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Authors: Alyson Noel

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BOOK: Fated
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Wha—?

I shake my head, peer at her again. Her mouth is still moving, desperate to explain, but it’s too much to take in—too weird to comprehend. My head so muddled with the sound of her voice, her nonsensical words—the best I can manage is, “So why keep having kids if you all know this? Seriously—you have no idea what it’s like. Why would Django take the risk? Why wouldn’t he use protection or warn Jennika at the very least?”

“Because Django was as young and idealistic and stubborn as any other sixteen-year-old. He refused to believe. Refused to acknowledge my warnings. He thought that by running away, he could outrun the visions, outrun what I told him. But as you’ve already seen, there is no escape. The visions found you all the way on the other side of the world, and if you try to run, they will find you again. I’m told the symptoms appeared in full force in Marrakesh. Though I’m sure you experienced signs long before that.”

My stomach twists. My lungs shrivel and shrink. Forcing me to fight for each shallow breath as my eyes cast about wildly, urging me to flee.

“I couldn’t reach Django. I failed to reach my one and only son—failed to convince him of his duty. His responsibility. His destiny. But, Daire, I will not fail with you. I know exactly what you’re going through. Sure, the visions are different for each of us, but the message stays true. You need to heed the call before it’s too late. ” Her short, unvarnished nails pluck at the hem of her dress. “And while I’m sorry for your current state of suffering and confusion, I can promise you that it won’t always be this way. With the right guidance, the right diet, and the right training, you will surpass all of that and realize your destiny, your birthright, the role you were born for.”

I blink. Stare. Blink again. Aware of myself saying, “
What?
” as I shake my head and shoot her a baleful look. “Do you have any idea how crazy this sounds?”

“I do indeed.” She nods. “My own reaction was quite similar, I assure you. But you must work past your prejudice—you must look beyond the ideas you’ve been conditioned to believe. There is too much at stake. This town holds secrets you cannot begin to imagine. It is full of coyotes, and Coyote is a trickster you must learn to outsmart.” Her gaze levels on mine, letting me know she means business. She will not mince words. “If you fail to learn, if you fail to accept what you were born to do, I’m afraid I can’t save you—no one can. If you continue to fight your calling, it’s just a matter of time before your fate will become that of your father’s. And, Daire, sweet
nieta,
I can’t let that happen. I won’t lose you, and I won’t let them win. Until you’ve made peace with what you must do, until you fully understand what’s ahead of you, what’s being asked of you, the only safe place for you is right here in this house. My property is protected—you have nothing to fear as long as you’re here. It’ll be weeks until you’ve learned enough to leave.”

I balk, my expression incredulous—her words ridiculous. No way is she holding me prisoner. No way will I listen to another crazy word.

And before she can stop me, I bolt from the room and race down the hall—her voice chasing behind me until it’s blocked by the slam of my door.

ten

I dress in a hurry. Swapping my wrinkled white robe for a freshly laundered black tank top, slipping on the same dark denim jeans I arrived in, the black flats too. Then after reaching for my olive-green army jacket, and scraping my hair into a haphazard ponytail, I zip my bag shut, swing it over my shoulder, and call Jennika.

Again.

Only to have her phone go straight into voice mail just like it did the first time I called.

Flying is out of the question. I’ve been banned from all commercial aircraft.

Driving is out too. I may be sixteen, but I don’t have a permit, much less my license. Up until now, I had no real need of it.

All I know for sure is that I can no longer stay here. It’s not even an option. I’ll take a bus—walk if I have to. I’ll do whatever it takes to get the hell out of this horrible place.

I glance at my father’s portrait—taking Django’s restless, troubled gaze as a warning to bust free before it’s too late.

No wonder he fled—Paloma’s a freak.

She knocks, whispers through the wood, calling me
nieta
as she twists the handle and tries to come in. Her efforts rebuffed by the old wooden chair I’ve wedged under the knob, barring her from entering ’til well after I’m gone.

