Darkness Falls (Darkness Falls, Book 1), Page 4Jessica Sorensen
I sometimes have nightmares about the day I was found. Although Monarch assures me it didn’t happen this way. In it, I’m a breakable little girl with ash covering my skin. Fires roar up and down the streets and the air smells like burnt flesh. It’s a toxic smell and I can hardly breathe. I’m hugging a doll, with blonde curls and a flowery dress that matches my own. I walk down the middle of the street, my black shoes crunching against the debris. There are vampires everywhere, in the buildings, in the streets, blood pouring out of their eyes.
In the center of the street, not too far ahead, stands a little boy with dark hair and sparkling eyes. I hold out my hand to him, wanting to reach him, wanting to save him from the vampires. I’m scared—I can feel the fear coursing through my veins. But I just walk, one foot in front of the other, determined to get to the boy. Then Monarch materializes from nowhere and snatches me up. He’s wearing his white coat, stained with blood, and it blows in the wind like a cape.
“Shhh …” he says. “It’s okay. I’ll keep you safe.”
Then the vampires charge. Their sharp fangs snap out, and the blood dripping from their eyes splatters against the pavement.
That’s when I wake up.
I never get to see what happens next.
Or what happens to the boy.
I wake up drenched in sweat, the faint feeling of the nightmare lingering in my body. I’m not sure how long I’ve been out, but my stomach lets out a grumble. I climb out of bed and go to the cafeteria. There are too many people crammed in there at once and the air always stinks of all their fears and worries. Twelve tables hold at least ten people each and every single person looks peaceful and content with life. As if they are more than happy to be here.
Tristan’s sitting at one of the center tables, talking with his parents. I’m hesitant to go over. Tristan’s parents have this idea in their head that Tristan and I will end up together. The idea overwhelms me. Yes, Tristan is a nice guy and everything and being with him would probably be perfect. But I’m not sure I want perfect.
Besides, I’m a Bellator, so my life expectancy is short. Especially if I’m chosen for The Gathering.
I stand in the middle of the cafeteria, holding my tray, until his parents leave.
“So are you going to tell me what happened last night during your little raid?” Tristan asks in a low voice the second I sit down.
I set my tray on the table and take a bite of my boiled potatoes, keeping my voice hushed so the Watchers won’t overhear us. “You’ve been sitting around, just waiting to ask me that, haven’t you?”
“You have me worried.” He smiles and gives my hair a playful tug. Then he lets his hand linger in my hair, twirling a strand around his finger. He’s been doing this a lot lately, little touches whenever he gets a chance. “You looked like such a mess when you showed up at the entrance ... and you look tired. Are your nightmares keeping you up again?”
I shake my head. During a weak moment, I broke down and told Tristan about my nightmare. I’ve regretted it ever since because it’s all he worries about every time I see him. But it’s not worry for me, its worry for him. He fears the Highers will find out he’s been spending time with someone who can remember when the virus first spread, even if it’s just a nightmare.
I pick at the stale bread. “No, the nightmares have pretty much disappeared.”
He looks thankful and takes a bite of his peas. “Good. I’m glad.” He leans in close and puts his lips next to my ear. “You know I think you look beautiful, even when you look worn out.”
I should be flattered—feel the shivers Nina talks about—but I just feel trapped by these invisible chains. I smile, hoping I don’t seem fake even though my lips feel like plastic.
He leans back and fidgets with his spoon nervously. “Can you meet me tonight?” His voice cracks and he clears his throat, scared I’ll reject what he wants. “There’s something I want to ask you.”
My body grows rigid. “I can’t tonight. Monarch needs my help with something.”
He frowns. “Well how about tomorrow morning?”
My insides twitch. I’m not ready for this. Not now. Maybe not ever.
He wraps his hand around mine. “Please, Juniper. It’s really important.” He flashes me a hopeful smile.
I stare at our hands, our fingers intertwined, knowing there should be more than what I’m feeling and wondering why there isn’t. “Okay, I’ll meet you tomorrow morning when I wake up.”
“At the clock tower,” he says, cheerfully squeezing my hand.
Not meeting his eyes, I nod. I stab my fork into my potatoes as the invisible chains are tugged tighter.
“So guess what I heard.” Nina plops down on the bench across from us, a devious sparkle in her emerald eyes. “Hold on.” She raises her hands in front of her dramatically. “I think I see something here.” She points a finger at us. “Were you two finally confessing your love for one another?” She laughs. “It’s about time.”
My head pounds, choking away my oxygen.
“Yep, you caught us.” Tristan yawns and puts his arm around my shoulder exaggeratedly. “That’s exactly what we were doing.”
I feign a smile, telling myself to breathe.
“Joke all you want.” She grins. “But one day you two will end up together. I just know it.”
Tristan squeezes my shoulder and gives me this knowing look. I should return the look. He’s kind, obeys all the rules, and is a great friend. But he deserves someone who is perfect, someone that isn’t me. He doesn’t need someone who secretly dreams of challenging the Highers one day, someone who is so … different. I’m not the person he thinks I am. I’m Kayla Juniper with no last name, no parents; the girl that can hear heartbeats and is never afraid, but can sense when others are.
A girl even vampires won’t touch.
Nina sweeps her honey-brown hair out of her eyes and starts chattering. But her voice is muffled as Monarch rushes into the cafeteria. He glances around frantically, searching for someone. At first I think it’s me, but his gaze skims over me and lands on Taggart. He waves Taggart over with urgency. Taggart is the Mortician of The Colony and I rise to my feet, thinking of Maci and wondering if she’s passed away.
I try to pick up on his fear vibe, but there’s too much distance between us.
When Monarch sees me standing, he shakes his head and motions me to sit back down. Tristan and Nina are looking at me like I’ve lost it.
I sink back down onto the bench. “Monarch’s talking to Taggart.”
“Is this about what happened in the hall?” Nina asks worriedly.
I shake my head. “No, I told you everything was fine with that.”
“What happened in the hall?” Tristan asks, chewing his food.
“Nothing you want to know about. Trust me.”
And he does, not asking anymore questions.
We grow quiet, my thoughts drifting to Maci. I’m almost certain she’s gone. And in a moment Taggart and Monarch will take her lifeless body to the stoves, where she’ll join the sky in a cloud of smoke. Everyone will forget her, just like they always do. Because no one likes a crier, no one likes a mourner. It distracts people from what’s important and makes them do irrational things.
At least that’s what the Highers say.
And the Highers are always right, even when they’re not.