Authors: A.L. Kessler
Just a Little Death
Children of the Apocalypse
Copyright © 2016 Amy Kessler
All Rights Reserved
Editing: Jennifer with Wise Owl Word Polishing and Jasmyn with Hot off the Shelf
Cover art: Imagine Ink Designs
Formatting: Imagine Ink Designs
No part of this book may be produced without expressed permission of copyright holder.
To my daughter Alice
May your adventures be grand and many
Thank you to everyone who made this book possible. I know there were some sort deadlines and you met them all. Huge thanks to Sara and Jasmyn for helping me with some of the emotions in this book. Huge thanks to Jennifer and Jasmyn for editing and proofing. Crystal, you kept me on track and listened to me when I needed you to take over some author-promotion things, and you rocked it all as my PA. Thanks to my husband, who dealt with my mood swings, my stress, and the crazy hormones that come with having a pregnant wife. (Oh, and my coffee...)
A One Night Stand with Death
“In today’s news, three people on the western slope have died from the black plague. Doctors believe they were infected by fleas—”
My mom reached forward and clicked off the radio as we pulled into a parking spot at the college. “You don’t need to hear that.”
My mother always avoided the news. She limited television time and monitored anything I watched or read when she could. She wanted to shield me from the world, but her grip on me would end today. Today, I started college. I’d chosen the one farthest away from home that still met my mother’s in-state requirement. Eventually, she’d have to give up her grip on me. Controlling parents had no place in the life of a college student.
“That’s the fifth death this week from the black plague.” I stated and threw the car into park. The transmission groaned and shuddered a little bit at the change of gears.
Her gaze slid to me. “How do you know that?”
I wasn’t sure, I just knew it. I always had an ability to tell how many deaths there were, but I didn’t mention that to her. “I read about it in an article the other day. The death toll and the amount of infected are growing every day. The conspiracy nuts believe it’s the government.” I kept my voice light, trying not to push her buttons.
“And this is why I don’t like you watching the news. They said the same thing about the Ebola outbreak too, and that’s all but disappeared from the media.” She waved her hand in the air to dismiss the topic. “Sammy, you can’t believe everything you read.”
I knew that of course, but there wasn’t much I could say since I had lied to her about how I knew the death toll. “Yes, Mom.” I rolled my eyes. I got out of the car and slammed the door shut. Not out of anger, but because if I didn’t the door wouldn’t shut all the way.
The old car shifted at the pressure. My mom got out and tried several times to ease her door shut to no avail. She gave in with a sigh and slammed it. “Watch your tone.”
I ignored her and smiled at the students moving towards the dorms. Some had an adult with them some didn’t. Some had a suitcase or two and some had boxes upon boxes. A few groups huddled around a piece of a paper they’d glance down at, then up, and point to something across the campus. This would be my new home for the next four years. My nerves shot up and my stomach rolled.
This would be the longest time I’d been away from home and the farthest. The only thing helping my nerves was the other students who seemed just as lost and nervous. My mom put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s not too late to go back home.”
I considered it, but if I turned around now and ran home then I’d always ask myself ‘what if’. “No, I’ll be fine.”
I straightened my t-shirt and pulled my jeans up a little, trying to find my confidence. I was eighteen now, an adult, I could handle a bunch of strangers my age. My gaze searched the moving crowd for someone who looked friendly. A guy leaned against a truck with his arms crossed. His gaze met mine and his eyes widened a touch. He nodded and went back to searching the crowd.
His muscles strained as he crossed his arms and his snug jeans hugged his body. He held his head up high without flinching at anyone’s looks. He had confidence, but I wouldn’t have considered him friendly looking. He sported a military haircut, and he clenched his jaw. His gaze returned to me and looked more predatory than anything else.
“Stay away from him.” Mom stated as if she followed my gaze. “Guys like that are nothing but problems. That one in particular.” She crossed her arms.
I turned and grabbed my suitcases out of the trunk. “Do you know him?”
“I know his family. They have violent tendencies.”
My mom’s job as a social worker often came back to bite me and ruin social events. Not that I wanted to experience violent tendencies, but it would be nice to come to my own conclusion about people. I popped the trunk and grabbed my single suitcase and my laptop bag. “Let’s just find my room.”
