Authors: Mari Arden
"One" Copyright © 2013 by Melinda Yang
design by Regina Wamba at MaeIDesign and Photography, L.L.C
Becky from Hot Tree Editing
reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and
retrieval system without written permission of the author, except in
the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and
This book is a
work of fiction. Any references to historical events or real people
are used fictitiously. Other names, characters and incidents are
products of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual
events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Other books by Mari Arden
To anyone who ever thought they couldn't.
I follow him.
The dark shadow is hard
to see because he blends in so easily like a natural predator. If I
squint my eyes, I can make out the sharp outline. I imagine seeing
the dark rectangular spectacles resting on the bridge of his nose. I
imagine his lips curled in a gentle smile that doesn't quite reach
his eyes. I watch as he slips into the house like the phantom he is.
The house doesn't look
menacing. It looks normal. A rural colonial home. Beautiful,
grandiose- but something stirs inside. The curtains are closed, but I
imagine there are lights on. I imagine there are people moving,
silent as he is.
I need to get in.
It goes against every instinct inside me. Grandma says I'm a
survivor, and she's right. I've survived when all I've wanted to do
was crumble. I've stayed when I desperately wanted to run. I've
closed my eyes, and gritted my teeth through it all because I'm a
Tonight, it ends.
Not letting myself
think too much longer, I move. I've never been so grateful to be
small. I easily hide my body in the bushes, inching my way closer to
the back. A house this size should have many entrances, I reason. My
rational brain is trying to think of a plan. My eyes scan the home,
trying to notice darker, shadowed places, and an entryway someone
would take pains to hide. Eventually, I conclude I'm too far away. I
need to get closer. My heart is racing wildly, picking up speed with
each step, but I don't give in. I fight for every step. I swallow my
instincts to run, to just accept what my life has become. I push
those urges aside, shoving them to the back of my brain as I mentally
find a way inside, find a way inside…
I'm less than ten feet
away behind a parked tractor. I'm so close I can smell the smoke from
a recently extinguished cigarette bud mixed with something husky.
Sweat, maybe. I put a hand to my chest, trying to steady the erratic
rhythm. I don't dare breathe too loud in case they hear me. I know
what they do to people they hear.
Breathing in through my
nose, I look up, making sure that only my forehead and eyes are
I have a good view of the side and the
back. There's a back door, but a large man stands in front of it,
leaning his broad back against one of the columns. My eyes continue
to search. I know these men well enough to know there are many ways
Green vines circle the
massive home, shrouding it like a cloaked secret. In the daytime the
house is beautiful, sparkling almost. The plants surrounding the home
give it an unearthly glow, as if the people who reside inside are not
quite human. I noticed earlier the curtains are closed, and I suspect
windows are probably sealed shut too even though it's ungodly humid.
My eyes roam past the columns in the front of the building, and past
the long rectangular windows to the polished back porch, gleaming
underneath a full moon. My eyebrows meet in the middle as I focus on
a protruding floorboard at a diagonal angle from the ground. It's
been colored to match the porch, and I might have passed it if it
weren't for the shaft of light reflected from the moon being cut at
an odd angle.
It must lead to a basement,
Doubt quivers, but I
plunge ahead anyway. I try to imagine I'm a panther, stalking a prey.
The image makes me feel stronger, a little less cowardly. I've
learned that sometimes survivors have to be cowards. Sometimes they
have to stay small.
I lift the floorboard
up and slip inside, stealth as a cat. I land on my feet in a dark
hallway. I hear voices, low murmers I can't decipher. I take a single
step forward and that's when I smell it: something rotting. Something
burning. The smell is so strong, assailing my senses so heavily that
my stomach revolts. I cover my mouth with my hands, gagging into my
palms. The sounds are muffled, but I'm terrified someone might have
heard it. Briskly, I move, positioning my back to the wall, making
myself as invisible as possible. I stay in the shadows. With each
step, I take the smell becomes stronger, creating waves of nausea
that roll inside me like a storm.
I reach a door. My
I command my legs.
don't cooperate. They want to stay glued to the wooden floor. Maybe
they're reacting to what a part of me already knows.
There's something bad
on the other side.
I look at my hands,
willing them to touch the knob, to turn it so I can sneak in. I
to know what's inside this house.
Open the door, open the door,
open the door…
As if by magic, the knob starts to turn.
I can't move.
I can't breathe.
He steps inside, the
shadow in my nightmare.
He looks surprised for
a moment, but then it fades as fast as it comes. "Hello,
Julianna," he greets me pleasantly. He closes the door, but not
before I see what's inside, not before I see everything.
