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Authors: Tracy Clark

Scintillate

BOOK: Scintillate
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Advanced Reader's Copy

Advanced Reader’s Copy only. Not for resale or distribution. Content may differ from final version.

Scintillate

The Light Key Trilogy

Tracy Clark

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2014 by Tracy Clark. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.

Edited by Karen Grove and Kate Fall

Cover design by Pamela Sinclair

Ebook ISBN 978-1-62266-146-6

Print ISBN 978-1-62266-145-9

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition February 2014

Advanced Reader’s Copy only. Not for resale or distribution. Content may differ from final version.

For Sydney & Cooper

The brightest and most beautiful lights in my life

Give light and the darkness will disappear of itself. ~ Erasmus

One

I

was kindling for the fire raging in my body. Whole one moment, but soon reduced to ash. And the world would forget I had ever existed when the wind scattered me to the stars.

It’s possible that feeling like death made me morbidly poetic.

A hand touched my fevered brow, leaving behind a ghostly imprint, as if I’d been branded with ice. I floated in a haze of voices and images. Sensations pricked at me from the world, but I had one foot out that door, frustrated that no one would let me go through it. My blood flowed searing and thick through my veins, and my mind took to conjuring relief, dreaming I floated on sheets of water beneath an icy moon, though my body burned under its cool gaze.

Every ounce of strength had been wrung out of me. Janelle found me on my hands and knees on the bedroom floor, trying to crawl to the toilet. She had to help me to the bathroom, even pull down my undies for me, which might have mortified me if I’d had the energy. Right then, I decided I could maybe love my stepmom.

“I think we should take her to the ER,” I heard my father say before I threw up again. Another racking spasm of heaving and spitting, my body turning inside out.

“I’ll go start the car,” Janelle said. Her frantic vibe scared me more than my father’s thinking I was sick enough to warrant a hospital visit. I heard the rattling of keys, the slam of the kitchen door to the garage. Disjointed, frantic whisperings faded in and out. Then it was really quiet for a long time. Or a minute.

In the ER, white walls and strange faces rushed by in a blur.

Blood pressure.

Blood tests.

Foreign latex hands on my barbed skin.

“Her temperature is 106.2,” the doctor said. “It’s dangerously high. Because of the vomiting, I’m going to administer a rectal suppository so it will stay in her system long enough to start working on her fever.”

“Great,” I groaned.

My father smoothed my hair. “Sorry. I think it’s necessary, sweetheart.”

I nodded. They could stick that medicine in every orifice I had if it would make me better.

“We’ll give her something for the nausea and an IV. She’s likely very dehydrated.”

I dry-heaved again to punctuate the doctor’s comment, then I drifted off into a strange half sleep with no peace. My flimsy awareness was like a pesky mosquito I couldn’t swat. My body ballooned and shrank, in my mind, to strange and disproportionate sizes. I was sure if I opened my eyes, my hands would be big, helium-filled, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade versions of themselves while my head would be as small as a tennis ball.

Pain pricked the soft inside of my elbow. In my bleary daze, I could swear my father was drawing my blood into smooth little vials that clinked together when he dropped them into his breast pocket.

“Could this have anything to do with her mother?” Janelle whispered.

I fought to stay alert, needing to hear his answer.

He responded with silence. Janelle’s voice lowered. “What if Cora’s got it?”

My already erratic heartbeat stumbled.

Dad didn’t answer her. He did that—left questions lying on the ground like dirty socks.

I fought against the oblivion blanketing me. I wanted to ask him why
he
was taking my blood. I wanted to ask what Janelle meant about my mother. I wanted to ask him so many things, but sleep dragged me under to where there were no answers.

Sometime later, a few pairs of hands lifted me off one bed and onto another much colder one. Freezing, actually. My back arched with the shock of it against my bare skin. Like lying on one of those gel ice packs Janelle insisted on putting in my lunch bag.

“It’s c-c-cold.”

An unfamiliar voice answered, “I know, sweetie. It’s a refrigerated bed. We need to keep your body temperature down, get the fever under control.”

Every nerve in my body came alive, making my sensitive skin feel like an angry army of sharp new hairs were pushing to break through. My teeth chattered, and I tasted the sharp tang of blood from biting my tongue. “This—this is inhumane. C-can I have a blanket?”

“Sorry, Ms. Sandoval. The point is to cool you down, not warm you up. No blanket. You can have this sheet, though.” She draped scratchy fabric across my legs, too insignificant to count as covering. My shivering started almost immediately, a deep shaking that rumbled from my chest outward.

Eventually, I slept, though fitfully due to a creepy light that appeared whenever I closed my eyes. It began as a far-off point but advanced—bit by bit—toward me. My stomach clenched with fear. The light moved deliberately, as if nothing on earth could stop it. As if it were time itself stalking me. A lucid shred of my mind knew this must be delirium from the fever, but it didn’t make it any less scary.

I wished Dad were with me. He’d hold my hand and talk until I fell asleep to the soothing timbre of his voice in the Chilean accent everyone said he had but I couldn’t hear. When he talked, I only heard…my dad.

I was a child of accents I couldn’t hear: Dad’s Chilean one, inaudible because I was used to it, and my mother’s Irish accent that had faded from my memory because she didn’t bother to stick around.