My mom pulled out a map and we leaned over it. “This building here.” She pointed to one of the squares on the paper.
I glanced up at the buildings and then back to the paper. “Just through the quad.” I hiked my laptop bag up on my shoulder.
We walked through the small courtyard. The green grass brushed against the bottom of our shoes, not tall enough for our steps to leave prints. People crowded the walkways as they moved from building to building and a few huge trees were covered in white blooms. We arrived at the dorm furthest away from the classroom buildings. The unscathed walls with a modern stucco siding gave the impression of a new small hotel instead of a dorm. With four stories it towered over the older two story dorms.
I swiped my student ID and the doors clicked open. Mom followed me in and we consulted the paper again for my room number.
“Second floor. The good news is that you’ll have only one flight of stairs to go down in case of an emergency.” She pressed the button for the elevator.
I tried not to imagine an emergency happening in what I assumed would be a chaotic dorm. Another student stepped up next to us and grinned at me.
She held her hand out to me. “I’m Ruthie.” Her voice matched the bounce in her step.
I swore my mother tensed next to me. I shook her hand. “I’m Sammy.”
She squeezed my hand and then let go. Her dark curly hair tumbled over her shoulders. She stood a little bit taller than me and blinked down with honey brown eyes. “Sammy? Is that short for something?”
I shook my head. “Nope, just Sammy.”
Ruthie’s gaze wandered over me and I tried to decide if she was judging me for my lack of style or maybe my short pixie cut lying flat. I hadn’t put much into my appearance since we were in the car for almost eight hours. Her eyes slid to my mom and her mouth formed a little surprised ‘o’.
“You must be her mother!” Ruthie exclaimed after a moment of awkward silence. “You two look almost identical.”
I relaxed a little bit. “Thank you.”
“Was you father not able to make it today?” She asked.
My mother responded in a heartbeat. “He’s not in the picture. How rude to ask.” I couldn’t see her, but I imagined she had her hands on her hips.
I pressed my lips together and touched Ruthie’s arm. “Don’t let my mother’s attitude offend you. You didn’t know. It’s just a touchy subject.”
“I’m sorry, I just assumed.” She shook her head and the elevator dinged.
The doors swished open and we walked in. My mom jabbed the button on the panel hard enough to turn the tip of her finger white.
“What room are you in?” Ruthie teetered on her heels.
“Two-thirty-eight.” I set my suitcase down for a moment.
“No way! We’re roomies!”
She’d been outgoing and nice this whole time and I couldn’t have asked for more in a roommate. Though my mother wasn’t going to like her. Nothing ruined a first impression with my mom like asking about my father. “Awesome.” One side of my mouth quirked up in a smile.
I swear my mother rolled her eyes and sighed. The elevator opened at our floor and we walked down the hall together, my mom a few feet behind us. “I’m taking all my classes on Tuesday and Thursday this semester. What about you?” Ruthie stopped in front of our room, slid her ID in, and the lock clicked. We walked in and examined the room.
“Bit small for two people.” Mom came beside us. She was right. Murphy beds sat against the two longer walls with desks next to them. Bookshelves hung over the desks. The cupboard the beds folded up in also had a bookshelf. A pantry-like closet took up two of the walls. “Are you sure you don’t want to upgrade to a single room?”
I nodded. “Part of the college experience is having a roommate. Besides, at least I won’t be lonely.”
Ruthie smiled and moved over to the far side of the room. “Cool if I take this side?”
“Of course.” It didn’t matter to me; I had no particular attachment to a side. I turned to my mom. “I’m going to be fine. I promise.”
Ruthie came up, put an arm over my shoulder and gave my mom a brilliant smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of your daughter. She’s in good hands here.”
A chill marched up my spine at the words, as if they held a deeper meaning. My mom met Ruthie’s gaze and nodded. “I’m going to take a taxi to the Greyhound station, unless you need something else?”
I shook my head and stepped away from Ruthie, guiding my mom out to the hall. “What happened to dinner?” I tried to keep the annoyance out of my voice.
