SAME DAY, DIFFERENT DEATH
The Bedford Fields Academy pitched itself as one of the most prestigious private schools in North America, promising a stellar education and a future brighter than an exploding supernova. Or something along those lines. In reality, it was a last-ditch effort for rich parents with kids who’d been kicked out of every other institution in the free world. The boarding school was insanely expensive, but those parents with unruly children and money to burn would pay anything for the illusion of a good education. They took their public guise seriously. Keeping up the pretense of good parentage took effort. And trust funds. And the school kept the children out of their hair. For that, they would pay extra.
I didn’t know that when I started at Bedford Fields, of course, but a pretty blonde with too much eyeliner and too few scruples explained the rules and regulations of the school in the bathroom while cleaning her nails with a switchblade. She’d lifted the knife from a vendor while on vacation with her family in Cabo San Lucas the summer before, and she made sure to mention how she’d honed the blade to a razor’s edge for ease of penetration. She then proceeded to ask me why a redheaded short chick with pasty white skin dared to enter her domain. I had no idea if she meant the school or the bathroom. Either way, that was my first day and my introduction to life sans everything I’d ever known. It went downhill from there.
First of all, the reality of winter in the North was a complete shock to my system. I couldn’t get warm, even bundled in seven layers as I was then. Second, I’d started school in the middle of the semester, thus I was behind in almost every class they’d assigned to me. And third, I apparently had an accent, a fact that some of the more irritating students reveled in teasing me about.
But the worst part of all was that I took homesickness to a whole new level. I missed my grandparents, my friends, my house, and my old school to the point of feeling like I had the flu 24/7. I even missed Tabitha Sind, the bane of my existence. Luckily I had Kenya here to take up where Tab had left off. At least Tabitha had never threatened me with a switchblade. Life was simpler in New Mexico. Life at a boarding school for rich kids in a state where the weather rivaled that of Siberia was far too complex. And hazardous to my health.
I heard my nom de guerre but kept walking. While my friends in New Mexico knew me as Lorelei McAlister, aka my real name, the students and faculty here in Maine knew me as Lorraine Pratt, a transfer student from Arizona. Fortunately, I’d been to Arizona a couple of times, just enough to fend off questions from the more curious students.
“Lorraine,” she called again, but I hated nothing more than being late to class. These teachers at BFA could wither a winter rose with one look.
I kept my head down and my gaze glued to the floor. Now that I was no longer a novelty, I could slip relatively unnoticed from class to class. At first, everyone stared. Everyone. That’s what I got for transferring in the middle of a semester. But once the other kids found out I was a scholarship student, and not a particularly interesting one at that, they stopped staring and ignored me altogether. Most of them, anyway.
I could handle being ignored, but the scholarship was a mystery I had yet to figure out. I’d been secreted away from everything I’d ever known in the middle of the night. Driven in four different vehicles with four different groups of caretakers for over two days straight, and delivered onto the steps of Bedford Fields in the bitingly frigid predawn hours with little more than a suitcase and a hair tie. How on earth did I suddenly have a scholarship? That was clearly a part of the plan my grandparents forgot to mention.
“Lorraine, wait up.”
I finally slowed, risking death by trampling in the crowded hall, and let the eighth-grader, who also happened to be my roommate, catch up to me. She was the only student still enamored with my shiny newness, and she was the only kid besides a boy named Wade who paid me any mind. I’d been at the boarding school for weeks, and Wade treated me like we’d known each other forever, but Crystal still looked at me with stars in her eyes. Hopefully my gleam would wear off soon, because she could be a little irritating.
She beamed at me when she caught up, her cerulean eyes sparkling behind round-rimmed glasses and thick dark braids.
Well, irritating in a charming way. She was another scholarship student, a science whiz who was destined to be the next Stephen Hawking if I had anything to say about it. The girl’s mind was like a supercomputer on steroids.
“Hey,” she said back, breathless from trying to catch up to me. “So what are you doing?”
I tried not to chuckle and indicated the door ahead of me with an index finger. “Just headed to class.”
