could personally escort me to the detention room. I hid in the girls’ bathroom while I considered my options. Sit in detention and write lines, or skip and risk rubbish duty?

I almost laughed at myself. There wasn’t anything to think about – I’d never sit under the beady eyes of a teacher, jumping through hoops to give them satisfaction.

Knowing I’d be caught if I stayed onsite, I headed for my car. There was only one place I could go without being caught by neighbourhood spies: the library. I stopped by my locker to retrieve my overdue library book.

Being a small town, we only had one library, two supermarkets, a bunch of pointless or boring shops, two elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school. Pathetic.

It didn’t take long to get to the library, and once I got there I sighed with relief. I could pick out a book and get lost in another reality. It would be one with vampires, one where – if it were my reality – I’d be able to have revenge on all the arrogant idiots at my school.

Before walking into the teen fiction section, I scanned my surroundings for potentially problematic customers. Lucky for me, the only people in here that weren’t staff were a girl who was currently looking for another book to add to her five-novels-high pile, and an obnoxious curly-haired boy stretched out across the only couch.

I walked straight to ‘R’ and found the fifth book in The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice: Memnoch The Devil. After pulling it off the shelf, I turned to face the couch. There were study tables in the non-fiction section, but those chairs were hard, and there were two bean bags behind the couch but they were uncomfortable, so I prepared myself to confront the guy on the couch. Or perhaps I just felt like being a pain.

He had his eyes closed, but his breathing suggested he wasn’t asleep. I cleared my throat, standing over him, my glare already in place.

His eyes didn’t open slowly as I had expected them to. One moment they were closed, and then they were open.

The suddenness of his gaze made me jump. My mind blanked and I just stared at him. His eyes were violet; they were electric, piercing. I had never seen eyes such a colour; I hadn’t thought it was possible.

“Yes?” he prompted, suddenly grinning, when I didn’t speak.

The most overwhelming thing of all was the sense that I knew him. I could swear I knew him, but I couldn’t place where. He certainly wasn’t from school – he looked about twenty, or at least only a few years older than me. Maybe he had been a senior two or three years ago.

It was then that I realised I was choking – not in the literal way, but in that oh-my-god-my-mind-won’t-work-and-I-can’t-speak way.

I opened my mouth but nothing came out and I closed it again. I cleared my throat, trying to look away from the violet, but it was impossible. How did I know him? Why did I feel like I did? I was sure I would remember eyes like his.

I studied his appearance again, only vaguely registering that I had been staring in silence for a minute now. Loose ringlets of black hair formed a mop on his head, though would probably reach his nose or chin if straightened; pale skin; definitely taller than my five foot six; incredible muscles – he probably had washboard abs; strong, pointed jaw and high cheekbones, though his face wasn’t exactly long; and those incredible, electrical eyes that were entrancing me.

“You’re hogging the couch.”

I think we were both surprised that I actually managed to speak, but I focused more on the tone I’d taken; speaking to him with a breathy, quiet voice had so not been my plan. I cleared my throat again, trying to get a grip.

“And?” he asked, resuming his grin. I glared at him.

“And I want to sit down, so move it, or you’ll regret it.” I didn’t normally resort immediately to threats, but I was irritated now. Why the hell was I choking? Looks had never had me stumped before; I was used to snarling at the hot boys at school.

“So you don’t recognise me then?” he asked, and this time I caught the slight remnants of some kind of accent.

I blinked in surprise. Had he just implied that I did know him? I supposed it was possible, considering the small population. Everyone had run into everyone at some point. But I was sure I’d have remembered those eyes.

I gulped as I realised that they reminded me of the eyes belonging to vampires I’d encountered during my dissociations.

But I wasn’t going to tell him that. “All I’m recognising is an arrogant jerk hogging the only couch,” I said.

He flashed another grin, and for an instant I could have sworn I saw fangs. The shock of it made me back up a step, but when I looked again his teeth were normal. Incredibly straight and clean and perfect, but normal.

I shook my head in attempt to clear my clouded thoughts, but before I could snap at him again he said, as if to himself, “interesting…”

He moved gracefully but fast as he got to his feet, and I didn’t have time to move before he pushed my hair behind my ear. “So you don’t have a clue who I am?”