“I need to get back home and get work done. I’ll be back up for parents’ weekend next month.” She gave me an apologetic look and squeezed my hand.
This wasn’t unusual for her, but I hoped she would have made an exception since it was my first day at college. She always tried to control things, but she never managed to be a present parent. “Okay, have a safe trip back.” I tried to keep the disappointment out of my voice. Asking her to stay would have gotten me nowhere. She’d turn it into an argument and ruin the day.
She hugged me and squeezed me a little too tight. “Be careful of the company you keep. No parties, and study hard.”
I hugged her back and took a moment to take in the love and security of her arms. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Sammy.” She kissed my head and let go. “I’ll text you when I get home safe.”
She gave me a little wave before turning around and walking down the hall.
I walked back into the room and took a deep breath. This was it, I was finally on my own, without my mom looking over my shoulder, and without her voice whispering in my ear. And I had no idea what I was doing.
Ruthie placed a few things on her bookshelves and glanced over her shoulder at me. “I’m meeting up with a friend for dinner. Do you want to go?”
I took a moment to digest the words. Crap, I was in charge of feeding myself now too. I mentally went over how to use the meal card. And I was going to need a job soon to pay for luxuries my mom and the school wouldn’t supply. A small bit of panic crept through me.
Ruthie raised a brow. “We’re meeting at the campus café; they take your meal card. Are you okay?”
“Just nervous, I’ve never been away from home.” I ran my hands over my pants. “It’s stupid, I know. You seem to have your stuff together and I’m about to have a nervous breakdown.” I shoved my hands in my pockets to keep them still.
She smiled at me. “You’re going to do fine. College isn’t the scariest thing out there.” She put an arm around my shoulders and walked me out of the room. “I’ll take care of you. We’ll have fun this year.”
My mom always talked about how a higher power puts people in your life for a reason. I never believed her and always challenged her with ‘What was the reason my dad was in your life?’ Her response was always ‘to give me you.’ At this moment with Ruthie’s arm around my shoulders, a strange sense of calm rolled through me as she pulled me down the hall to the elevator. Maybe college wouldn’t be so bad.
My thoughts changed a little as Ruthie and I entered the café. The café had tall booths to the left of the ordering line and the wall came up high enough to block the view of the small dining area. Ruthie steered me around the booths to where tables were scattered around the floor. The guy from before stood up from one of the booths and waved us over. His smile loosened up the tight jaw he’d had earlier and gave him a more approachable look. I hesitated for a moment before Ruthie pulled my arm and urged me towards the table.
“He’s not as mean as he looks.” She gave me a smile. “We’ve been friends for years.”
My mom’s warning rang in my head, but I pushed it off. She wasn’t here and I needed to start forming my own opinions. We approached the table. He gave Ruthie a giant hug before holding his hand out to me. “I’m Aeron Viggio.”
“Sammy Zadkiel.” I waited for the eyebrow quirk at the last name. I’d researched the uncommon last name and had turned up empty-handed. I’d asked my mother about it and she told me it came from the old country and left it at that.
Aeron’s mouth lifted in a smirk. “Zadkiel, that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time.”
Which meant he had heard it somewhere. I glanced at Ruthie who shrugged. “There’s only two people in the country with the last name.”
“Your mother worked with my father.” His tone didn’t hold the same spite that my mother’s had when she spoke of his family. He motioned to the counter. “Let’s go order.”
I walked to the counter but Aeron held Ruthie back for a moment. I ignored it; she said they had been friends for years. I was sure there were things he wanted to say without a new person around. People ordered at the counter on the other side of the booth. It spanned the whole wall with a place to order and a place to pick up the food. With no other students around it took me a moment to figure out where I needed to stand to order. I stood, lost for a moment right on the other side of where Aeron and Ruthie were.
“Are you sure she’s the one?” Aeron’s voice sounded from the other side of the tall booths. “She doesn’t seem to know who or what we are.”
I froze for a moment. What on earth was he talking about?
“She is, I met her mother. Her wings are black, but she’s still an angel. I don’t think either one of them knows what Sammy is or her mother wouldn’t have let her out of her sight.” Ruthie sighed. “All we can do is make sure she stays out of trouble. That means no parties, Aeron.”