The Radiant

Why hello, dear reader! Thanks for stopping by to check out my Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror novel, The Radiant. Currently, it is in it’s third major draft phase, so the book is complete, but going through major edits. You can read the first three chapters below.

I made a book trailer last December when I was uploading The Radiant to Wattpad one chapter at a time. (Despite receiving incredible feedback, I decided to delete it from Wattpad in January due to news articles that came out concerning plagiarism and outright theft. Sadness. I loved the community there.) But at least I have this book trailer. Keep in mind, the title was different then (When it Was Blue), and I went by the pen name Indy Campbell for privacy reasons. Enjoy!

Here are the first two chapters. Enjoy and let me know what you think or if you have any critiques in the comments!

CHAPTER 1—REMNANT

It was highly likely someone would die tonight.

But that would depend upon whether or not Emry was only imagining movement coming from the trunk of the sleek, smoky-red BMW 3 Series.

The car sat facing away from him, four stories down, hood pointed toward the narrow alley set between three graffitied brick warehouses boxing in the grass-marred lot below. Above the rooftops around him, Anlin’s lovely skyline shone like a beacon in the night, whitewashed by the heavy rainfall sweeping the area.

Like most major cities, Anlin, Texas, was more beautiful from a distance.

A young woman leaned against the side of the BMW’s hood, stance casual as if she were bored. She’d been standing there like that in the light, drizzling rain for nearly twenty minutes, arms and ankles crossed, eyes on the alley. But the boredom wasn’t blasé. It was coiled confidence.

Emry had caught a glimpse of her profile and a passing reflection of her face in one of the warehouse windows, but hadn’t recognized her. By her clothing and style alone, she looked to be in her late teens—somewhere around his own age. Her long, black hair hung down in wet strands instead of being pulled back from her face, while a tight leather jacket, dark wash jeans, and stylish boots clung to her supple frame. Beneath her jacket, she wore a hip and shoulder holster, briefly made visible when she’d exited the car earlier. If Emry had to guess, though, it was likely she had a gun holster hidden in her boot as well.

At least, Emry would have in this situation—if he carried a gun.

Raindrops occasionally escaped his twists, dripping from his eyelashes and chin. It was colder than usual for mid-March in central Texas, especially up here where it was drafty, and the dampness of his clothes only made it worse. But at least Emry couldn’t smell the dumpsters and urine from up here.

A bridge made of long-silent, abandoned train tracks stretched above his head; a skeletal remnant of a neighborhood broken by time and regret. It sheltered him from the misted drizzle while draping him in shadow as he crouched on one of its flat, metal girders flush with the cross section of another set of beams. Below him, rickety scaffolding shivered in the wind while behind him stood an enormous, rounded wall of dirt; the remains of some construction project likely stuck in litigation or suspended by lack of funding. The scaffolding, dirt, and warehouses effectively closed off the lot save for the alley.

Emry checked the time on his phone. Three hours until sunrise. Worry gnawed at his stomach. He had to get back to Cody and Cheyenne as soon as possible, but he’d been waiting months for the opportunity to witness a deal like this. If there was even the slightest chance Imogen would be here tonight…it would be worth it.

Imogen Roark was the head of a local crime syndicate with powerful international connections and a ruthless reputation. It was rumored she even had ties to the cartel. She was elusive, unpredictable, and seemed more ghost than flesh and blood.

But there was another reason Emry had come on this night in particular. Word had it, beginning tonight, Imogen planned to start trafficking in more than drugs and weapons.

Emry looked at the trunk again, and frowned.

Sliding his phone into a padded, slender pocket along his boot, Emry flexed his forearms, checking to make sure the leather bracers that sheathed both arms from wrist to elbow were snug yet flexible. As he moved, the dull yellow of the street light bounced off the metal pointed tips of bullets tucked into fitted casings positioned side by side all the way around the bracers. They were high caliber 5.56 mm bullets and he’d personally modified them by chiseling spirals along the barrels. Each casing was triple-loaded deep down the length of his forearm.

Ten more minutes. Emry would give it ten more minutes and then he’d have to leave. He had to get back to Cody and Cheyenne’s house before they left for school, and they lived two hours away in the tiny town of Centerville, Texas…

Emry could only hope what he’d been sensing in Cody for the past three weeks would remain stable until he returned.