I got the weirdest feeling that he meant what rather than who.

“You know what,” I said, unnerved but managing to sound angry as I retreated a step, “never mind.”

I turned and headed for the door, which was directly opposite the teen fiction section, giving him a clear view of me walking away. I shivered at that thought.

It wasn’t until the doors started beeping that I realised I was still holding the unchecked-out book, and I turned around with burning cheeks and a rapid heartbeat as I walked back in to put it on the closest table. I would check it out another time.

I saw the obnoxious stranger grinning as he watched me. My face burned more, if it was even possible. I must have been cherry red by now. I hurried out of the library.

It took me a few moments to realise that someone had caught up with me and was now walking by my side. I looked over and stumbled, losing my footing as I saw who it was.

“What the hell!” I exclaimed, jumping away.

He flashed another grin, and for the second time I thought I saw fangs, but a double-take showed the same perfect teeth as before.

I glared at him. “You obnoxious, son of a bi...”

“What’s the matter?” he cut me off, still grinning, “I would have thought a girl like you liked obnoxious, over-confident, incredibly sexy guys.”

I stared at him, wondering what kind of nutcase he was, even if what he said was true. A guy who doesn’t ask if he can kiss you, who has the looks to go with the confidence, who knows what to do and when to do it, was my idea of a boyfriend – but that didn’t mean anything when it came to this guy. He was just a jerk… or at least, that’s what I kept repeating in my head.

“Okay, if you don’t stop following me then you are seriously going to get it,” I threatened, resuming my pace. I seriously doubted I could actually over-power let alone hurt this guy, but I had no other defence. The sky had clouded over, blocking out the sun. My kind of day.

“Well I know who you are,” he said matter of factly, ignoring my threat, “Celeste Habiling. Sixteen years old, junior in high school, and vampire fanatic.”

My eyes widened and I came to a stop, staring at him. I exclaimed, “What are you, my stalker?”

“Nope, but you might want to put your ID card in your bag, not on it.”

I closed my eyes in frustration, and scowled, “leave me alone.” I continued walking, glad my car was now only a few steps away.

But when I stopped to retrieve my keys, the stranger grabbed my wrist and spun me around so fast my vision blurred. He held me against my car door by pressing his own body to mine.

I tried to shrink back, wondering how he had got me in this situation. My heart pounded in my ears and I finally regretted skipping detention.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” I snapped at him, trying to push him away.

“Sebastian!”

It wasn’t the guy who had spoken, but a female voice behind him. He – Sebastian – gritted his teeth angrily and finally stepped away from me. We both turned to see a girl with caramel-coloured hair the same length as mine and tanned, clear skin. She was nicely slim, and about three inches shorter than me. She looked maybe nineteen or twenty, but my eyes were once again caught on one thing: her eyes; they were… multi coloured. It was impossible to say whether they were green, grey, brown, or blue.

“Megan. We meet again,” Sebastian scowled, “I shouldn’t be surprised really, should I? Though, the baby must have been sad to have her mother go hunting; how old is she now? Five?”

“Leave my daughter out of this,” Megan growled.

All I was busy with was doing the math in my head; if this girl was 20, like she looked, and her child was five, then that meant she’d been pregnant when she was fourteen!

I couldn’t help but think her a slut. I was 16 and still a virgin. Then again, I didn’t think there were many girls who waited to be legal any more. Haley, the queen of the school, had fallen pregnant last year and had an abortion – or so the rumour went.

Pulling myself back together, I grabbed my keys from my pocket and was about to unlock my car when Megan pulled out a knife – or rather, a dagger. She held it as a weapon before advancing on Sebastian.

“Whoa!” I yelled. “Hold off! What the hell are you doing?”

Megan only glanced at me in frustration. “Step aside, before you get hurt.”

I stared at her. How in the hell had this happened? I was standing between two psychos! Actually, in fact, I was trying to protect one.

But Sebastian didn’t speak, instead, he pushed me to the side, out of his way, before walking towards Megan.

I should have called the cops, or left, or done something. But shock froze me where I stood as the two advanced on each other; Sebastian, my attacker, empty-handed, and Megan, a freak who obviously had a grudge against Sebastian, with a dagger. This couldn’t end well.