All I inherited from my mother was my fair Irish complexion. My curvy figure was pure Chileno, as was my hair: deep brown, almost black, and wild as if it had been wound around thick tree branches every night.

My awareness drifted below the waves and bobbed back up to the surface now and then, especially when people came into the room. It was like my body registered their presence before my brain did. I wrestled one eye open and saw the outline of a tall, gangling man standing in the doorway. The glaring lights of the corridor behind him were so bright, the man himself was shadow. He stood absolutely still, watching me. I wondered if there had been a shift change with the nurses and, if so, why wasn’t he, you know,
nursing me
instead of standing there, staring?

Chills assaulted me again, a rolling tremor that made my skin hurt and my chest ache. “Please…,” I mumbled, though I didn’t know what I was asking for.

The man glided into the room, bringing the bright, white light with him so that the hall behind him darkened as he walked toward me. With every step he took, my heart picked up speed, churning to life like an accelerating train. An icy wind blew through me, taking my breath with it.

He stopped just out of arm’s reach and continued to stare at me with dark eyes. They had a crazy look to them, the kind of eyes you see in pictures of serial killers, deranged and remote. This man didn’t belong here. I knew he didn’t.
What do you want?
my brain screamed. I opened my mouth but couldn’t form words, could barely keep my eyes open. I struggled for air.

The light reached into me. I was being pulled out of my body. Evaporating. I crossed my arms over my chest, trying to hold me in. The man took a step back. A flicker of frustration passed over his face. He backed out of my room, his light retreating with him. From the doorway, he gave me one final look, a chilling smirk.

“A mighty flame follows a tiny spark.”

“What time is it?” I asked in a scratchy voice when the nurse came in for the umpteenth time to check my temperature.

“Almost morning. The doctor will come see you in a while.”

I swallowed past the burning in my throat. “Is my dad here?”

“I think he’s the gentleman sacked out on our waiting-room couch. Devoted guy, your father.”

I half smiled. “He is.” After my mother’s disappearing act when I was five, it seemed like he tried to love me twice as much so I wouldn’t feel the sting. It still stung. What he didn’t realize was that twice as much love was like wearing twice as many seat belts. His love was starting to feel like a five-point harness.

“Knock, knock.” My father stood in the doorway. His pants were a wrinkled mess, as was his shirt. His tie was gone, and one sleeve was rolled up to his elbow; the other flopped around his wrist. It was alarming to see his meticulousness so spoiled. He ran his fingers through his salty black hair and walked to my bedside, nodding politely to the nurse as she left. “How’re you feeling?”

“Tired. I swear they checked my temperature every hour last night. As if anyone could sleep on this icebox anyway.” I fixated on the slow drip of IV fluid streaming into my arm. “And you were here, right? You took blood samples from me.” My eyes flickered up to meet his. “Why?”

“I did,” he admitted, grudgingly. Were all scientists trained to be vague in case they couldn’t prove their hypotheses?

“But you study
outer
space, not inner.”

He smiled, wry and sparing. “They’re not as different as you think, kiddo.” He ran his hand over my forehead, a temperature check concealed in a gesture of affection. “I wanted to run some tests of my own. You’ve been very sick, honey.”

His answer gave as much satisfaction as chewing on air. “Tests of your own?” I pressed. “And why did Janelle ask if my sickness had anything to do with my mom?”

“Janelle was worried, grasping. This has
nothing
to do with Grace.” He sighed as if her name was heavy coming off his tongue. “There have been some mysterious deaths, not anything the general public needs to know about yet, but I’m on a team that’s working to find out what might be the cause. Keep that between us, okay? I took your blood as a precaution.” He shrugged like,
can you blame me? I’m your father.
“Your hospital tests aren’t back yet. They still don’t know what’s wrong with you. There was one point when they weren’t sure—” Dad’s voice cut out before continuing. “Losing you, Cora— I’m not sure I could’ve dealt with it. Not you.”

We stared into each other’s eyes, saying all the words we never said aloud about loss, about fear for the other’s safety. About love. It was an old, silent conversation we’d shared at different times over the years. Though lately, our real conversations had become a little more combative since I realized we were on opposite sides in a war of independence.

Dad broke the silence, his eyes glassy. “Thank heavens you’re a fighter.”

Strange that Dad would call me a fighter.
Me?
The quiet, introspective book lover. No one had ever called me a fighter before. I barely remembered the last twelve hours. I had been in another place, floating in and out of consciousness.

What part of me did the fighting?

Dad bent over and placed a gentle kiss on my head. As he straightened, a fuzz of light formed around his head, undulating like heat waves on pavement, as though he were going to slowly rise up into the ceiling.

I recalled the strange man from last night. A chill passed over me. I didn’t exactly have a handle on the past few hours, but I remembered being scared down to my soul. Did I have what people called a near-death experience? If so, there was anything but love and peace in the white light.

I reached for my dad. “My eyes are funny.”

He squeezed my hand. “You’re tired. As soon as the doctor is done with us, I’ll make sure they let you sleep for a good chunk, okay? I’ll go find her now.”

I nodded and blinked, but still the distortion around my dad persisted. Even as he walked to the door to look for the doctor, the hazy light followed him, seemed part of him. He was mountain and he was mist. I closed my eyes. I was just tired.

BOOK: Scintillate
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