***

Slouched on the living room couch with her long legs splayed out across the carpet, Cody Whitlock licked the Cheetos dust from her fingertips, wiped her hand on her jeans, logged off PlayStation, and stared off into space, trying not to think about how late it was. Thanks to her mortal enemy, Insomnia, yet again she hadn’t been able to sleep, and if any night warranted going to bed before irresponsible o’clock, it was tonight. Well, it had probably been a couple of hours since irresponsible o’clock by now, meaning she’d self-destructed to may-as-well-stay-awake-till-dawn o’clock.

Great.

Cody wondered if her identical twin, Cheyenne, was asleep yet. She listened, but couldn’t hear any sounds coming from their bedroom down the hallway. Wait. No, that was snoring. Definitely snoring.

Yeah. Sharing the same DNA apparently didn’t mean sharing everything else. Like, you know, the ability to get a good night’s sleep. But at least Cheyenne would be well-rested. Their Spring midterm orchestra essay was due Friday. Which just so happened to be tomorrow—er, well, crap—today. Cody had turned hers in on Wednesday, but she was pretty sure Cheyenne hadn’t finished hers yet (as of dinner, she hadn’t even started on it), which was why Cody was planning on setting their alarm an hour early. If she actually went to bed.

Where had their life gone wrong that Cody was the responsible one here?

Suddenly feeling lonely, Cody shut off the TV, leaving only the corner lamp to light the room. She tossed the remote aside, and, with a long sigh, let her head fall back against the couch. It was harder than she’d thought it would be and she winced. Like almost everything else in the house, the couch was old. Really old. And also like almost everything else in the house, it had been Gran’s. She and Cheyenne had kept everything exactly as Gran had left it fourteen months ago. Sure, it was nostalgic and perhaps a little unhealthy, but with graduation just around the corner (and the impending house sale that shall not be spoken of), there kind of wasn’t any point in changing anything.

And honestly, they just missed her.

They’d lived with her since eighth grade and the reminders were comforting.

Cody rolled her head to the side, shoved the empty chip bag out of the way (it fell to the floor with the ominous sound of scattering crumbs), and stared at her viola. It lay haphazardly inside its open case, looking forlorn. Rosin dust covered the dark red wood beneath the strings between the fingerboard and the bridge. Prints marred the surface of the body. Shiny black streaks stood out on the fingerboard where the oil from the pads of her fingers had left their marks.

What was sad about that was she’d just cleaned it yesterday.

“You practice too much, man,” she told herself with a sigh.

A croaked, high-pitched meow of agreement sounded from her feet. Cody looked down to find Huxley, Gran’s nine-year-old Siamese, curled up against her ankle. He was purring and looking self-satisfied as only a cat can.

Huxley had taken to Cody as soon as Gran had passed. Like, obsessively. It was shocking because Cheyenne was usually the natural with animals. Even more shocking, Cody had taken to Huxley too. As in, the cat pretty much owned her. And part of her was totally okay with that. Shut up, Cody told her bleeding-heart side. She didn’t know why, but being labeled as any kind of a softy bothered her. Cody was pretty sure that was a flaw, but didn’t know why it was a flaw and wasn’t sure what to do about it… So she didn’t do anything about it.

Cody scooped up her viola and, still slouching, plucked her bow from where it had been hiding beneath the instrument, and started playing the Skyrim theme song. The melody was low so Cody was able to utilize her deepest string—the C string—to its fullest potential, shifting up the fingerboard out of first position so she could stay on the thicker string for as long as possible. Digging in with her bow to entice the notes to widen as she vibrated with her left fingers, the rich, throaty strains filled the small living room, which acted as a kind of amplifier, creating a deep reverb that seemed to pull even the most subtle sympathetic frequencies and harmonic overtones from the notes. In this range, the viola sounded eerily similar to the baritone-sung melody of the theme song.

The deeper range and more melancholic tones of the viola were why Cody had chosen it over the much more popular violin as a seven-year-old. The violin, which was smaller than the viola, had seemed too high and squeaky to her. Also, when she and Cheyenne had gone to the music store to pick out what kind of instrument they wanted to play, there had only been one stringed instrument in the entire shop with yellow wood instead of red or brown. And it had just so happened to be a viola. Cody had been sold on the neglected, black sheep instrument ever since.