Strangely though, despite the fact he didn’t have a weapon, I was betting on Sebastian winning. I mean, Megan had the knife, by Sebastian had muscles – he would probably overpower her easily.

They were in reaching distance now, but still, neither of them attacked.

Until, in a lightning fast movement, Sebastian grabbed the blade. I heard some kind of crackling noise, like electricity, and he winced, gritting his teeth, before bending the blade into a right angle.

My eyes widened. Megan still didn’t move.

Suddenly, Sebastian flew backwards as if he were a ball hit by a baseball bat. He slammed into the side of a car, leaving a massive dent, but he got up without even stumbling.

I looked around for someone to help, but we were alone in the parking lot.

“Stop it!” I yelled, stepping forward again. I really couldn’t believe my eyes, but it didn’t feel like a dream and my hallucinations were restricted to being inside my head and body, not outside of it.

I felt something hit me like a wall and push me back, as Megan yelled at me to stay back. I did as she said, suddenly terrified as I realised there was something supernatural going on here – something horribly, incredibly inhuman.

Sebastian was now in front of Megan, though I hadn’t seen him move, and he grabbed her neck, lifting her off the ground.

“Holy crap!” I shouted, as I ran forward, forgetting my fear. I yanked on Sebastian’s shoulder before realising he was making a noise somewhere between a snarl and a growl, deep in his throat.

He turned to me and I slammed a hand over my mouth to stop my scream as I took in the sight. Red eyes, fangs, black bruise-like patches surrounding his eyes... Vampire. In fact, a breed of vampire I recognised – he was my vampire, the type from my dissociative hallucinations.

Now that I thought about it, when I become someone else, it was sometimes a male who I knew had curly hair; sometimes it was a woman with long black curls. They both were vampires, exactly the same as the one before me.

Only he was standing in front of me. Real. As in, not in my head.

My eyes went back to Megan, who was losing colour as she clawed at the vampire’s hand. The hand had grown long, pointed nails that went from red under the nail bed to black at the tip.

Sebastian dropped the girl and took a step towards me, before another invisible force threw him sideways. He got up again quickly, only this time in a crouched position. He only held the position for a second before his form blurred and he disappeared.

Only then did I realise I was hyperventilating. I moved my hand from my mouth to my chest as I tried to stop my stomach from revolting and to get enough air into my lungs.

The girl – Megan, approached me, suddenly calm: “It’s okay, just breathe.”

“Are you nuts?” I screamed. Just breathe? It’s okay? I wanted to scream at her, tell her every reason why it wasn’t ‘okay’, but didn’t think I had the air for it. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small green glass bottle that was half full of a dark, thick liquid.

“Drink this.”

I tried to protest, but as soon as I opened my mouth she upended the suddenly uncorked bottle’s contents into my mouth and I had no choice but to swallow.

Before I could demand to know what it was, the world became a haze.

Chapter 3

I woke with a start, snatched from sleep, though I didn’t remember going to bed.

Opening my eyes, I scanned my surroundings, recognising my room immediately.

How in the hell did I get here?

The last thing I remembered was… was skipping detention. Now it was dark and I was in my bed.

Then again, it might still be light outside; it was hard to tell with the heavy, dark red black-out curtains.

But even in the dark I knew it was my room. It had my black mosquito net (though I usually left it tucked behind the head board), my black satin sheets and dark red duvet; three walls painted black, one red; thick, fluffy, black carpet you could lose a key, earrings, coins, and anything else relatively small in. My dark wooden desk was beside the door, my laptop sitting in the corner while an art pad and supplies and a red lamp took up the rest of the desk space. Above the desk on the wall was a large cork board. My wardrobe was on the next wall, beside my dresser that stood four feet tall next to my wall length mirror. Against the wall opposite my bedroom door was my bed. Further along was the massive window that was split in half so one side could slide across and leave a gaping hole in the wall. The fourth wall had a small book shelf - that held more trinkets than books - and the door to my personal bathroom.

Emily kept complaining that I was spoiled, but all I had to do was suck up to Dylan and he took my side. That was how I had a weekly allowance of one hundred dollars deposited into my bank account.

Most of the money came from both Dylan’s and Emily’s inheritances from their parents, which was a hell of a lot of money, and both their jobs paid really well too.

