OblivionJennifer L. Armentrout
Faster than any human eye could track, I moved soundlessly among the trees in my true form, racing over the thick grass and the dewy, moss-covered rocks. I was nothing more than a blur of light, speeding along the tree line. Being an alien from a planet thirteen billion light years away was pretty much made of awesome.
I easily passed one of those damn energy efficient cars that was coasting up the main road past my house.
How in the hell was that thing pulling a U-Haul trailer?
Not like that was important.
I slowed down and slipped into my human form, keeping to the thick shadows cast by the oak trees as the car went by the empty house at the start of the access road, and then grinded to a halt in front of the house next to mine.
“Shit. Neighbors,” I muttered as the driver’s car door opened and a middle-age woman stepped out. I watched as she bent down and spoke to someone else in the car.
She laughed and then ordered, “Get out of the car.”
Whoever was with her didn’t listen, and the woman eventually closed the car door. She all but bounced up the porch steps and unlocked the front door.
How could this be happening? The house was meant to stay vacant—any house around here was supposed to remain empty of humans. This road was the freaking gate to the Luxen colony at the base of Seneca Rocks, and it wasn’t like this house went up for sale and those suited assholes didn’t realize it.
This could not be happening.
Energy crackled over my skin, humming, and the urge to slip back into my true form was hard to ignore. And that pissed me off. Home was the only place that I—that we could be ourselves without fear of discovery, and those assholes—the Department of Defense, the D-O-fucking-D—knew it.
My fingers curled into my palms.
Vaughn and Lane, my own personal government-issued babysitters, had to have been aware of this. It must’ve slipped their damn minds when they checked in on us last week.
The passenger door of the Prius creaked open, drawing my attention. At first, I couldn’t see who got out, but then she walked around the front of the car, coming completely into view.
“Oh shit,” I muttered again.
It was a girl.
From what I could see, she was close to my age, maybe a year younger, and as she turned in a slow circle, staring at the forest that crept onto the lawn around the two houses, she looked like she expected a rabid mountain lion to pounce on her.
Her steps were tentative as she neared the porch, as if she was still debating if she really wanted to walk into the house. The woman, who I was guessing was her mom based on the similar dark hair, had left the front door open. The girl stopped at the bottom of the steps.
I sized her up as I drifted silently through the trees. She appeared of average height. Actually, everything about her seemed average—her dark brown hair, pulled back from her face in a messy knot; her pale, roundish face; her average weight—definitely not one of those skinny girls I hated—and her… Okay. Not all of her appeared average. My gaze was hung up on her legs and other areas.
Damn, they were nice legs.
The girl turned around, facing the forest as her arms folded along her waist, just below her chest.
Okay. Two areas in particular were not average.
She scanned the line of trees and her gaze stopped—stopped right where I was standing. My hands opened at my sides, but I didn’t move, didn’t dare force my lungs to take a breath. She stared right at me.
But there was no way she could see me. I was too hidden among the shadows.
A handful of seconds passed before she unfolded her arms and turned, slowly heading into the house, leaving the door wide open behind her.
My head cocked to the side at the sound of her voice, which was also…average. No real discernible accent or indication of where they came from.
Wherever it was, they must have no sense of personal safety, since neither of them thought to close the door behind them. Then again, around these parts, most humans believed they were completely safe. After all, the town of Ketterman, located just outside of Petersburg, West Virginia, wasn’t even incorporated. Deputies spent more time chasing after roaming cattle and breaking up field parties than handling any real crime.
Even though humans did have a nasty habit of going missing around here.
The smirk twisting my lips faded as an image of Dawson formed in my thoughts. Not just humans…
When I thought of my brother, anger bubbled inside me, rushing to the surface like a volcano about to erupt. He was gone—dead because of a human girl. And now there was another damn one moving in next door.
We had to…simulate humans, blend among them, and even act like them, but being close to them always ended in disaster.
Always ended in someone missing or dead.
I had no idea how long I stood there, staring at the house, but the girl eventually appeared again. Pulled out of my thoughts, I straightened as she walked to the back of the U-Haul. She dug a key out of her pocket and then opened the metal door.
And tried some more.
She struggled with the lock and then with the lever for what had to be the longest amount of time in history. Her cheeks were flushed, lips pursed. She looked like she was seconds from kicking the back of the U-Haul. Good God, how long did it take one person to open a trailer door? She made it a marathon event. I was half tempted to make myself known and walk my ass over there and open the damn door for her.
