My first vivid memory that will be forever burned into me was being pulled away from my mother. If I had to label her expression during that dramatic moment, it would be that of relief. I screamed, cried, and reached for her with my tiny hands. She had no tears…no sadness…no regrets. Even at the early age of four, I understood that I was different, I was some kind of abnormality, I didn’t fit in, and that’s why I was here.
Sunrise Acres held those who loomed in the darkness and on the borders of society. Too humane to eliminate us, they kept us in large sterile buildings titled with names that were much brighter with promises of good things rather than the truth of our existence.
I had a happy face on my door. I hated it. I didn’t want to be happy because I was satisfied with who I was. I’m sixteen now, and I had to get out of this world.
“April Snow,” said the new night caretaker with a fake smile. I wondered if she had to take classes on how to be phony. “You have a very unique name.” She handed me my evening pills I secretly flushed down the toilet every night. You’d think the toilet wouldn’t get as plugged up with all that poison in it to clear it out.
“Why?” I asked. “What’s so special about the name April—it’s a month.”
“True, but put it with Snow and you’ve got April Snow.” She smiled and I faked swallowed the pills.
“So,” I said nearly spitting them out from their hiding place in my mouth and towards her after I showed her my fake empty mouth.
“Well, we usually don’t get snow in the month of April, and when we do, I think it’s kind of contrasting. Almost like the seasons are battling it out to see how long winter can hang on or if spring is strong enough to overcome it.” This chick had put too much thought into people’s names or she’s been dipping into the good meds. “Don’t you think?” She bobbed her head making her little ringlet curls bounce in agreement.
I smiled and nodded my head taking amusement in her. I had to get these awful pills out of my mouth, they were turning bitter.
She left, and I ran to the bathroom. Suddenly, a scream broke the silence and cut through the gentle music that played every night before we went to bed. The music, I guessed, was supposed to be a lullaby, but it wasn’t working on the girl two doors down and across the hall from me.
I went to my door to see the staff flocked around her doorway. She screamed and growled in almost a chanting rhythm. I listened too, and then closed my eyes. If she was speaking words, only she could understand them. She repeated the same tone over and over as the staff tried to calm her.
I didn’t know the girl yet, as she only arrived two days ago, and this was the first noise I heard come from her room. She had been quiet since she came, and now all of a sudden she was going crazy. It could be bad meds or lack of meds on her part, but suddenly a realization washed over me. She wasn’t crazy; she was chanting darkness to come.
I’ve only had two encounters with what I called the darkness—once when I still lived with my mom, and the other at my first foster home. It always came at night when I was in bed, and hovered over me like a blanket with red eyes. It was like a magnet to me, and I couldn’t resist wanting to know what it was at the same time I wanted to run.
“No!” The girl finally cried out. “You don’t understand it’s in 23! It’s in 23!”
The girl’s whimpering faded followed by an eerie silence. She was right. The darkness had come, and it was with me in my room, room 23.
I had to get out of here. I was planning to escape anyway, but now with the darkness invited, I had to escape now.
“You are the only one I’ll ever love.” Ezra’s lips brushed mine making them tickle as a shiver ran down my spine. “I’ll never let you go.” Her indigo eyes sparkled like the night sky.
“I don’t want you to go,” I said.
Ezra was beautiful in her lightness and darkness that reminded me of a forest at midday. Sunlight cut through the trees splattering pools of light here and there among the deep shadows that were never touched by light. Ezra was like that. Her dark brown hair, deep blue eyes that almost appeared black, and her skin as pale as moonlight made her appearance striking. There were definite lines between shadow and light, not only in her appearance, but her soul too.
“You should come with me to the Shadowlands, lover.” Playfully, she ran her finger across my lips. “We can be together forever there, and,” Ezra leaned back letting her gauzy gown fall from her shoulder, “you know what to do to get here.”
Her smooth skin looked as soft as velvet, and tempted me to touch her. I ran my fingertips across her collarbone, and then down her shoulder causing her gown to fall off the rest of the way. I pressed myself to her cool body. Ezra’s eyes twinkled like I truly gazed into the night sky that held enchanting mysteries of untold stories. I did want to be with her. I needed to be with her, and I was going to be with her. Ezra needed me as well, and I wasn’t going to let her down.
“Seth!” An unwelcomed voice stabbed at my ears.
I ignored it.
“Seth, hey…get up sleepyhead,” said another voice that was musical and female.
I knew who the voices belonged to, and I wasn’t about to listen to them.
“I said, Seth! Get up now or I’m coming in after you and your dead girlfriend!” The female voice warned.
Suddenly, a wave of ice flashed between Ezra and me. Her image was gone, and I was soaking wet.
“Why do you let her in like that?” Nessa asked bending down in front of me. Her white-blonde hair was pulled back letting only a few strands fall around her round face. “If anything she should leave you alone in this world and get on with the world she’s in. She shouldn’t try to draw you in like she’s some enchantress, some seductress…some…What’s the word I’m looking for?” She turned to Malachi, my other partner in crime.