Despite the two of them trying to preach to me about God every few weeks, I reckoned I had it pretty good.

I sat up, rubbing my eyes, aware that I was probably smudging eyeliner. I was still in the clothes I’d worn to school, though I had no idea how I’d gotten from there to here.

But at that moment I decided it didn’t matter. I hated the unclean feeling of sleeping in clothes, so after checking the time I grabbed my pyjamas and jumped in the shower before going downstairs.

It turned out to be only seven, and by the time I got downstairs it was almost dinner time. Emily was standing over the stove with Dylan’s arms around her waist.

“Hey Celeste, are you feeling better? You looked terrible when you came home,” Dylan commented when he noticed me.

“Um, yeah, much better… What time did I get home?”

Emily looked over at me with a frown, “you came home half way through lunch; you looked horribly pale – anyone would have thought you’d seen a ghost!”

I tried to laugh believably. “Knowing me, I probably thought I had. But I feel fine now. Just a little… disoriented.”

With a huge chunk of time missing, I thought bitterly.

After dinner was served up, I took my plate up to my room, claiming I had homework to do.

Neither of them tried to stop me. I’d long since stopped eating with them at the table because it led to arguments over saying grace.

Once I was in my room and my door was locked, I powered up my lap top so I could turn on my music. I had thought about buying a stereo and CDs a few months ago, but then I found a stereo labelled ‘Celeste’s birthday present’ in Emily’s wardrobe. Typical really, that she would buy it months and months before.

Tonight, dinner was roast beef, boiled carrots, asparagus with hollandaise sauce, and… beetroot. Emily had never been good at matching foods. Normally she would just go through the cupboards until she found four or five things she felt like and cooked them up.

I think the worst combination had been mini pizza, peppered steak, corn on the cob and spinach. Of course, some of those went together, but I hated corn, spinach, and peppered steak.

I pulled out my art pad and looked at my last drawing. It was of a pile of bodies in the light of a sunset, with one surviving figure on top, medieval sword held point down as if to skewer the body it stood on. It wasn’t high in detail, but I still thought it was pretty good and I liked the effect of the whole thing – apart from the blood – being shaded in pencil.

The drawing before it was of a shadowy figure standing in a corner. The only details were fangs poking out from between smiling lips.

I sighed. Another night spent alone in my room. Emily was right to complain about my habits. Hell, sometimes I complained about my habits. Since Jacky died, I’d only talked to the plush toy he had given me; no one else was interested in being friends with me. I understood that not all of the people in town were actually nasty or hated me, but those that weren’t still stayed away out of fear of joining my social status – or fear of whatever was wrong with me.

I shook my head, pushing those thoughts away as I turned to a blank page to draw something new. I sat there for a while, occasionally taking mouthfuls of dinner, but my mind was blank and I had no interest in drawing anything.

Something was wrong with me – something more than usual. Apart from the delusions, having unusual tastes in fashion and being adopted, I was pretty normal. But now, I wondered if there was something more. Normal people didn’t lose large chunks of time and wake up somewhere they weren’t.

***

Damn it.

I circled the car park a third time, pointlessly hoping that I would spot a free park. I wasn’t even late getting here! There was still at least half an hour to the bell.

Grumbling to myself, I turned out onto the road and searched the streets instead. I finally found two parks, either side of the road. I chose the one on my right, it being closer to the school, if only by a couple metres.

Today I had detention and would likely get two more added to the list, for a) not doing my homework again, and b) skipping my first detention. Instead of writing lines, I was bound to end up on rubbish duty. I cursed to myself, working as many swear words as I could into sentences about the teachers and rules at the school. Within a week there was bound to be a phone call to alert Emily and Dylan to the fact that I was being problematic. Oh well, nothing new there. At least I could say it was better than getting in fights. At least I wasn’t suspended… again.

Once again, I didn’t bother to lock my car; around here, no one cared. In town it was another story, because that was where everyone always was, including the ones who were desperate for money to fuel a drug addiction.

The clouds of yesterday had turned to hail today. Still not my kind of day; yesterday had been perfect. I shuddered at the thought of the previous day. I still didn’t remember driving home from school or what I’d done in the hours I’d lost, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a new development on whatever it was I had that made me delusional. I didn’t want to be losing time. What if next time I woke up weeks, or even months later? Then again, I’d Googled it and all that had come up was DID, which I suppose could make sense – if I actually fit the symptoms. But that had been ruled out during the years I’d been in counselling.