After the first phrase of the song ended, Cody used a borrowed chord to change into another key and began playing the third movement of JC Bach’s “Viola Concerto in c minor” instead. The notes instantly became more aggressive and percussive. They ran over each other from the reverb, creating a charged, almost dissonant, feeling in the air, both tonally and emotionally. There was a lot of anger and anxiety in this movement that longed for resolution, and it spoke to Cody as few other pieces did. It was a language she understood, and the music just flowed from her like water.

Only a few lines in, Cody fumbled the descending cluster of shifting thirds andtried to keep going, but never recovered. By the time she climbed back up the fingerboard and reached the top of the scale on the A string, her fourth finger landed sharp, and she ended in a crunched halt. Angry at herself for screwing up something she’d played a million times, she swept the bow across the strings, intentionally making a loud, mangled-sounding chord that jaggedly ripped through the air.

Silence.

Another meow from Huxley, only this was one of boredom. Cody gave him a look over the viola. “What? You think you could do better?”

If I had clawless, useless fingers like yours, then yes, he seemed to say with low-lidded eyes.

“Yeah, because opposable thumbs are totally useless,” Cody said.

Maybe it was how tired she was, but Cody could’ve sworn Huxley actually rolled his eyes. Don’t try sarcasm with me, human. Cats invented sarcasm.

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

That is impossible.

“And how is that?”

Flattery concerns compliments that are untrue.

Cody laughed. “I think you just proved my point.”

No, it is impossible to flatter a cat because all good and wonderful things spoken about cats are true.

“So…I’m assuming the list is short, then.”

Your attempts at insulting me might be more effective were you not petting me at the same time.

With a jolt, Cody realized she was rubbing the side of Huxley’s face with her big toe. “Ah, come on,” she said, quickly sat up, and pulled her feet back. Huxley, anticipating Cody’s move, had already nimbly scampered around her legs and leaped up onto the couch next to her. He started rubbing his face against Cody’s elbow in that hard way cats sometimes do. Then he began to purr. Cody sighed, put her bow aside, and started scratching Huxley behind his ears like he liked.

Huxley one. Me zero, she thought. “You’re a wretched creature, you know that?”

Wretched and beautiful. He scooped his head under Cody’s fingers one more time, then picked his way over her leg, arching his spine so her fingers would scratch his back as he stepped into her lap and curled up halfway inside the C Bout of the viola. Cody stretched out her legs again and yawned. Her body was so exhausted, but her mind was wide awake—more than wide awake in fact. She felt like a car set up on a hoist in a mechanic shop, engine running, wheels spinning in the air, burning fuel but going nowhere.

Actually, that might be a metaphor for her entire life.

“Huxley, I need you to help me make a decision even though I know it’s just me tricking myself into making the decision by pretending it’s you making the decision for me and not really me making the decision the whole time.”

Huxley stopped purring for a second, then seemed to say, I don’t care. Make whatever decision you want so long as you keep petting me.

Cody rolled her eyes at the cat. “Some friend you are.”

Cats have no friends. We only have enemies and those we tolerate whenever convenient. Oh, and some of us have pets. Like you.

“Ha ha. You’re hilarious. But seriously, should I try and go to sleep? I don’t even know if I can. Or what the point would be…but it seems like the responsible thing to do…right?”

As I said, I don’t care, but seeing as you won’t stop pestering me until I respond, I suppose I will allow you to partake in my wisdom. As a cat, I know much about sleep since it is one of our favorite pastimes, so in my perceptive, experienced, feline opinion, if you sleep now, you’ll only feel more tired once you wake. You’re also forgetting your senior recital is tonight, though how I myself could forget no one would know considering all of the horrendous screeches and howls and shrieks I’ve had to endure as you’ve wasted hours toying with that silly wooden box for days on end instead of doing something productive like petting me. Huxley stretched a little, yawned and licked his lips. Blinking once very slowly, he met Cody’s eyes. In conclusion, he seemed to say with those ice-blue eyes, I would recommend you stay awake. And continue to pet me.

Cody’s stomach was completely in knots by now. Right. Her senior viola recital was tonight in the school auditorium at 7:30.

Senior.

Recital.

It was only her last concert before graduating and moving on to college and the real world. It was only the culmination of ten months of preparation. It was only playing solos for an hour. Yeah. No big. If she did end up staying awake and pulling an all-nighter she could totally nail that on five hours of sleep out of the past forty-eight.

Right.

