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Authors: Avery Williams

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General

Impossibility of Tomorrow

BOOK: Impossibility of Tomorrow
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FOR VENDETTA LUNA,

escape artist, tiny ghost, adventurer, and friend

ONE

In 1812, there was an earthquake in the unlikely location of New Madrid, Missouri. It was so violent and ruptured the ground with such force that the Mississippi River temporarily ran backward. Cyrus and I were living in Manhattan at the time, and I remember what he said to me as we strolled through the market: “It takes an earthquake to alter the course of a river. What does it take to change the course of a life?”

I wish I didn’t know how easily it is done. I wish I didn’t know that sometimes, a life pivots from its intended path in the wake of the tiniest thing.

Sometimes all it takes is one word.

Alchemy.

It can be uttered by a platinum-haired boy as he pulls out a vial of potion dangling on a silver chain. Or delivered the modern way, electronically, the brightly backlit screen of a cell phone belying the dark message it displays.

I sink to my knees on the musty, stained carpet of Cyrus’s motel room. Kailey Morgan’s iPhone lies in front of me, unharmed from when I dropped it on the carpet. I want to smash that stupid phone. But I don’t. I pick it up, coaxing it back to life with trembling fingers, and stare blankly at the Words with Friends screen, as the last droplets of hope evaporate from my soul.

It’s still there.
Alchemy.
The word was played on Noah Vander’s phone. It must have been typed with Noah’s fingers. But it couldn’t have come from Noah. Only one person in Berkeley knows what that word truly means.

Cyrus.

My longest companion, my greatest enemy, who would cage me like a bird. Who used alchemy to make me what I am now: an Incarnate, a wandering soul who takes up residence in human bodies. When I ran away from the coven several weeks ago, it was with one vow in my heart: that I would never again take another life. I was ready to die. I only
took sixteen-year-old Kailey Morgan’s body by mistake, when her car crashed right in front of me, a fiery display of gasoline and cracked glass.

I look upward, at the bare bulb that illuminates the motel room, suddenly feeling exposed. I shove the phone in my pocket and dart to the light switch, flipping it off. The room disappears into a velvety, choking darkness. I blink, waiting for my eyes to adjust.

I don’t think Cyrus will kill me for leaving him. In his own sick, twisted way, he loves me too much for that. But one way or another, he’ll make me pay. He’s already made me pay by taking Noah.

A volcano of pain erupts in my heart. A sob rises from deep inside me as I picture Noah’s beautiful face, his strong jaw, his smiling lapis-lazuli eyes as he holds up his camera, his hand pushing his reckless crow-colored hair out of the way. The next time I see him, his face will be transformed by Cyrus’s soul, a hideous change that will be invisible to everyone except me. The thought of Cyrus inside of Noah’s body, of Noah’s soul shoved out into an uncaring foggy night, is almost unbearable.

A loud peal of laughter sounds from outside the room, from the direction of the parking lot, followed by a heavy footstep on the stair. My heart starts to thud. Whoever’s
making those footfalls is big—much bigger than me. And suddenly I realize that the message on Kailey’s phone means so much more than Noah’s death.

It means Cyrus knows who I am. And even worse,
where
I am. He’s probably right outside, waiting for me to emerge.

The image of the rabbits we dissected in Cyrus’s biology class flits through my mind.
A rabbit is a prey animal,
he’d said while posing as a substitute teacher named Mr. Shaw.
And its best chance at survival is to outrun its hunter. Sometimes escape is the best defense, better than any teeth or claws.

But I have been running for way too long. I have lost this game, and it’s time to face him. My pulse hammers in my ears as I turn the knob and open the door. A blast of damp air meets me.

But the man on the stairs isn’t Cyrus. He’s tall and thin, with deep brown skin and a neatly trimmed goatee. He’s carrying a woman, whose head is tipped back. She’s giggling softly.

He looks up at me. “Well, hello there,” he says, somewhat gallantly, though he’s slurring his words. The woman laughs louder.

“Put me down,” she demands. “I’m too heavy for you.”

“Yeah, right,” he answers, shifting her weight. “You’re drunk, baby. You’ll fall down these stairs.” He leans over and kisses her cheek.