I was carrying my bag by hand while I tried to unzip a small pocket to put my keys in, because the pair of jeans I was wearing only had butt pockets, and I didn’t feel like sitting on my keys all day. My cell phone lived in that bag pocket too, barely used. The only thing I kept with me was my Ipod shuffle, which lived in my bra today – though I’d have to put it away if I didn’t hurry up and get out of this hail.

Just as I was zipping up the pocket I collided with someone. My bag slipped out of my hand and I gritted my teeth, bending down to pick it up without looking at whoever it was. It was probably someone on their way to school, meaning it was someone I didn’t want contact with.

But I couldn’t help a glance at them as I stood back up, and then I was frozen where I stood, unable to tear my eyes away from an electrical violet gaze. Recognition flooded me, but I couldn’t place the face to a name or a memory. He was dressed fully in black: black jeans, hoody, black skate shoes – even his hair was black, spring curls, telling me he hadn’t been in the hail very long. I also noticed a necklace with an ankh, the Egyptian sign for immortality, in something that looked like real silver.

“Careful – you don’t want to walk into the wrong person,” he warned, but his tone was playful and he was smiling at me.

I realised he’d spoken to break the silence; I’d been staring at him for almost a minute. I still couldn’t place him, so I concluded I couldn’t possibly know him, despite the feeling that said otherwise.

As I looked at him though, I recognised something else; the compulsion to run, to get away from him.

“I think I can take care of myself,” I snapped, swinging my bag onto one shoulder, but still unable to break his gaze.

It occurred to me that had anyone else walked into me I would have told them where to shove it and stalked off. I would have done this no matter how attractive they were, but especially to his type, the type that screamed ‘bad boy’. Somehow though, he was different. I couldn’t walk away.

“Oh? Would you like to test that theory?” he asked, grinning at me now.

Now I was anxious. It sounded to me that he was flirting – obviously, he wanted something, probably sex – but I couldn’t do a god damn thing. I was transfixed.

I cleared my throat. “Sorry, but I’ve got to get to school.”

Boy did I need a kick up the arse. I would have never thought I’d be saying that in a million years.

“Wouldn’t you rather come with me?” he asked, flashing a grin.

Turning people away, now I was in my area of expertise. I regained my usual snarky attitude and raised an eyebrow. “With you? Someone I just met? I don’t think so. I don’t even know your name.”

“And how is knowing my name supposed to change your mind? For all it matters to you, I could have no name.”

True, true; this guy was good at comebacks. This would be entertaining banter. “And yet I still don’t know who you are. My mother taught me well not to go anywhere with strangers.”

“Interesting that you know not to go anywhere with strangers, but are still willing to talk to them,” he replied.

“Oh, wise guy, huh? I’ll have you know that I am perfectly capable of choosing who I do and do not wish to speak with.”

He laughed, and the sound crept inside my head, blocking out the hail hitting the pavement, until it was all I could hear. “But not who you do or do not go with?”

Damn you! I cursed in my mind as the smile crept across my lips.

It was a tempting thought really; I would do almost anything to avoid going to class, but my initial reaction to this guy kept me cautious. There was still that vague urge to run, though now it was buried under… charm.

“Do excuse me, but I’m going to be late for class,” I lied sweetly, giving him an obviously fake grin and stepping around him.

“Sebastian,” he called after me.

I stopped. Not because he had spoken, but rather because that name made ice slither through me, freezing me where I was, though I had no idea why.

“Sorry?” I asked, turning back to face him.

“My name is Sebastian.”

I should have been unnerved by his curious expression, like he half knew how I would react to his name.

“Good for you. Bu-bye now,” I waved with my fingers before turning away, repressing an unexplainable shiver – or maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was now totally drenched. There was something about this guy that was… wrong.

A hand caught mine and tugged, turning me back around. “I don’t take no for an answer.”

Confident. Hot. Persistent. Sexy. Maybe he was my kind of guy after all.

“Well this time you’re gonna have to,” I said through clenched teeth. If he didn’t back off soon then I was going to scream as loud as my lungs allowed.