Huxley suddenly stiffened, eyes on the kitchen. Cody felt the skin along his spine tighten under her hand as his fur spiked. In response, Cody’s own hair rose on the back of her neck. Leaning forward, craning her head around, Cody followed Huxley’s gaze into the darkness of the next room. The kitchen and living room were separated by a half wall, so the corner lamp light didn’t reach it. Cody could see moonlight mixing with the yellow from the porch light bleeding through Gran’s lacy curtains, casting webbed shadows across the countertops and cabinets, crawling across the floor into deeper darkness.

Huxley began to growl deep in his throat, and the cat’s whole body tensed.

CHAPTER 2—A PATTERN OF CLICKS

Cody wasn’t a superstitious person.

She did, however, believe in evil.

The first time Cody remembered seeing the Shadows, she was three. It had happened fourteen years ago, but she could still recall every single detail as if it had just happened…

Cody walked into her dark room, and a sudden terror gripped her. Eyes drawn to movement, she saw something crouched in the corner of her room at the foot of her bed. It wasn’t black like the other shadows. It was an absence of light beyond the natural. Only a few feet from her, it writhed in a coiling mass like a throbbing silhouette against the shadows of her curtains. Parts of it kept bulging out like popping veins while it contorted over itself as if all of its joints were bending backward.

The moment Cody saw the Shadow, invisible fingers wrapped themselves around her throat as what felt like an enormous jaw clamped over her ribcage. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t move.

A second presence appeared behind her, ballooning into something hideous, like a tongue peeling up from the base of a mouth. Inches away from her back, it pulsated, and Cody could feel it’s breath on her neck. Insects, real or imagined, she didn’t know, scattered down her back beneath her nightshirt and into her hair as if the Shadow had breathed them onto her.

Just when Cody thought she might faint from the fear, something shifted in the air, and the spell was broken. The fingers and jaw released her, and with a cry, Cody ran to her bed, yanking the covers over her head. Curling into the fetal position, tears wetted her face as she lay there, feeling the Shadows hovering over her, searching for any opening in the tucked-under sides of her blankets, waiting, salivating…

It was the first time Cody remembered experiencing real evil. And it had changed her.

Huxley hissed, and with a yowl, jumped to the ground. He thundered across the living room in a tan blur, tail in the air, claws shredding carpet as he vanished into the dark hallway leading to Cody and Cheyenne’s room.

Huxley’s sudden move had thoroughly freaked Cody out and now she was fighting back panic at a level that was kind of embarrassing. She took deep breaths, muttering oaths at every exhale, cursing cats everywhere.

Okay, she thought, decision made. Time for bed. Definitely time for bed. Things are getting weird. Sleep-deprived weird.

Cody rubbed her hands over her face, breathed out hard, and began to put her viola away. Just before gently setting it in the velvet mold, she paused, then took a few seconds to run her microfiber cloth over every inch of the instrument. She was almost done cleaning it when—

A familiar scuttling sensation ran across the back of her neck. Shuddering, Cody looked up, eyes on the kitchen as she blindly set her viola and the cloth down on the couch. “Come on, Cody,” she whispered to herself, eyes jumping, searching for movement, “there’s nothing—”

The prickling feeling sharpened as the sense of a presence stole over her. Swallowing, Cody leaned forward again to get a better look, then reminded herself, Why are you even looking? There’s nothing there.

But she only half-believed it.

The couch creaked beneath her as she moved, metal coils groaning and popping. The hum of the refrigerator and buzz of the lamp were dissonant as a flatline. Knobs on the piano lid across the living room glinted like penny-covered eyes. The walls seemed to crowd around her, threatening to crush or suffocate her as shadows crawled across their blank surfaces, angled and warped like contorted, gaping faces.

A thought, sudden and terrible, came to her.

Gran’s room was just beyond the kitchen. It was down a long, narrow hallway ending in a door that hadn’t been opened since she’d died. No one went in there, and Cody didn’t even sit on the side of the kitchen table where the door was in view.

Shivers ran down her spine and her chest tightened. Silence opened up around her like a mouth and in the void, a pattern of clicks rapped against the linoleum, followed by a dragging scrape.

Cody started, then went completely still, muscles quivering, eyes wide and locked on the kitchen. “No, no, no, no,” she whispered, clenching her fists. “Just go to bed.” But she couldn’t move. “Get up, Cody, get up.” 