“I would call her a nymph or pixie. They are nasty little creatures that appear harmless and cute until they sink their teeth into ya.” Malachi gazed down at me with his gold eyes. “In fact I can tell you through personal experience…”
“Shut-up, he’s got the point.” Nessa play slugged him a little too hard in the stomach. “And we don’t need to hear about your past experiences.”
Nessa folded her arms across her chest as Malachi, who was a head taller than her, straightened and shook his head at her.
I chuckled, which made Nessa’s freckled tanned skin redden.
“I’m serious,” she stomped her foot.
I jumped up and patted Nessa on the head like you would a pet. She glared at me.
“Come on, we need to be moving anyhow.” I pulled my hood over my head, and jumped down the crumbling rock cliff in two strides.
Malachi followed, and we had to wait for Nessa.
“You know my legs aren’t as long as yours and my ankle still hurts from the last cliff wall we scaled up.” She stood in front of us with her hood over her head and a few white strands curled over the edge like cobwebs.
“Do you want me to carry you?” I asked seriously.
“No, I want you to at least give me a head start until I’m better.”
A rumble of thunder erupted from the deep purple clouds that rolled lazily over our heads.
“Come on,” Malachi gazed up at them. “The Charedlands are not a place for gathering and visiting. They are the nomad’s lands.”
We were in a dangerous place, not only physically, but for me, mentally. I was what you’d call haunted. Ezra had moved to another world not meant for the living, and she wanted me to join her. I would give anything to bring her back, but the only thing is, there isn’t enough to give to bring someone back from the Shadowlands. There is no one to accept payments or favors to bring someone back from there. There is only one entrance, and once in, you never come out.
Each minute, hour, day that went by, pushed me farther from her. I could join her, but something inside of me was guiding me away from her. I shoved back, not giving in, but I was growing tired of the battle.
No one expected me to run, but I did. I never caused any trouble at Sunrise Acres, and was always the one that helped the staff, or visited with the staff, and overall, appeared like a normal teen. They trusted me, and that trust was my ticket out of here.
I had earned garbage duty which meant I got to go outside.
It was November, and the temperature reflected the time of year. At least I had a coat, but my shoes were flip flops—the only kind of shoes we had beside our slippers which stayed in our rooms. I would have to make due and find something else later.
Most duties were supervised, and yes, someone was supposed to come to the dumpsters with me. But I had earned respect, and I had always come back before, except for this time.
The paddle lock was supposed to be locked, but never was and hung loosely on a chain like a necklace. I slipped out and ran into the timber.
Sunrise Acres was surrounded and bordered a large park. Most of the park was left to Mother Nature to take care of, while only a small portion beside the lake was maintained for camping or picnicking. But at this time of year, the park would be void of any campers, and the perfect place to make my run.
I knew they would look for me, and probably have not only search dogs, but the police as well. I had to move quickly and find better transportation than my feet—I needed to get a ride.
Across from the park was an old truck stop. I could easily get ride there, at least that was my plan.
I didn’t follow any path, but could see the lights from the truck stop glowing through the barren tree branches. I had abandoned my flip flops when I left, throwing them in the opposite way that I went. Hopefully, that would give me some time.
The timber consisted of gullies and small creeks. My feet were frozen, and stung with coldness and scrapes. I just hoped someone would give me a ride.
“No!” A voice cut through the darkness. “I didn’t take any! I-I prommmise.”
I stopped and stood barefoot in a tiny leaf-lined creek. The leaves were slimy under my feet as I looked all around me to see who the voice belonged to.
“I don’t believe you, and you know what I have to do.” Another voice, male replied to the first.
I held my breath as I slowly climbed u the embankment on my stomach. In a stretch of land between the truck stop and the park, was a thick wooded area where a lot of the garbage along the road seemed to end up. It was the buffer between the two areas, and by the looks of the two darkened figures, the large one holding the other by the neck—a murder scene.
I hugged the ground as I watched with unblinking eyes. The taller man held the other up over his head by the neck until his body withered. I held in the scream I wanted to expel, and hoped whoever this was, left without noticing me.
The man brushed his hand together as if he was removing cookie crumbs from them. He looked at the ground and kicked the area with his feet as if covering up any evidence. But what evidence was there? He had just sucked the life out of the guy. Had I accidently consumed one of my nightly pills? Things like this don’t happen. Guns, knives and other weapons would be believable, but simply turning someone into what looked like bits of tissue paper, didn’t happen.
I sunk closer to the ground and closed my eyes wishing the scene away. Hopefully, the man would leave none the wiser that I had witnessed the murder, or I guessed it was a murder, he had committed.
Suddenly, the sound of footsteps came up the other side of the embankment. They were heavy, and shook the ground under me. Before I could think about jolting into the darkness, a hand grabbed my thin shirt and turned me over. I would had screamed, but the air wouldn’t leave my lungs as I stared into gleaming eyes that reflected what light penetrated through the trees from the truck stop.