His hand tightened around mine, reminding me he had a hold of me so I couldn’t run. This was bad, very bad.

“All I’m asking for is a little bit of your time. Don’t worry, you can trust me, it’ll be fine,” he insisted, his voice sliding inside my mind and making me shiver.

I sighed, playing it cool, and shrugged. “Fine, whatever. It’s better than going to class.”

He grinned triumphantly, his teeth white and perfect, as he towed me to the side of the road and stopped by a black motorbike. His hair was now plastered to his head, just like mine, but I wished it wasn’t – I liked the curls.

“Na-uh, I know better than that. If we’re going anywhere, it’s on foot, and it’s not into a dark secluded house or alley,” I protested.

He continued to smile. “Smart girl.”

“I’ve seen enough movies to know how these things work,” I crossed my arms, pretending I was calm. Inside, I was going mad, wondering what the hell had gotten into me. I wasn’t exactly one to follow the rules, but this was seriously stupid. This guy was a random off the street! My initial reaction should have sent me running, screaming bloody murder.

Instead, I felt a compulsion now not to run, but to follow.

The latest instalment in TEARAWAY Maverick LACEE PILGRIM's mysterious novel...

 

After dumping my bag in my car, we’d darted from one shelter to another. I'd paused so I could catch my breath, during which point my unease suddenly surged as he picked a few pieces of ice from my hair.

“So, you know my name – it’s only fair you tell me yours,” he said casually, while I finished the process of shaking off the ice. Strangely enough, he had none on him.

Without looking at him, I answered casually: “Sarah.” It was part true; Sarah was my middle name and would have been my first if my birth mother hadn’t instructed them to name me Celeste.

“You liar,” he laughed.

I raised an eyebrow. “And how would you know?”

“Your I.D. card was on your bag, Miss Celeste Habiling,” he grinned down at me. He was a head taller than me, and damn he was hot. No matter what thoughts rushed through my mind, I couldn’t help but admire his looks.

“Then why’d you ask?” As I said this, a shudder ran through me. The rain had soaked straight through my thin jacket, my long sleeves, and my jeans, and now the cold was beginning to seep into my bones.

“Are you cold?” Before I could even form a response in my mind he was pulling his hoody over his head and had handed it to me. “And because it would be weird if I started calling you by name without you having told me.”

“I can’t wear this! You’ll get cold!” And because it was incredibly awkward.

He laughed. “I spent a long time in Russia – believe me, this is nothing. Have you ever been there?” His tone was strange; like he wasn’t asking casually, but as though he already knew the answer and wondered if I knew too.

“Actually, I was born there.” I saw no point in lying about that.

“Really?” Somehow, I felt like it was feigned surprise. “You don’t have an accent.”

I shrugged. “Moved here a month or so later. Never had a chance to pick it up.”

My unease was slipping away like water. Sebastian was far too easy to talk to – though I still made sure to keep my eyes averted, weary about being trapped again. He leaned back against the wall, content to stay under the overhanging that once sheltered a shop entrance but now marked an abandoned door.

“Are you going to put that on?” he asked, looking pointedly at the sweatshirt still in my hands. The only reason I then slipped it over my head was to avoid being rude, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t instantly relieved. It was warm and the rain hadn’t soaked all the way through the thick warm material. It was way too big for me, but I didn’t mind one bit.

He continued: “So your parents were Russian?” Again, it sounded like he already knew the answer and wanted to know if I did too, but I decided it must just be how he spoke, because I wasn’t suspicious enough of him now to think anything else.

“I wouldn’t know. They’re dead; I was adopted.” Of course, I had no idea who my father was or whether he lived or not, but he hadn’t gone looking for me or my mother, so he was at least dead to me.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said.

I laughed; I couldn’t help myself. “You know, I never understood why people always say that – it happened years ago, it’s something I’ve just accepted.”

He shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t adopted.”

Fair enough.

“What about you?” I asked him, prompted again about his accent. I could only detect it in some sentences, and very weakly, but I was sure it was there.

He blinked, seeming surprised. “What?”

“Where were you born? I’m sure I can hear an accent,” I explained.