Something like this hadn’t happened to her in a long time. It was just the insomnia. Or the stress. It had to be. “Cheyenne…? Is that you?” There was no way it could be her sister, but something desperate, primal, illogical and, in a way, insane, was trying to explain away the impossible, no matter how improbable.

More clicks and another heavy scrape, this one louder. Closer.

“This isn’t funny, Cheyenne,” Cody said, voice barely above a whisper.

A door slammed—Gran’s bedroom door.

This time Cody shot to her feet. “Cheyenne, I’m serious! Stop!

There was a rustle of feathers, and a hot gust of air swept from the kitchen, hitting Cody square in the face. She jerked back, raising up a forearm to protect herself from the heat. The lamp went out with a sharp pop. Another gust came from the kitchen, this one hotter and more powerful, as if something huge and hunched just behind the wall was breathing on her.

Terrified, Cody stumbled back a step, her leg slammed into the edge of the coffee table, and she tripped and fell backward. She hit the ground and a burst of pain exploded across the back of her head at contact, followed immediately by a flash of white light.

Darkness swallowed her.

***

Emry looked up as two SUV’s turned into the parking lot, wheels crunching and spitting out gravel, blank windows staring back at the only street light on the block at the edge of the lot. By the luxury alone Emry was fairly certain they belonged to Imogen. A zing of excitement ran through him and he leaned forward slightly, shaking off the cold still clinging to him.

The young woman didn’t move at their approach, only tilted her head and watched as the cars came to a stop in front of hers, blocking the exit.

The SUVs were brand new Lincoln Navigators, gleaming black paint dotted with rain, chrome hubcaps a sizzling silver beneath the bright beams of the BMW’s headlights. They sat there for several, long moments, mint engines purring, windshield wipers whirring the rain away.

There was that internal movement from the back of the BMW again—a hint of pressure on the tires, a shuddering of the frame.

There was someone in the trunk, Emry was sure of it now. Eyes narrowing, his lips tightened as his fingers curled over the edge of the beam, paling his dark knuckles. He flexed his forearms again, checking to make sure his bracers were in position.

Car doors opened and eight men wearing dark clothing exited the SUV’s. They were all sharp and jagged like broken spikes, and there was an air of danger about them that couldn’t be bought.

Eight. That seemed excessive…

Who was in that trunk?

Also, one against eight of Imogen’s people?

Who was this young woman?

Emry searched the group of men again, recognizing a handful of them from previous encounters, but Imogen was not hidden among them. Perhaps it had been foolish, wishful thinking assuming she’d be here. The thought brought a pang of regret at leaving Cody when Imogen didn’t even show.

Then Emry remembered whoever was in that trunk. The regret vanished.

With a snap from her hip against metal, the young woman stood and crossed her arms. “Where is it?”

One of the men, brown hair salted with age, stepped forward and raised his hands, signaling that he came in peace. He was smiling, his expression charming. Even from this distance, a soothing air seemed to emanate from him. The peaceful sensation and belief that Emry should trust this man swept over him in waves like the pleasant warmth of a summer day, whispering to him to let his guard down, to leave every care behind and forget any concerns. All was well. The man seemed capable and reasonable enough. Did Emry really need to stay? Nothing bad was going to happen. The man seemed to have everything under control—

His training kicked in and Emry sucked in a breath, snapping out of it as he blinked—hard. A veil of sorts began to lift. It took time, but he slowly pushed the foreign thoughts out of his head and brushed the emotions off of him like removing clinging dust. The more he worked at it, the clearer his head became until he’d rid himself of the effects completely.

As he stared down at the scene, Emry saw that, incredibly, by the young woman’s body language, she appeared to be totally unaffected by the man. This was astounding. If he had felt the man’s effects so strongly at fifty feet, he couldn’t imagine what it felt like from ten.

Emry felt a sudden admiration for her. Not one of affection, but one of respect.

“Straight to business!” the man said with an easy smile and a little clap, voice echoing off the brick walls. “I like that. As I’m sure you know, my lady wishes this to be the beginning of a long, beautiful relationship, so please allow me the opportunity to introduce myself. I am Seamus—”

“I don’t care who you are. Where is it?”