“We just got married!” the woman exclaims to me, punctuating her statement with a small hiccup. “We’re a family now!”

At the word
family
, a coldness that has nothing to do with the night’s mist settles upon me. A slow realization, an icy chill that hisses as it laps in my veins. It’s not just Noah who was in danger. And not just me, either.

Kailey’s family, who I’ve come to love, is utterly defenseless against Cyrus. Her mother, her father. Her brother Bryan, who I think of as my own. Cyrus could be at their house, right now.

I squeeze past the couple on the stairs and sprint to the Dumpster, where I’d stashed Bryan’s bike earlier. The woman calls after me. “Hey! Aren’t you going to congratulate us?”

“Congratulations!” I call, tears pooling in my eyes as I hoist myself onto the bike. “Hold on tight to each other. While you can,” I add under my breath. All my time on Earth has shown me that love is a rare and fleeting thing.

TWO

The road looks flat, but the burning in my legs and my ragged breath tell me it’s uphill. I pedal faster, away from Cyrus’s motel room, squinting as the cold, damp air blasts my eyes, coaxing tears from their corners.

I throw the bike into its highest gear and swerve to avoid a pile of crushed glass from a car’s shattered window. I gulp air, ignoring the pain in my exhausted muscles as I steer into the center of the lane.

I coast through a red light without bothering to look for cars. There’s no one else out at 4
A.M.
on a Friday in
November. No one to witness the immortal disguised as a young girl pedaling furiously along the road that leads back to the Morgans.

Cyrus wouldn’t hesitate to kill Kailey’s family in order to punish me—and to give me a warning never to run away from him again. I can picture him now: his ice-blue eyes, his falsely angelic face.
See what happens when you disobey me, Sera?
he’d say.
People die. Innocent people. And I know how much you hate that.

The others in our coven—Jared, Sébastien, Charlotte, and Amelia—wanted what Cyrus offered. Perhaps this is why they never felt guilty for what they did, why they only laughed when I described us as monsters. Because that’s what I think I am—a monster, a predator, a killer. Whenever I said those words to Cyrus, he just smiled, like he enjoyed it. He must have loved taking Noah’s body.

I bite my lip to keep from crying.
Oh, Noah,
I think, blinking back tears.
I am so sorry.

The boy I love is dead. But the Morgans might be alive. There’s a chance I can save them, and I cling to that thought. I won’t be able to beat Cyrus in a physical fight, but I can placate him by leaving with him—and take him far away from Kailey’s family.

North Berkeley flies by as I near the Morgans’
neighborhood, a blur of restaurants and vintage houses presided over by redwood trees and Japanese maples. My legs have finally, mercifully, gone numb from the exertion.

I wish I could say the same for my heart.

I turn off Shattuck and enter a leafy expanse, coming to a stop in front of the Morgans’ house, a Craftsman bungalow with an unwieldy, storybook garden. My heart slams in my chest. But Cyrus, wearing Noah’s body, isn’t outside waiting for me as I had expected.

For a moment I just stand there. It feels as though I’m watching myself from outside my body: a small, solitary figure in the middle of an empty, lonely road. The silence is as thick as the fog, and in the early morning gloom, I feel obvious. A beacon. Hunted. But no, I remind myself. I’m the hunter now. I wish I really believed that.

Dismounting from Bryan’s bike, I tug it over the root-broken sidewalk and leave it inside the Morgans’ chipped picket fence. Across the street, Mr. Vander’s Lexus is parked at the curb. It looks fairly new but is marred with dents and scratches, missing a side mirror. Noah’s father is a drinker. Noah’s bedroom window is dark, just like the rest of his house. Keeping to the shadows, I watch, looking for the smallest movement, the tiniest shift in the curtain that will reveal Cyrus’s presence. But there’s nothing.

I turn and walk up the Morgans’ slick wooden steps,
adrenaline coursing through my veins. When I try the doorknob, it opens easily. I suck in my breath. Did I leave it unlocked? I left in such a hurry that I can’t remember.