A shadow seemed to cross his face, like a troubling thought, but then it was gone and I had to wonder if I’d imagined it. He regarded me for a moment, as if wondering what to tell me and finally decided to say: “I was born in England. I was only there for a small part of my life though, and I’ve moved a lot since then; I’ve been almost everywhere.”

“Why do you travel?” I asked, curious and anxious to quell the sudden, irrational thought that he was a killer on the run.

He laughed suddenly, and then shook his head quickly. “Sorry – um, I like to be on the move; settling down just isn’t my thing.”

The fact that I was talking to a random guy off the street made my mind reel and my heart race – but not with fear, rather with the anxiety of someone with a crush.

I now had no doubt that I had definitely lost my mind. First, hours of time disappear from my memory – and now here I was, hanging out with a complete stranger, who is not only taller but certainly stronger than me, on the side of the street in a hail storm.

I nodded, “Cool.” Conversation had never run smoothly for me, and now I was at a loss for what to say; back when I’d hung out with Jacky, we had had an easy, comfortable silence most of the time, which hadn’t helped my social skills any.

Beginning to panic at the sudden silence dragging on as Sebastian looked at me, I wracked my brain for something witty to say. Anything.

When an idea hit me, I met his gaze – and the idea vanished. Violet. I couldn’t get over his eyes; perhaps they were contacts. It didn’t matter, because his gaze ensnared me, and I stared at him dumbly.

Slowly, he began to smile and then took a step towards me, like this was what he had been waiting for.

Outright panic kicked my mind into gear and I forced my eyes to the ground. “Are you sure you aren’t cold?” I managed to mumble.

He rocked back on his feet and then took a diagonal step backwards to lean against the wall, watching me intently, curiously. I allowed myself to look at him as a whole, but was now extremely cautious not to meet his eyes.

My heart had been pounding so loudly it had been all I could hear, but now it began to slow. With it, my fear faded, evaporating into a calm numbness that made me want to collapse against the wall and relax.

It wasn’t until Sebastian’s hands were firmly holding my arms that I realised I’d been toppling forward. I blinked several times after he’d steadied me, and then realised he was still gripping my arms.

“Sorry,” I said quietly, taking a large step back so he’d release me. “Dizzy spell…”

He smiled slightly. “It’s fine. Perhaps you’d better sit down – do you know any cafés nearby?”

“Actually, I think I’d better leave. I should probably go home and sleep – I’m probably coming down with something,” I said, suddenly anxious again. I was finally unnerved. I wasn’t one to back down, but I was sure as hell going to make an exception here.

“But it only just stopped raining,” he argued.

I was puzzled for all of five seconds before I realised he was right – the hail and rain had completely stopped, somehow without my noticing.

“Well… I should probably still go home – it’ll make it easier to lie to my parents when the school rings.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Are you inviting me over?”

What an assuming, cocky little brat!

“I don’t think so! It was nice talking and all, but I’m leaving now.” As I turned, I smiled slightly and relaxed, falling back into my usual behaviour. The whole time I had been around him my mind had fuzzed over, but now I was firmly in control of my thoughts and walked away confidently.

He was suddenly in front of me.

“Why don’t you come back to my place? It’s not too far and you’ll be able to sit down…” he suggested casually.

I stepped around him. “I said I was leaving.”

He turned and walked beside me and I cast a sideways glance at him. He looked puzzled, confused, as if I was the first person to turn him away. Maybe I was.

He grabbed my arm, not too roughly, and spun me to face him. I had to stop and looked at him expectantly, but still careful to avoid meeting his eyes.

“Celeste? Look at me.”

I rolled my eyes. “I am. What do you want?”

He ran his tongue over his lips and the hand holding my upper arm twitched slightly. “Really look at me – meet my gaze.”

I did so without thinking and then blinked, but it was too late and I forgot what I’d been intending to do.

The left side of his lips curved up in amusement. “Better. Now, don’t you want to spend some time with me? My place is quite comfortable – and so much better than being alone in your room or stuck in a classroom.” His words were slow, carefully said, and his tone was somewhat hopeful. He made a strong argument.

“…Okay… I suppose – why not?” I replied slowly.

He released my arm and took a step back. “Great. Let’s go back to my bike.”