“Oh, right, okay, that’s a good idea. Last class of the day.”
“Yup. And isn’t yours across campus?” I asked her.
She looked around in utter cluelessness, spun in a complete circle to get her bearings. I felt the crush of students acutely, especially when one student knocked me forward as he rushed past. I felt a tug at my coat and started to say something, but I barely caught sight of the back of his head before he disappeared into the crowd. He was wearing a hoodie anyway.
“Yes, it is.” Crystal’s pale face had a light sprinkling of freckles over cheeks slightly chapped from the biting winds of Maine. Under a button nose sat a bow-shaped mouth that made her look even younger than her fourteen years. She looked like a doll I once had. Exactly
like a doll I once had. It was eerie. She put one foot behind the other and hitched a thumb over her shoulder. “I guess I should jet, then.”
I couldn’t help a grin. “Okay, you jet. I’ll see you later?”
After flashing me a smile that could have melted the heart of the White Witch in Narnia, she nodded and hurried away.
I watched her leave, a little enamored myself with such a guileless creature, then turned and ran right into the one girl in school I did not
want to run into. The only one who accessorized with black nail polish, a razor-blade pendant, and a switchblade.
She gaped, completely offended by my presence, then shoved me away from her. I stumbled back and barely kept from tumbling head over heels by grabbing on to another student’s backpack. He scowled over his shoulder, then jerked out of my grip before I could apologize. Or right myself. I almost fell anyway, but I managed to get my footing without any more humiliation than absolutely necessary.
“Nice save,” Kenya said, raising her brows as though impressed.
But I was still reeling from what I’d gained from our little encounter. I wasn’t fond of Kenya Slater. She wasn’t fond of me. But it was disturbing nonetheless to watch her die.
Unfortunately for me—and everyone around me—I have, for lack of a better word, visions
. Sometimes when I touch people, I can see into their futures or their pasts. It’s heart-wrenching on several levels. I never see the time they were laughing at a party or riding a roller coaster at the fair, screaming with exhilaration. No, I see the bad parts of their lives. I see the catastrophic. I see the pain and fear and anxiety. And now, thanks to this nifty skill I’d inherited, I knew exactly when, where, and how Kenya was going to die.
Her death flashed before my eyes the moment we touched. The visions were thoughtful that way. And now I had a decision to make. I’d struggled with the question of divulgence before. Many times. And this scenario was no exception. I might be able to prevent her death if she’d listen to me, but that took a lot of faith. And since she threatened me with a switchblade every chance she got, I didn’t figure faith was her strong suit. Especially faith in me. The new girl. The girl she most liked to harass and promise a slow and painful death to. I was pretty sure I’d developed a nervous twitch after meeting her.
But this was different. Maybe it was a timing thing. She was going to die too soon. Too young. She literally had only days to live. And the vision stole my breath with its vividness.
In it, a storm rolled in, darkening what had been a sunny afternoon. She was on a boat with her aunt, uncle, big sister, and little brother, but it wasn’t a vacation or a pleasure trip. She was scared. Her aunt and uncle were scared, too—terrified, in fact—running, trying to get away from something, to escape. The clouds roiling overhead like a cauldron of a dark witch’s brew dipped lower and lower in the sky. If Kenya reached up, she could have touched them, but she was busy clinging to her brother for dear life. The water churned and crashed against her uncle’s sailboat. Rain slashed horizontally through the sky, the stinging chill cutting to the bone. Her sister had wedged herself between two seats, huddled there, shivering, worried she’d fall overboard.
I could feel the unimaginable fear that blinded Kenya to everything but those clouds. Yet it wasn’t the storm clouds she was afraid of. It was something else. Something inside them.