I press my ear to the door frame, listening for the reassuring sound of her retreating step—a temporary surrender I’m determined to exploit by making a run for the window, propping it open, heaving myself up to the ledge, and dropping my bag onto the stone courtyard below where it lands with a thump. My gaze fixed on the big blue gate and the adobe wall that surrounds the place, noticing for the first time the strange wooden fence constructed from juniper branches that sits just inside it, and just inside that is a thick border of something grainy and white—as though someone went a little crazy with the saltshaker.

A layer of salt, within a wooden fence, within a thick adobe wall—
is this what Paloma meant when she claimed the house was protected?

I shake my head and swing a leg over, scrunching and contorting until I’ve freed my other leg and eased my way out. The tickle of the dream catcher’s feathers brushing softly against my scalp serving as yet another reminder of why I need to flee—this is the house where crazy lives. If I stay any longer, I’ll never see normal again.

I crouch next to my bag, grab hold of the strap, and dash across the courtyard as fast as I can. The gravel crunching under my soles so loud it reverberates through my head—the gate shrieking in protest, causing me to curse under my breath, until I’m free of it—free of her. Sprinting down the dirt road, following the same route I came from. My feet pounding so hard, small clouds of dust stir in my wake.

I run for a while. Run for much longer than I’m used to. The strap on my bag cutting a deep wedge into my shoulder, as my cheeks flame, my eyes sear, but still I continue. Refusing to stop until the small cramp in my side explodes into a pain so white-hot and stabbing, I lose my balance and land in a big crumpled heap. My duffle bag strewn to my side, my arms wrapped tightly around me, I tuck my chin to my chest and fight to grab hold, to steady my breath. Coaxing the pain to go away, convincing it to subside so I can get moving again.

I inch my way off the road, crawl deep into the shoulder where a narrow, dirt gully runs alongside it. Taking great care to pace myself, go slower than I’d like—making sure to stay crouched, out of sight, hoping to make it harder for Paloma to spot me, should she decide to go searching.

A small army of dried-out shrubs on their way to becoming tumbleweeds prick at my jeans as I pass one anonymous adobe house after another. Each of them in a similar state of disrepair, with crumbling chimneys and patched-up windows—featuring an assortment of rusted-out cars, freely roaming chickens, grazing cattle, and sagging, overloaded clotheslines meant to stand in for landscaping.

This has got to be the most poorly named town I’ve ever visited. There is absolutely no sign of anything even remotely
enchanting
about it. It’s one of the worst cases of false advertising I’ve seen.

I’ve traveled a lot. Done considerable time in my share of dead-end dumps. Or at least that’s what I thought until I came here.

I mean, where do people shop for clothing and food?

Where do the teens all hang out—the ones who haven’t already hopped the first bus out of this godforsaken place?

And, more important, where do I catch that very same bus—how soon ’til it leaves?

I reach for my phone, trying for Jennika again, but just like before it goes straight to voice mail. And after leaving yet another angry message, followed by an even worse text, I consider calling Harlan but nix it just as fast. I have no idea how he and Jennika left things, have no idea if he’s even back from Thailand. Besides, one look at my watch tells me there’s only a short time standing between sundown and me, and I really need to locate the town by then; if not, I’m in for a long, spooky night.

I follow the gully to its end and find myself back on a succession of dirt roads once again. One ends, another begins, and after a while it’s just one big blur of depressing, desolate streets that seem to lead nowhere in particular.

I’ve just decided to approach the next house I see, march right up to the door and ask for assistance, when I turn a corner and miraculously stumble upon some semblance of a town—or at least the closest thing I expect to find in these parts.

The street is wide, sprawling the length of three stop signs until it fades into nothing again. And not wanting to waste any more time than I already have, I head into the very first storefront I see, the sign overhead reading:
GIFFORD’S GIFT SHOP
*
NOTARY
*
& MAIL STOP,
with a smaller sign beside it advertising freshly brewed coffee.

I push inside, causing the bell on the door to clink so hard the patrons halt their conversations long enough to turn and stare—eyes widening at the sight of my snarled hair, reddened cheeks, and filthy jeans.