My scalp prickles as I step into the foyer. I pause, allowing my eyes to adjust to the darkness, dreading the unspeakable carnage I fear I will see. But surprisingly, nothing is out of place. Mrs. Morgan’s leather purse hangs from a large brass hook, and several colorful umbrellas are folded into a wrought-iron stand. In the living room, two pillow-laden velvet couches slump on faded Persian rugs. The refrigerator hums in the kitchen, and I can hear the faint sound of Mrs. Morgan snoring from the hallway that leads to the master bedroom.

I move softly in the opposite direction. Bryan’s door is open a crack, and relief settles over me at the sight of him, tangled up in his sheets, his chest rising and falling with reassuring regularity.

At least I don’t have their lives on my hands. Yet.

Cyrus will come for me before the night is over to take me back to the coven. He’ll force me to switch bodies and keep me on a closer leash than ever. I won’t go down without a fight, though. I have no illusions—I’ll probably fail. He’s stronger than me, more ruthless, and altogether more deadly.

But I need to try.

I tiptoe through the living room and stumble into a stool at the kitchen counter, wincing as it hits the floor with a loud crash. For a long, panicked moment, I wait for the Morgans to stir or for Cyrus to leap out from behind the curtains to grab me. But when no one emerges from the darkness, I grab a knife from the wooden block in the kitchen, then pad back down the hallway.

The shadows are long and the hardwood floor groans under my weight, no matter how lightly I try to step. I hear a noise from the bathroom and cock my head, holding my breath. But it’s just the water that always drips from the old faucet. In Kailey’s room, I look around quickly, expecting Cyrus to be sitting under her window or sprawled out on her bed. But it’s empty. I latch her door and the window. Flimsy locks, both of them. They won’t stop Cyrus. But they’ll buy me precious seconds.

I crawl onto Kailey’s bed, my hand wrapped tightly around the knife, and lean against the wall. I’m ready.

Let him come.

THREE

There’s a loud bang on the door to Kailey’s room.

“Kailey—is your door
locked
? Are you okay?” Mrs. Morgan’s voice is stressed.

I blink my bleary eyes, trying to understand what’s happening. My neck is painfully stiff, and I’m still gripping the knife. I must have fallen asleep.

“Can you hear me? You’re going to be late for school,” she calls. “Open this door!”

I try to speak, but my throat is dry. “I’m . . . I’m up. Just a second.” I unwrap my fingers from the knife’s handle, ignoring the stabbing pain that courses through my hand.
After hiding it underneath Kailey’s pillow, I open the door.

Mrs. Morgan is ready for work in crisp wool trousers and a green blouse that matches her eyes. Her wheat-blond hair is pulled back in a low ponytail. Concern flickers across her face as she takes in my appearance. I’m fully dressed in yesterday’s jeans and sweater; I even have sneakers on.

“Did you sleep in your clothes?” she asks, narrowing her eyes. “What’s going on in here? Why did you lock the door?”

“I fell asleep reading,” I lie. “And what’s wrong with a little privacy?” I try to approximate a casual teenage surliness.

“Okay, Miss Cranky. There’s nothing wrong with privacy—you just had me worried.” She frowns. “It’s not like you to lock the door. You’d better get ready for school. Bryan had an early practice, but Noah will be here any minute to pick you up.” She closes the door with an exaggerated flourish.

I’m numb—and confused. Why am I still here? Why didn’t Cyrus come for me?

In a fog, I drag a brush through my chin-length dark blond hair, wincing as it pulls at the tangles. Noah and I ate Thai takeout on the beach last night, and salt and sand are crusted in my hair. I finally give up, pinning it back with barrettes that I find on Kailey’s vanity.

I pull on gray cords and a black button-up shirt in slow
motion. Glancing dully at the getaway bag I packed just last night, I take out my few belongings and place them in Kailey’s backpack. My hands hit something solid and heavy—the bottle of Kailey’s jasmine perfume, the scent so indefinably her.

The room swims, and I collapse at Kailey’s desk. Her room is colorful with its peacock’s palette, its evergreens and violets, as colorful as I imagine her personality was. And here I sit, a drab grayness, an absence, sucking the life out of the jewel-toned walls just as I sucked the life out of Kailey’s body the night she died in Jack London Square. I feel so empty. A husk. A body without a soul inside.

BOOK: Impossibility of Tomorrow
5.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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