Finally, after an eternity, she opened the trailer and pulled down the ramp. She disappeared in and reappeared moments later with a box. I watched her carry it in and then return again. Back up the ramp, she stumbled down it this time, carrying a box that had to weigh more than her by the strained look on her face.
She shuffled around the trailer, and even from where I stood, I could see her arms trembling. I closed my eyes, irritated over…everything. She’d made it to the steps, and I knew there was no way she was going to get the box up that porch without falling and possibly breaking her neck.
I raised my brows.
If she broke her neck, then I guessed that solved the whole “moving in next door” problem.
One foot made it onto the bottom step and she teetered to one side. If she fell then, she would be okay. She made it up another step, and my stomach growled. Damn, I was hungry even though I’d eaten about ten pancakes an hour ago.
She was almost to the top of the steps, and granted, if she fell, she wasn’t going to break her neck. Maybe an arm? A leg would be pushing it. As she planted a foot on the next step and then slowly lifted the other foot beside it, I was reluctantly impressed by her sheer determination to muscle that box into the house. When she wobbled dangerously at the top, I muttered a rather obscene list of curse words and raised my hand.
Zeroing in on the box in her hands, I tapped into the Source. In my mind, I focused on raising the box just the slightest, taking the brunt of the weight off her arms. She stopped on the porch just for the tiniest of seconds, as if she recognized the change, and then with a shake of her head, she walked into the house.
Slowly, I lowered my hand, somewhat shocked by what I had done. There was no way she could ever guess that some random dude standing in the woods was responsible for that, but man, that was still a dumbass move on my part.
There was always the risk of exposure whenever we used the Source, no matter how insignificant it was.
The girl reappeared again on the porch, her cheeks bright pink from the work so far, and headed back to the cargo container as she wiped her hands along her denim shorts. Once again, she stumbled out of the trailer with a box of death in her arms, and I had to wonder: whe
re in the hell was her mother?
The girl’s step faltered and the obviously heavy box rattled. Glass was inside.
And because I was competing for world’s biggest dumbass, I stayed out there, in the trees, stomach grumbling like a damn engine, and helped her carry in box after box without her even knowing.
By the time she/we finished hauling every last item into her house, I was wiped, starving, and certain I’d risked tapping into the Source enough to get my damn head examined. I hauled my tired ass up the steps to my house and slipped inside quietly. No one else was around tonight, and I was too exhausted to cook, so I gulped down half a gallon of milk and then passed out on the couch.
My last thought was of my annoying new neighbor and my too-awesome-to-fail plan to never see her again.
Night had fallen, and thick clouds, dark and impenetrable, blocked out the stars and covered the moon, squelching even the tiniest amount of light. No one could see me. Which was probably a good thing.
Especially considering I was standing outside the once-empty house like a total creeper in one of those true-crime shows—yet again. So much for my never-see-the-chick-again plan.
This was quickly becoming a disturbing habit. I tried to argue with myself that it was necessary. I needed to know more about our new neighbor before my twin sister, Dee, spotted her and decided they were gonna be besties. Dee was all I had left in this world, and I’d do anything to protect her.
Glancing over at my house, I blew out an aggravated breath through my nose. Would it be such a terrible thing if I just, I don’t know, just burned the damn house down? I mean, I wouldn’t let those…those humans inside burn or anything. I wasn’t that terrible. But no house, no problem.
Seemed simple to me.
The last thing I needed was another problem—the last thing any of us needed.
A light was on in one of the bedrooms upstairs despite the fact that it was late. It was her bedroom. Only a handful of minutes ago, I’d seen the outline of her pass in front of the windows. Sadly, she was completely clothed.
That disappointment took creeper status to a whole new level.
The girl was a problem, a big one, but I had all the working guy parts, which sometimes zeroed out the whole problem thing.
Having someone move next door, someone who was our age, was just too risky. This girl had only been here two days, but it was just a matter of time before Dee saw her. She’d already asked me a couple of times if I’d seen the new neighbors, if I knew who they were. I’d shrugged and said probably just an old couple retiring to the country to ward off her initial enthusiasm, but I knew Dee’s excitable personality would be impossible to contain for long.
Speaking of the hyper devil…
“Daemon,” a voice whispered from the shadows of my front porch. “What in the world are you doing out here?”
Debating on whether or not burning down a house next time they head to the store is a reasonable response to getting new neighbors?
Yeah, I was gonna keep that one to myself.