Seamus faltered for just a moment, but then his smile brightened. “Teenagers these days,” he said in the type of tonal curiosity one might hear at a zoo. “Always in such a hurry. No manners, no respect for their elders, no care for tradition, no thought for anyone but themselves. Those screens they’ve always got their little noses glued to, they reveal their true natures, don’t they? Heartless. Vicious. Ruthless. Cruel.” Seamus said all of this in a pleasant voice, but then his eyes burned as he stared at the young woman. “I like that. Now—” his smile stretched a little too far, revealing too many teeth, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

“Verification first.”

Seamus chuckled. “You drive a hard bargain, my dear, but seeing as this is our first encounter, I will oblige,” he said, sweeping his hands out with a little bow, and reached inside his suit jacket.

A gun was in the woman’s hands before Emry could blink. It was pointed straight at Seamus’ head.

Several of his men reached for weapons but Seamus jerked his head at them, holding his free hand out. “It’s alright!” he sang. “Perfectly fine.” He turned his attention back to the young woman. “Let’s be civil now, my dear. No need for that,” he said, nodding at her gun. His face had become somewhat oily despite the drizzle, and his eyes looked wider than before, as if some kind of facade was cracking open.

The woman didn’t lower her weapon or say anything.

His smile grew even more until it was no longer a smile but a nasty, toothy twist. Very slowly, he pulled a cinched, little bag from his breast pocket and held it up. “See? It’s here as promised. Now please be a dear and lower your weapon.”

“Open it.”

Seamus’ eyes flashed. He looked like a ticking time bomb now. Emry guessed he wasn’t used to dealing with such harshness, much less when it came from a female teenager who’d had the nerve to show up by herself. He loosened the clasp string and turned the bag over. Out fell a small, smooth, glass sphere onto his palm.

Emry squinted, trying to make out more details, but the sphere was too far away. He’d never seen anything like it, nor heard of anything like it. What was it? What did it do? Why was it so valuable—in their opinion, worth the life of a human being?

A hollow opened up in Emry’s stomach as unease crept over him. Things had just become far more complicated than he’d anticipated, and despite all his years of experience he was beginning to think he was in way over his head.

So Emry did what he always did when he found himself in precarious situations like this. He began to formulate a plan, mind running through strategies and tactics, the layout of the buildings and lot, defensive areas, attack and retreat points, weaponry and his own strengths and skills versus theirs, as well as the probability he would be protecting someone the entire time.

And all the while he reminded himself of the goal—

There was no way whoever was in that trunk was changing hands. Over two thousand people were trafficked into slavery every single day.

And that was just the ones people knew about.

Emry tightened his grip, fingers curling over the edge of the beam.

“Roll it toward me,” the woman was saying.

“I don’t think you understand how fragile—”

“I said, roll it toward me.”

By now all formality and charm had vanished, and the real Seamus had surfaced.

What Emry saw there chilled him.

“Not until you open that trunk,” Seamus growled.

There was a moment of tense silence, and then the BMW’s trunk opened all by itself. With her gun still raised and her eyes remaining on Seamus, the young woman’s chin flicked toward the trunk and she said, “Get out.”

Emry raised up onto the balls of his feet, body quivering in anticipation, leaning forward like a runner poised for the shot of the starting pistol.

The car shook slightly, then a hand appeared, followed by a foot, and someone climbed out.

CHAPTER 3—BEAST OF PREY

The first thing Cody became aware of was pain. Her head pounded, her neck ached, and the back of her calf burned and throbbed like a cut bruise.

The second thing she became aware of was the fact that she couldn’t hear. Everything was muffled, as if someone had stuffed her ears with cotton. A high pitch rose until it widened into pressure, there were two painful pops, and then her hearing rushed in.

Echoing, thundering water.

Cody’s eyes flew open.

Instead of the ceiling fan, and storm windows bleeding rectangles of moonlight, she saw dark chunks of gray lit by a flickering, soft, blue glow. The smell of wet rock bit the air. A fine, cool mist was gathering on her skin, making her jeans and long-sleeved t-shirt damp. The ground beneath her was wet, hard, and uneven, its sharp edges poking into her back.

Cody rolled her head to the side toward the rushing sound and saw massive, powerful rivers of water crashing over a black overhang, sending drops and streams and scattered splashes onto a rock floor below, lit up by the same blue glow.

It was a waterfall. And she was in a cave.

Cody shot up and stumbled to her feet. A sharp dagger of pain slashed through the back of her head and the slick, rocky ground cut into her bare feet, but she couldn’t stop turning around and around, taking everything in, terror growing by the second. What was happening? Where was she? Her mind kept trying to make sense of everything, but all she could process was her surroundings as she looked for an escape, a way back home, anything to get her out of here.

