In yesterday’s post, I told you how I was doing some off-the-top-of-my-head writing. I ended up with a character named Spark (later I would discover her name was Sparkle; I still haven’t figured out why). After her mother died, she was sent to live with her grandmother in a town called Anderson.
“Hey, Sparky!” Giles Princeton called after me. “Walking home alone today?” He laughed, and his tone was low and suggestive. His friends, huddled around him like an adoring pack of dogs, snickered.
All up the hallway of Anderson Prepatory, the kids laughed.
Some of the laughter was like purring, some of it was like barking, hissing, cackling, or snarling. Try as they might to hide behind their human façades, they weren’t fooling anyone. Giles’ smile revealed too many pearly whites, and – if you looked fast enough – you’d see it wasn’t just his canines that were pointed.
I pulled my backpack up closer to my body, shielding my neck, as if that would help.
“Don’t pay him any mind, Sparky,” Janice, a shaggy-looking blonde girl standing at her locker, said. “He’s under orders. He can’t do anything.”
Her voice was friendly, her wide brown eyes open and inviting. I glared at her. She grinned back, but not too openly. There were too many things beyond those too-pink lips that needed to stay hidden.
A shiver ran up my spine: that instinctual trigger that told you that you were being watched. Yeah, thanks, instincts. I could tell that. Only half of the population was staring at me. I kept walking, chin up, eyes on the door.
Just look at the door.
Don’t look at Andy.
The boy stared blatantly, running his tongue across his teeth. The muscles in his hulking shoulders moved as if of their own accord. He wanted to follow me, but he was under orders, too. Until I took both of my size nine feet off of Anderson Prepatory property, they couldn’t touch me. It was one of the Rules.
I got to the end of the hall and pushed the swinging door open. Fall sunlight met my hazel eyes, warmed my skin. The beautiful oak trees that surrounded the yard waved in the breeze, and the sky was stark blue overhead. The scent of cherries and oak hung heavy in the air. Heat waves shimmered on the road beyond the yard.
There was nobody in the yard besides me. But they were all watching me through the doors, their hungry eyes riveted on me.
My stomach tightened with the age-old fear. I knew the smell of it rolled off me like waves, and they thrived on that. Sweat beaded on the back of my neck, and slowly trickled down, sliding between my shoulder blades and all the way down my spine, until they were sopped up by the waistband of my black sweatpants. The back of my shirt was already damp from my run-in with Andy that morning. The Rules were strictly enforced on the grounds, but there were some places where you couldn’t be watched.
Gran was waiting for me, I reminded myself.
Steeling my nerve, I went down the three concrete steps and started across the yard. The breeze still blew, the sun still shone, but I felt physically ill. Beyond the thick fence of trees, beyond the somewhat haven of Anderson, stood the long, black road that led home.
It also led through the woods, past the complexes where my classmates lived.
Were my feet still moving? Why? I didn’t want to leave Anderson. The old building was spooky at night, but it was still safe. Here, as long as I stayed in the open, I couldn’t be harmed. But my feet kept going. I had no other choice. I’d walked this road a thousand times, and, God willing, I’d walk it a thousand times more. I only had to do it on this day once a year.
The tips of my Uggs met the invisible line that separated Anderson from The Real World. I glanced back over my shoulder. Not a single student had come out yet. They were still waiting. Not until I passed the line did they begin.
I stepped across the line and started walking.
They didn’t burst out right away. That wasn’t their style. Not until I had started up the road did the school doors open. The swell of voices as they poured onto the lawn filled my ears. My heartbeat, and my step, quickened.
Gran and I lived down the road two miles. It only took me twenty minutes to get there at a quick walk. And I would be walking quickly. To run was to invite them to chase me, and that had happened twice too many times.
Do not look back, Sparky. Do not look back.
It didn’t matter. Nothing would be back there if I were to turn around. I couldn’t see them. But I could sense them. And Andy. I could smell Andy. I could almost taste his smugness and his euphoria. He would be leading the pack, because he always did. And if I didn’t move fast enough, he’d lead the attack, too. Giles would be close behind him. Janice might even be with them, finally giving up her farce of being my ally. I knew her secret. She was as much of a liar as they were; more, because they never tried to deny it.
It was stupid to think they’d play by the rules. For the five years I’d lived in Anderson, Andy had led them in bending the rules so artfully, they didn’t get caught. But he was in charge now, and he’d had enough.
It was August 31.
The Audes of Blood.
Every year on that day, a sacrifice was chosen. Every year, they hunted the sacrifice down and slaughtered it. Every year – but the last two. I’d been that sacrifice. And they hadn’t caught me.
Andy had always watched. He’d always had this plan. But he was old enough, now. It was his turn.