Dunelock was one of the largest cities in Iethia. Though safer than the Wildlands or Chardlands, it still had its dangerous areas. Malachi, Nessa and I wound our way through Flametree Street that twisted and turned in gentle curves like a continuous S. It also went uphill following the gentle incline of the landscape. The buildings of this area were of a bygone era. Built out of glintstone, they caught the daylight and held it in their tiny flecks of silver embedded in the irregular shaped stones mortared together. Their delicate glow made all the buildings look freckled with light. Weeping trees dotting the skinny road, and orilion orbs lit up each door that had a plaque with a number engraved on it.
“Why didn’t we just go up a block and then cut over so we didn’t have to climb up this never ending hill?” Nessa huffed behind us.
“Because they just had riots in that area, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get caught up in that mess.”
Nessa limped along behind us pushing through the pain of her swollen ankle. I felt bad for her and offered to carry her up this steep hill, but she declined in her strong willed way. Nessa was proud and since we left Light City, she has done nothing but try to prove herself. Malachi, of course challenged her the whole way.
“Two more houses and we’re there,” I said trying to encourage her.
She only looked at me with her bright green eyes.
The house we stopped at was located at the top of Flametree Street. On the north side was a tall iron fence that partitioned the area from the other streets. A brick path led to the brightly painted red door that was surrounded by moonflowers. Their pungent, sweet, and nearly intoxicating smell emitting from the bell-shaped white blooms filled the air welcoming us.
“Do you think your uncle has enough of those stinking flowers? They about knock you over from just their smell and it looks like they are trying to take over the sidewalk.” Malachi scowled at the elegant flowers.
“They’re pretty and they smell a lot better than you.” Nessa crossed her arms and glared at Malachi.
“Well excuse me for not being able to take a bath the last three days. You know, you don’t smell very pretty either.”
Before I could knock, the door swung open. “You two are fighting like spoiled children. Stop it before I get a complaint from the neighbors,” said a tired looking man with grey-brown hair and nearly black eyes.
“It’s good to see you, uncle,” I said cheerfully.
He stepped aside with a nod. “Please come in.”
My uncle’s house looked like the lady who was here before, still lived here. The walls were painted in a mauve color, and some of the furniture she sold to him was covered in a flower designed coverings. About the only thing he brought when he moved here two years ago were his maps, books and journals he kept. They were neatly put on the shelves that lined the walls. Nothing about this home reflected who he once was.
“Do you like it here, Uncle Hes?” I asked as he shut the door behind us.
“No, but I’m getting used to it.” His stature was short, only an inch or two taller than Nessa, but he could outwit a giant if he had to. “I’m glad to see you made it here so quickly and…your mother…” He gazed at me from under his bushy eyebrows.
“She of course didn’t approve of me coming here,” I said in a cool tone.
Uncle Hes let out a sigh as he motioned for us to sit on the puffy couch covered with over-stuffed silk pillows. I almost expected to see a tea set sitting on the table. “I knew she wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t be calling you here if it wasn’t important.” He extended his gaze to Nessa and Malachi. “These two squabblers are your capable help?” He then looked at me with questioning eyes.
I smiled at him as from the corner of my eye I could see Nessa trying to contain a comment to my uncle’s blunt question.
“Only the best,” I replied with confidence.
“Very well, time’s ticking. Let’s get started.”
Uncle Hes rolled out a map with ink so fresh, it had been smeared from rolling it up before it complete dried. Unusual for my uncle to treat a map he was working on like that.
“There are only two known portals in Iethia.” My uncle looked up from his map and at us. “But there is a third—forgotten in the Angel-Demon Wars. It was used by angels as their escape route when things started to turn on them. It was supposed to have been sealed, and right before I…retired,” he said with a regretful glint in his eye. “I found out it had been used, not only once, but several times. I think that’s where they are taking it.” He tapped his finger on a small drawing of a circular door part way open and light coming out.
“Is that what it really looks like—the door that the angels used?” Nessa asked as my uncle’s face reddened.
“I said bring with you capable monsters, not incompetent ones!” His dark eyes shot to me. “This isn’t a school field trip.” He hissed.
“They are loyal and smart. I’ve known them a long time and they understand…my strange family’s business.” I gazed steadily at my uncle, almost challenging him.
He rolled up the map and squared his shoulders. “You have a lot of my blood in you, and that’s why I trust you to find out who is transporting, who the distributor is, and what their plans are when they turn millions of humans into monsters.”
“Being a monster isn’t all that bad,” Malachi said as he leaned back and grinned at my uncle. “It might be kind of nice that the humans would cross over and experience a little monsterism.” He meant to be funny, but Uncle Hes didn’t find anywhere near that.
I snickered, which only angered my already angered uncle.
“You’ve never seen humans transformed into monsters. They won’t be like us. It’s unnatural for anything to change into something it was never intended to be.” Suddenly, his words softened and he looked at the floor. It was almost like he was a volcano ready to explode, then, suddenly stopped as if something had entered his thoughts.
“Uncle,” I said softly as his eyes darted to me.
“You can’t stay here long,” he said. “I’ve already inflicted suspicion on whoever comes into my home. You will leave before the sun comes up.”