By its asymmetry and craggy surfaces, Cody assumed the cave was a natural formation. It was large, about 60 yards across the mouth. Moss covered one wall near the opening, but everywhere else was slick and bare gray stone with flat, shaved surfaces broken by jagged cracks.

Cody realized she’d stopped turning. She was staring with wide eyes into the sucking void at the back of the cave. Behind her the waterfall pricked her skin with sharp, icy drops, wracking her with shivers and trailing down her neck and under her shirt, mingling with the clammy sweat already gathered there. The darkness pressed against her eyes, making them burn and water. She swiped at them with her sleeve, terrified of going one second without being able to see. Peering into the black throat of the cave, she strained to find some kind of movement, anything that could warn her, prepare her for some kind of attack. But there was nothing.

No. That wasn’t right.

There was something. She could feel it. It wasn’t what she’d felt earlier, but it was definitely a presence.

And it was watching her.

Cody swore and backed up a step, looking around wildly for some kind of weapon, but there weren’t any loose rocks anywhere. The only things she found in her pockets were a candy wrapper and a receipt from a gas station.

Useful. So useful. 

Maybe she could jump into the waterfall. But it was huge with cords of violent water spearing downward. If the waterfall itself didn’t kill her, she was probably high up enough for the water to be like concrete by the time she reached the bottom. Her ears had popped when she’d woken up, hadn’t they? So didn’t that mean she was at a different altitude now?

The sound of clicking echoed out of the void, bouncing off the walls, sharp enough to cut through the rushing sound of the water.

Cody jerked and backed up another step. “Did you bring me here?” she yelled, unable to bear the tension any longer. She’d meant for her voice to carry, but it had sounded way too loud, almost disturbingly so. As if no one had spoken aloud in this cave for a long time.

There was no answer.

“What do you want?”

Silence.

“What do you want with me! Say something!”

Movement caught her eye. An inky fluidity was slowly emerging straight out of the wall about thirty yards down to her left. It was blacker than the recesses behind it, as if it was absorbing all of the light around it…

A Shadow.

But as it stepped out, Cody realized that unlike all of the Shadows she’d seen before…this one had a distinct form.

Almost rippling as it slunk into the cave on four legs, a long, thin tail whipped about as its shoulders smoothly rose and fell in the eerie way feline predators move when stalking their prey. But if it was some kind of beast of prey, it was far too large. At every step, there was a click-scrape, and Cody realized what she’d been hearing this entire time, was the creature’s claws.

It turned toward her, and Cody saw two gleaming circles of white where its eyes should’ve been, leaking light like smoke. 

With a rush of feathers and a great gust of heat, wings erupted from its sides. They were enormous, almost reaching from one side of the cave to the other. And the insides of them glowed a deep, simmering red.

Immediately afterward, as if the opening of its wings had caused it, a sharp, warm pressure bit into the fingertips of Cody’s right hand. She sucked in a breath through her teeth and automatically looked down, turning her hand over.

The pads of each finger glowed red, like embers amongst dying flames.

Just like the creature’s wings. 

Cody stared, eyes feeling like they were going to bulge out of her eye sockets. She didn’t need to touch them to know they were hot—as hot as a branding iron left in a fire. And yet her fingers didn’t hurt. They only buzzed with a warm pressure that longed to be released.

Cody was already walking backward across the wet rock as fast as she could while horrific visions filled her head. Fangs sinking into flesh, splintering joints, cracking bones. Claws raking her face, tearing through skin and muscle, bursting veins, ripping apart sinew, popping tendons. Wings trapping her in a scorching embrace, slowly melting the flesh from her bones.

Maybe she could jump into the waterfall and take her chances. That had to be better than being ripped apart and eaten or burned alive.

Before she could decide, Cody’s bare feet slipped on the wet rock and she fell backward into the waterfall as crushing water pounded against her face and body, flipping her over and over, filling her lungs as she tried to scream, falling, falling, waiting to burst apart on the surface below.

***

As the figure climbed out of the trunk, Emry could only stare in horrified disbelief.

It was just a little girl, no more than six-years-old. Her stringy, dirty blonde hair was caught up in a mangled ponytail and she wore a thin pajama gown. Her narrow shoulders shivered in the light rain, tiny hands balled into fists to protect her fingers from the cold. And she was barefoot, surrounded by broken glass.