I shrugged and we began to backtrack to the area where I’d parked. The roads were smooth and old, with faded paint, and the grass by the footpath was half dead, matching the look of the old buildings. It was a rundown part of town, not very often visited, and I found myself suddenly wondering why I’d walked here, of all places, with a stranger.

Although it had taken a fair amount of time to get to where we had been, it only took a few minutes to walk back, out in the open without the hail or rain to stop us. We reached Sebastian’s motorbike and he handed me the one and only helmet, which was sitting on the ground beside the front wheel.

I raised an eyebrow. “What about you?”

“I ride without a helmet heaps – don’t even need it, but it’s a comfort to others and keeps the cops off my back,” he shrugged like it was nothing.

I crossed my arms, the black helmet hanging from my fingers by the chin strap. “Do you even have a full licence?”

He laughed. “I can drive every vehicle in existence, no problem.”

This time I gave a false laugh, but cut off sharply. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“Yes.”

“Are you lying?”

He grinned. “Do you really want to know?”

I hesitated, and then decided I really didn’t. I’d never been on a motorbike before and was secretly terrified out of my mind and couldn’t stop my thoughts chanting, he’s going to kill you. Yet I still put the helmet on and climbed on the back.

He took off with lightning speed and I fought not to scream, clinging to his waist for dear life.

Don’t think about his abs, I begged myself when I noticed the firm flesh beneath my hands. It wasn’t rock solid, but it was more than I’d ever felt before.

He drove like a maniac. The motorbike roared past buildings and cars alike, swerving so close to the ground on corners I wanted to scream, but instead held on tighter. I had no idea how long he drove for, but it felt like forever as we illegally swerved passed cars and sped through red lights. The wind pulled at the ends of my hair and went straight through my wet clothes, despite Sebastian’s sweatshirt.

When he finally stopped outside an old four-storey apartment building, I didn’t move.

“Celeste?”

I took a deep breath and willed myself to move. I released my death grip around his waist and shakily climbed off. I had just taken off the helmet when he stood next to me, and he took it and put it on the ground.

He was grinning like mad. “Enjoy yourself?”

“What, you couldn’t tell?” I said dryly.

He laughed but didn’t say anything and turned instead to the building in front of us. It was made of bricks and two or three of the upper windows were smashed. The path leading to the front door was overgrown, as were the rest of the gardens.

I didn’t think I’d ever been to this part of town and glanced nervously back down the long road we’d come from before following Sebastian. I’d really stuck my foot in it this time – the only way I could get home was by getting back on the bike with him.

He glanced back over his shoulder at me. “What? Lost your nerve?”

Yes. I wished I’d say it, but I was foolishly stubborn and had never backed down from fear. Besides, I could take care of myself. “Not at all, just admiring the view,” I said sarcastically, jogging to catch up with him. We went inside and my heart instantly sunk lower.

The interior was worse than the exterior; the white paint (that looked grey) on the walls was peeling in some places and moulding in others, while the linoleum floor was cracked and curling. I was sure there was a dip to the roof, like it was bowing under the weight of whatever was above, and the flickering fluorescent lights certainly didn’t help the feeling of foreboding that had settled like a rock in my stomach.

There was no receptionist or even a reception desk – in fact, there was no furniture at all. The place was empty.

“And you’re staying here?” I asked, trying not to sound terrified and knowing I should stop right where I was and run for it. But it was like I didn’t have a choice – my own brain would think me a coward if I backed out now.

“Yes it is – and I know what you’re thinking. Sorry it’s so… creepy; it’s actually a horror movie set, but I know the owner and he lets friends rent the rooms.”

While terror turned my mind to mush, auto-pilot took over and I continued to follow him, through a swinging door, up six flights of stairs – two for each floor – through another swinging door, and into a hallway. The hallway was in the same state as the foyer, only worse, with holes in the walls the size of fists and bodies, spraypaint tagging the walls and at one point a huge, reddish stain that held my horrified gaze as I passed. We passed a dozen old green doors until Sebastian stopped and opened one – without unlocking it – and walked inside. He paused at the door, gesturing for me to pass. I walked inside numbly, still on autopilot.

My mind raced. These could be my last few thoughts, my last breaths. Sebastian could be anyone, could be anything; a rapist, a murderer, a kidnapper…

 

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