Before I could identify the source of her fear, another wave hit. It slammed against the boat, causing one side to tip and rise with the swell until the small boat had no choice but to succumb to the fates. The water hit Kenya hard, slapping against her as she crashed into it. She tried desperately to keep ahold of her brother, reached blindly for her sister, but the pull of the waves was too strong. It sucked her deeper and deeper into its icy grip. She kicked. Fought with every ounce of strength she had. Then, left with no choice, she exchanged water for air and filled her burning lungs. Panic seized her with such a violent force, she gagged, tried to swallow the entire ocean, searched desperately for oxygen in the thick liquid. And found none.
The last image that flashed in my mind was of her floating in the deep gray depths of the arctic water. Her eyes open. Her mouth a grim line as though she’d accepted her fate at last, but did so unhappily.
And she knew. She knew who was to blame.
Ricocheting back to the present, I sucked in a sharp gulp of air, fighting the feeling of suffocation, of drowning. I doubled over and coughed, then clamped a hand over my mouth when I felt bile slip up the back of my throat.
What were they running from? Why were they so scared? And why would anyone be the blame for a storm?
“Pratt?” she said, her voice edged with wariness instead of her usual menace.
I ignored her, turned, and was fighting my way to the bathroom when I bumped into a boy. Another vision gripped me and performed a hostile takeover of all brain function. And just like the vision of Kenya and her family, this boy’s expiration date was rocketing toward him. And it was disturbingly similar to hers. The storm. The dark clouds. The roaring winds. The boy was running toward his dorm on the school campus, but unlike Kenya, he was scared of the storm and nothing else. He died when a tree was uprooted and took down some electrical wires near him. The currents hammering through his body brought me down, because I didn’t just see what happened to people in my visions; I felt it, too. Every spike of fear. Every wince of anguish. Every spasm of pain. And being electrocuted to death hurt. An agonizing pain pulsated through me, attacking my nervous system until the boy breathed his last breath and his body shut down.
I felt a hand on my arm. I pushed it away and stumbled to my feet, reeling from that experience when another boy reached to help me.
Same utter chaos.
I jerked away from him and slammed into a girl. I now had an audience. Students surrounded me, and every one I touched died.
Same utter chaos.
One after the other until I stumbled into a bathroom and locked myself in a stall. The shock of each death shuddered through me as I heaved my lunch into the toilet. When the spasms eased, I spit out the sour taste and tried to clear my head. To understand what I was seeing.
Something had changed. Something had happened in the last few minutes that altered the fates of every kid at school. But they were in different places. On the water. In a storm shelter. In Town Hall. Fleeing the country in a chartered Learjet. And it wasn’t just them. It was their brothers and sisters, their parents and friends. In exactly five days, everyone in the city of Bangor, Maine, was going to die. But somehow, I didn’t think it would stop there.
What was different? What could have—?
Then it hit me. The boy. The tug at my coat. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a note. It was the third one I’d received in quite the same manner. Stuffed into the pocket of my jacket when I wasn’t looking or secreted into my backpack.
Dread consumed me as I opened it. This one had a stick figure drawing of two people, a boy and a girl. The girl—who I was going to assume was me since she had garishly curly red hair—was lying on the ground, presumably dead. Blood pooled on her chest and sat in puddles around her head and torso. The boy clutched a knife in his three-fingered hand, but he was leaning over her. Over me. And a darkness was leaving her mouth and entering his. Like he wanted what was inside me. Like he welcomed it.
And somehow he knew. When I was six years old, I had been possessed by a demon. A demon that was still inside me. But no one here knew that. How could they? And yet this boy did.
Five words made up the text of the note. I read them over and over in disbelief. Fear darkened the edges of my periphery. Five words. Five words that had the power to make the darkness inside me quake and buck inside my body. Five words that would change the fate of the world. Five words that read simply, I know what you are.
Copyright © 2013 by Darynda Jones
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author DARYNDA JONES won a Golden Heart® for best paranormal for her manuscript First Grave on the Right. As a born storyteller, she grew up spinning tales of dashing damsels and heroes in distress for any unfortunate soul who happened by, annoying man and beast alike. Darynda lives in the Land of Enchantment, also known as New Mexico, with her husband and two beautiful sons, the Mighty, Mighty Jones Boys.