Emry’s teeth clenched and his fingers bit into the metal. Stay focused, he told himself. Don’t react out of emotion. Compartmentalize. Watch and Wait. Strategize. Be patient. Act with forethought.

If it had been an adult or even a teenager, Emry was certain it would have been easier to wait patiently to observe and collect as much information as possible before acting.

But this was a child. A small, helpless, innocent child…

Something inside of him broke.

Emry didn’t think, he didn’t wait. Surrendering to some instinct deep inside of him that years of hardened experience hadn’t strangled yet, he leaped off the beam in a dive. With only a second or two to plan, there was only one way Emry knew how to get their attention off the girl without getting the child caught in the crossfire. It might not work, but it didn’t matter.

If he didn’t intervene, the girl was dead or better off dead anyway.

Emry thrust the weak glow of the street light away from him in a wide berth, cloaking himself in darkness as a result. They would only see a fading light and a growing shadow—if they even noticed at all. 

If he’d been at full strength, Emry would’ve been able to douse the entire lot in darkness, but he was using far too much energy pushing against the ground to slow his descent.

Lightly landing on the asphalt behind the man at the back of the group between the Navigators, Emry used the momentum to roll forward over his right shoulder. He came up with both fists raised and fired two bullets, both headshots, killing the man instantly before he’d even realized Emry was there. By the time the man had collapsed backward, Emry had already killed two more, their bodies dropping as the rapidly shrinking group realized they were under attack from behind.

Emry spun around the back of the Navigator closest to the BMW as cries rang out, and kept moving along the length of the car. Pushing the light from the headlights away just enough to obscure his movement, he darted across the small space to the BMW and ducked behind it on the opposite side of the young woman. Breathing hard, he looked under the car, catching a glimpse of the little girl’s feet. She was still standing at the open trunk.

As far as Emry knew, no one had seen him as he’d attacked or changed positions—and it needed to stay that way. Confusion and chaos were his only allies at the moment. It had been mere seconds since the men had noticed the dead, but Emry could feel the tension rapidly escalating. There was probably a standoff happening right now between the men and the young woman, guns drawn, pointed at each other. Emry could hear Seamus screaming expletives.

The timing over the next few seconds was crucial if he was going to take the little girl unnoticed—and hopefully before the shooting started. To prevent a gunfight for at least a little longer, he needed to keep their focus off each other…

Time to add some more chaos.

Emry turned to face the Navigators and dropped to his belly, right shoulder sidled up against the edge of the front left tire of the BMW. The Navigator he’d circumvented earlier sat right in front of him, while the other waited diagonally from Emry, hemming the BMW in from the other side. He could see at least part of three tires from each Navigator from his position. 

He could also see ten ankles.

Extending his right arm parallel to the ground and tucking his left under for support and stability, Emry made a fist with his right hand, tilted his head so that his cheek rested on his upper arm and his right eye lined up with the bullet casing even with his middle knuckle as if he were lining up his sight to shoot a rifle. Squeezing his left eye shut, he took one slow inhale, exhaled halfway, paused, aimed…and fired.

Two pops of exploding rubber sounded over the rain in quick succession, followed by the creak of metal and a rush of air. More shouts cut through the sound of the rain, which were quickly replaced by groans and screams as three ankles took bullets. 

A hole tore open in the BMW tire to Emry’s right as he fired from his left fist. 

Lifting his right arm to free his left, Emry fired one more bullet, ripping through the rubber of two tires in one shot to take out the other Navigator. While tucking his right shoulder in, Emry pushed off the ground, spinning his body twice in the air, and landed facing the back of the BMW on a palm, a knee, and a foot. He immediately pushed off again like a sprinter to speed up his movements while keeping his head low, stopped at the back edge of the car, and pulled the girl toward him just as the first shot rang out. A barrage of gunfire, screams, yells, grunts, scrambling feet through splashes of puddles, and the whoosh-spatter of falling bodies followed.

The sense of someone watching him made goosebumps break out over Emry’s skin, and instinct took over.

He scooped up the girl as he pushed all of the light away from them and raced across the lot toward the scaffolding.

A single gunshot rang out from behind.

***

That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed it, and stay tuned for updates! Blessings, friend.

(Unfortunately, I have to add this…)

Unpublished work © 2018, 2019 Mandy R. Campbell

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