Read An Excerpt
Paranormal, Young Adult
I parked my car on autumn-dry grass next to a beat-up red truck. It felt like the next few minutes were monumental, as if they would decide my whole future. Getting out of this car would be admitting that my life was a waste. That I was a waste. It would be admitting that I was scared of my friends, scared of myself, my own darkness, my history. Everything in me wanted to stay in this car with the windows rolled up and the doors locked, forever. If I’d been a human, and forever meant only another sixty years, I might have actually done it. However, in my case, forever truly would have been unbearably long. There was no way.
I’d come here for a reason. I’d left my friends and disappeared to a different continent. On the plane coming over, I’d realized that besides Incy crippling the cabbie, despite my disgust at my lack of action, despite my paranoia about Incy’s seeing my scar, it had been a hundred, a thousand other things leading up to that, chipping away at my insides until I felt like a shell with nothing alive left in me. I hadn’t been going around killing people and setting villages on fire, but I’d been cutting a destructive path through my existence, and I’d realized, with nauseating honesty, that everything I touched was harmed. People were hurt, homes broken, cars wrecked, careers destroyed—the memories just kept trickling in like rivulets of fresh acid dripping into my brain until I wanted to scream.
The only person who had ever offered to help me, who had ever seemed to understand, was River. She had invited me here so many decades ago. And here I was.
I glanced around again, and this time I saw her, standing on the wide wooden steps of the house. She looked just the same as I remembered which was unusual. We tend to alter our appearances frequently, drastically. I certainly had, probably twenty times since I’d met her. I didn’t see how she could possibly recognize me. But she was watching me, and it was clear that she intended for me to make the first move.
I let out a deep breath, hoping the house was toasty warm inside, that I could get some hot tea or a drink or take a hot bath. Would she even remember me? Was her offer still good? I knew how ridiculous it was to hold her to something she’d said more than eighty years ago. But what else could I do?
Well, I’d done more pathetic things. I got out of the car and hunched into my leather jacket—my old one, not the one I’d lost two nights ago. I scuffled across the fallen leaves on the ground, already making plans for what to do when she turned me away. Go hide someplace warm, definitely. Fiji or something. Stay there till I felt better, felt like less of a waste. It was bound to happen sometime. Eventually Incy would probably seem less scary. Eventually I would forget all about the cabbie, as I’d forgotten about Imogen until yesterday.
“Hello,” she said when I was close enough. She wore a long paisley skirt and a woolen shawl around her shoulders. Her gray hair was straight, the sides pulled back by a clip. “Welcome.”
“Hi,” I said. “River?”
“Yes.” She searched my face for remembrance. “What’s your name, child?”
I gave a short laugh at being called a child, at my age. “Nastasya. Currently.”
“We’ve met.” It was a statement, not a question.
I nodded, crunching leaves under my boots. “A long time ago. You said—if I ever wanted to do something more, to come to West Lowing.” I looked casually off into the distance, saw clouds rolling in from the southwest.
“Nastasya,” she repeated. She looked at my straggly black hair, the contacts that made my eyes match the description on my American passport. I tried to remember what I had looked like when we met, but I couldn’t.
“Christiane,” I said, recalling. One of a very long line of names. Not the one I was born with. “My name was Christiane then. We met in France, after a car wreck. Like, in the late 1920s?”
“Ah, yes,” she said after a moment, nodding. “That was a bad night. But I’m glad I met you. And I’m glad you’re here.”
“Well,” I said awkwardly, looking anywhere but her face. “I know that was a long time ago, but I thought, you know, if—”
“I’m glad you’re here, Chr—Nastasya,” she repeated. “You’re welcome. Do you have anything with you?”
I nodded, thinking of my huge suitcase. And, of course, all my emotional baggage.
“Good. Let me show you to your room, and then you can get settled in.”
I got a room? “Is this like a hotel or something?” I asked, following her through the door into a foyer. A round table held a vase full of dried maple branches. A beautiful, wide curving staircase led to the second floor. Everything was white, simple, elegant. It was weird, but as soon as I stepped across her threshold, I felt—less scared? Less, I don’t know—vulnerable? Maybe I was imagining it.
“It used to be a Quaker meetinghouse,” River explained, heading upstairs. I could feel that there were other people in the building, but it felt calm and peaceful. “In the eighteen hundreds, about forty Friends lived here, working a farm. I’ve owned it, in various guises, since 1904.” The various guises meant that she, like all of us, had assumed different personas to explain her continuing existence.
She started off as one person, then pretended to die, then showed up again as that person’s long-lost daughter to inherit the house, and so on. I think there was a Star Trek episode that dealt with this.
“What is it now?”
River led me along the wide hallway, then took a right, which led to another long hallway with windows on one side and regularly spaced doors on the other. She gave a slight grin that made her look younger. “It’s a home for wayward immortals, of course.”