I gasp, and my legs
won't stay standing anymore. I crumble like a pile of ashes, falling
to the floor without a sound. "What have you done?" I
His face is impassive,
unmoving. "This is none of your concern, Julianna." He says
the words as if we're talking about the weather, about the food
inside Max's Diner. He's talking as if he's a god, and the problems
of the mortals don't matter. "You shouldn't be here."
No, I shouldn't. No one
should. I shake my head slowly, the movement almost painful to make
because my body is frozen with dread. "What have you done?"
I repeat again.
"I'm sorry it has
come to this," he sighs, and it almost sounds believable.
Almost. "You were always such a good girl. Always so obedient.
I'm sorry you won't be able to leave tonight." He walks toward
me. Braidon's face flashes inside my head.
Survival kicks in.
"Please," I squeak. I lower my eyes in a submissive pose,
flickering over his body.
His voice is deceptively gentle. "We can't remain ghosts if
someone sees us, now, can we?" He crouches, and his fingers are
tight around my arms as he forces me up. I keep looking down.
small. I am small. I am small.
"Look at me,
Julianna." I flinch, but I lock my gaze with his. "I am
, I really am." There's a glimmer in his
eyes. It isn't sorrow. He reaches to his side to grab the gun
attached there. His hands touch an empty holster.
The weapon is cool
against my palm. My hands are shaking as I aim it into his stomach.
He freezes when he feels the point of the gun. "Move back,"
I command. My voice wavers. It doesn't sound strong. I'm not strong.
He looks surprised at
what I've managed to do, but he does as I instruct, holding his hands
up in a non- threatening gesture. He cocks an eyebrow. "Very
smooth. You belong with us-"
break in angrily.
He pauses, but he
doesn't push more.
"I'm not what you
are," I deny.
don't become what we expect."
I grate out.
The pleasant, almost
nonchalant expression on his face hardens. "Drop the gun,
I shake my head again.
For a moment, I almost let the gun fall to the floor. For a moment I
contemplate forgetting what I saw. But then I see the truth in his
One of us will not
survive this night.
I stand straighter,
making up my mind. I'm a survivor.
There isn't time to
I pull the trigger.
I smell the smoke
It's heavy and thick,
traveling to the sky like a stairway connecting heaven and earth.
Even though it's dark, I wish I could swirl away with it, drifting
into mists and skies instead of bound beneath, attached to my
"Are you just
going to stand there and stare at smoke all day?" Nat's voice
breaks into my thoughts. I can feel her behind me. She's a bundle of
energy, and her foot's tapping the ground in irritation.
"Girl, the party
, not here. We're missing the action!" Nat
clasps my shoulders, turning me around. "I'd leave you right
here to talk to the air if I could, but this is
party of the year and anyone who wants to be
inside." She points to the large house behind us. We're a few
miles off campus on a hill overlooking the city. From this distance,
I can see Library Mall, the center of UW-Madison. Usually, it's
brimming with people, but tonight it's silent. Even the circular
fountain is turned off, unmoving and quiet. I remember walking
through Library Mall two months ago when I first arrived. I'd
breathed in the air and felt small among the towering buildings. I
used to hate that feeling, but it didn't feel too bad here. It didn't
feel like something was trying to consume me.
Loud laughter drifts
over, and something heavy falls with a thud. More cackling follows.
Instead of smiling, I hug myself, turning back to look out below. I'd
come out for some fresh air. It was packed tighter than a chicken
house inside with adrenaline bubbling everywhere. I'm not excited to
go back when I have so much to think about.
"Can't you just go
inside and become a ‘somebody’ for me instead?" I suggest
vaguely, my eyes tracing the dark buildings. My fingers itch to put
it on paper. I'd paint the sharp edges of each building a dark blue,
and rub them until each faded into the night sky, like giant
Nat pushes her face
closer to me, abruptly shaking me from the picture in my head. Her
narrowed eyes are my refusal. "My psychiatrist says I have a
savior complex, and unfortunately it's kicking in high gear right
unable to leave you up here and face
possible social suicide. It feels just like that one time I had to
wear my great aunt Gladys's sweater she owned from fifty years ago.
It was the only thing that fit me after I'd vomited all over my
clothes. It was awful." She wrinkles her nose. "And putrid
"I didn't know
your savior complex comes with a smell, too."
she answers instantly. Linking her elbows with mine, she pulls me
behind her. I resist because the last thing I want to do is go back.
She gives me a strange look as if she can't figure me out. Shouldn't
I like this? Shouldn't I be happy she brought me? Aren't I normal?
It's that last thought that makes me bite my lips, and stiffen my
Out here, I'm just a girl,
I remind myself.
Jules Hendricks and I am going to enjoy this party even if I have to
chug another tequila shot to make that happen.