Sighing, I pivoted around and headed toward the porch. Gravel crunched under my boots. My sister was leaning against the railing, staring at the house next door, a curious expression pinching her face as a soft breeze tossed her long, dark hair around her.
It took unbelievable effort to walk at a normal speed as I joined Dee. Normally, it wasn’t something I even attempted when I was home since I could move fast as light, but with the new neighbors, I needed to get back in the habit of appearing…well, human.
“I was out patrolling.” I cocked a hip against the railing, my back to the house as if it didn’t exist.
Dee raised a brow as she glanced up at me. Bright emerald eyes, the same color as mine, were filled with skepticism. “It didn’t look like that.”
“Really?” I crossed my arms.
“Yeah.” Her gaze flicked over my shoulder. “It looked like you were standing outside that house, watching it.”
Her brows knitted. “So, someone has moved in there?”
Dee had been over at the Thompsons’ house the last couple of days, which was a freaking blessing even though the idea of her being there with another alien our age, Adam, overnight did not make me a happy camper. But it worked out. She had no idea who had moved in next door, and knowing her, a human girl of her age would be like discovering an abandoned puppy.
When I didn’t answer, she sighed heavily. “Okay. Am I supposed to guess?”
“Yeah, some people moved in next door.”
Her eyes widened as she whipped back around and leaned out over the railing, eyeing the house as if she could see through it. While our abilities were pretty awesome, we didn’t have X-ray vision. “Oh my, they’re not Luxen. They’re humans.”
Obviously she would’ve sensed if they were of our kind. “Yep. They’re human.”
She shook her head slightly. “But why? Do they know about us?”
I thought of the girl struggling to carry the boxes inside the other day. “I’m gonna go with a no.”
“That’s so weird. Why would the DOD let them move in there?” she asked, and then immediately added, “Who cares? I hope they’re nice.”
My eyes drifted shut. Of course Dee wouldn’t be worried about it, not even after what happened to Dawson. All she cared about was if they were nice. It didn’t even occur to her, not for one second, the kind of danger the close proximity of a human posed to us. Not my sister. She was all unicorns puking rainbows.
“Did you see who they were?” she asked, excitement crowding her voice.
“No,” I lied, opening my eyes.
Her lips pursed as she drew back from the railing, clapping her hands, and turned to me. We were almost the same height, and I could see delight sparkling in her eyes. “I hope it’s a hot guy.”
I clenched my jaw.
She giggled. “Oh! Maybe it’s a girl, like, my age. That would be awesome.”
“It would make this summer so much better, especially since Ash is being a you-know-what,” she went on.
“No. I don’t know what.”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t play innocent, you jerk. You know exactly why she’s as cuddly as a honey badger right now. She thought you two would be spending all summer together doing—”
“Each other?” I suggested slyly.
“Oh, gross! Seriously. I wasn’t going there.” She shuddered, and I barely hid my grin as I wondered if Ash had admitted that the doing-each-other part still happened although not in a while. Not often, but it did. “She was complaining about not going wherever you promised to take her this summer.”
I had no idea what Dee was talking about.
“Anyway, I really hope whoever is next door is cool.” Like a hamster on a wheel, Dee’s mind kept on cycling. “Maybe I’ll stop over—”
“Don’t even finish that sentence, Dee. You don’t know who they are or what they’re like. Stay away from them.”
She placed her hands on her hips as her eyes narrowed. “How will we know what kind of people they are by staying away from them?”
“I’ll check them out.”
“I don’t particularly trust your judgment of humans, Daemon.” Her stare turned into a glare.
“And I don’t trust yours. Just like I never trusted Dawson’s.”
Dee took a step back as she drew in a deep, slow breath. The anger faded out of her expression. “Okay, I understand. I get why—”
“Let’s not go there. Not tonight,” I said, sighing as I lifted my hand and scrunched my fingers through my hair, making the ends stick up. I needed a haircut. “It’s late and I need to make another round before I call it a night.”
“Another round?” Her voice had dropped to a whisper. “Do you think…any of the Arum are nearby?”
I shook my head, not wanting her to worry, but the truth was they were always nearby and they were our only natural predator—our enemies from the time wh
en our true planet existed. Like us, they weren’t from this Earth. They were, in many ways, the exact opposite of us in appearance and abilities. But we didn’t kill like they did. Oh no. They derived their use of the Source from feeding off the Luxen they killed. They were like parasites on steroids.