Great. Just in time for rush hour.

I sigh. Heave my bag high on my shoulder, straighten my clothes, and take my place at the end of the line. The rise of voices resuming around me as I snag a postcard from a nearby rack, which features the word
Enchantment!
scrawled in pink across the top, with a picture of this miserable street just below—and I can’t think of a better depiction to show just how dismal this place really is.

Using the pen that’s chained just beside it, I scribble the address for Jennika and my box at the UPS store, then write:

Dear Jennika—
Thanks for sending me to this dump and then refusing to take my calls.
I don’t feel at all abandoned by you.
Nope, not one bit.
Your kind consideration is very much appreciated.
Your loving daughter,
Daire
xoxo

Even though I know I’ll be well out of here before the card has a chance to reach her, the small burst of sarcasm makes me feel better.

The line moves quicker than expected, and it’s not long before I’m inching my way toward the counter. Warning myself not to look at the magazine rack, no matter how tempting, but I can’t seem to obey. My gaze keeps getting pulled to the one featuring Vane and me on the cover. All too aware of that annoying pang in my gut the moment I see him—only this time it’s more a pang of anger than weakness, and I consider that progress.

I lower my sunglasses and tuck my chin to my chest, hoping no one will make the connection between me and the glowering girl on the tabloid’s glossy cover, though it’s probably not necessary since from what I can tell, they’ve made the transition from gawking at me to ignoring me, which I truly appreciate.

“Help you?” the man asks, as I edge my way to the front and lean against the gray Formica counter. His snug jeans, Western-style shirt, and big silver belt buckle make him look like some old, retired ranch hand. Though his clipped East Coast accent hints at a whole other life before he found himself here.

I perch my bag on my hip and slide the card toward him. Digging for my wallet as I say, “Just the postcard, some postage, and hopefully some directions as well.”

He hums under his breath and affixes a stamp to the back. Shamelessly pausing a moment to read what I wrote, before his eyes meet mine and he says, “Planning a jailbreak, are you?”

I quirk a brow, wonder why he chose to phrase it that way.

But he just shrugs and hooks his thumb toward the door. “You’ll find the bus stop at the end of the block. Bus to Albuquerque leaves every two hours.” He consults his watch. “Unfortunately for you, one just left, which means you’re stuck with the likes of us for just a little bit longer.” He laughs in a way that causes his eyes to disappear into a riot of wrinkles, and though I’m sure he means well, I’m in no mood to join in.

I just pay for my stuff and shoot for the door. Squinting into the fading sun, searching for a good place to hide so Paloma can’t find me before I’ve had a chance to run.

eleven

I make my way down the street, passing a bakery displaying elaborately frosted birthday cakes, a used bookstore featuring a random assortment of dog-eared paperbacks, and a small clothing boutique with sad sagging hangers bearing the kind of sparkly clothes I would never think to consider. Pausing before the corner liquor store, waiting for traffic to clear so I can see what lies just beyond, I sense the strange weight of someone looking at me, and turn to find a guy about my age leaning against a brick wall.

“Got a light?” His voice is low and deep as he waves an unlit cigarette at me.

I shake my head. Fingers picking at the ends of my ponytail as my eyes greedily roam the length of him. Taking in brown leather boots, faded jeans, a light gray V-neck sweater, damp black hair that’s combed away from his face, a square chin, a strong brow, eyes that remain hidden behind a pair of dark glasses, and widely curving lips that smile flirtatiously.

“You sure?” He cocks his head, allows his smile to grow wider. Revealing a perfect set of flashing white teeth that stand in sharp contrast to his gorgeous brown skin.

It’s the move of a charmer—a guy who knows he’s good-looking. A guy used to getting his way.

I shake my head again, try to force my gaze away, but it’s no use. My instincts warn me to leave, while my curiosity insists that I stay.

“That’s too bad,” he says, mouth quirking at the sides. His smile growing wider when he holds the cigarette before him and it turns into a shiny black snake that slithers up his arm and into his mouth invading the space where his tongue ought to be.

BOOK: Fated
10.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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