I’ve never felt this dark.
Not even when I’d been shattered and trapped in the Otherworld and my soul had begun to fragment. Then I’d been broken and battered and well on my way to losing myself forever. I’d felt dark inside, but the people who loved me most had been bright, beautiful beacons of hope, and I’d been able to find strength in their light. I’d fought my way out of darkness.
This time I didn’t have any hope. I couldn’t find a light. I deserved to stay lost, to remain shattered. This time I didn’t deserve to be saved.
Detective Marx had taken me to the Tulsa County sheriff’s office instead of sticking me in jail with the rest of the criminals who were newly arrested. On the seemingly endless trip from the House of Night to the big brown stone sheriff’s department building on First Street he’d talked to me, explaining that he’d made a call—pulled some strings—and I was going to be put in a special holding cell until my attorney could make arrangements for my arraignment, so I could get released on bail. He’d looked back and forth from the road to my reflection in the rearview mirror. I’d met his eyes. It didn’t take more than a glance to read his expression.
He knew I had no chance for bail.
“I don’t need a lawyer,” I’d said. “And I don’t want bail.”
“Zoey, you’re not thinking straight. Give it a little time. Believe me, you’re going to need a lawyer. And if you could get out on bail, that would be the best thing for you.”
“But it wouldn’t be the best thing for Tulsa. No one is going to let a monster loose.” My voice had sounded flat and emotionless, but inside I was screaming over and over and over.
“You’re not a monster,” Marx had said.
“Did you see those two men I killed?”
He’d glanced at me in the mirror again and nodded. I could see that his lips had pressed into a line, like he was trying to keep himself from saying something. For some reason his eyes were still kind. I couldn’t meet them.
Looking out the window, I’d said, “Then you know what I am. Whether you call it monster, or killer, or rogue fledgling vampyre—it’s all the same. I deserve to be locked up. I deserve what’s going to happen to me.”
He’d quit talking to me then, and I’d been glad.
A black iron fence surrounded the sheriff’s department’s parking lot, and Marx drove to a rear entrance where he had to wait to be identified before a massive gate opened. Then he stopped and led me, handcuffed, through a back door and a big, busy room that was sectioned off with cubical dividers. When we walked in, cops were talking and phones were ringing. As soon as they saw it was Marx and me, it was like an off switch had been thrown. The talking stopped and the gawking started.
I stared straight ahead at a spot on the wall and concentrated on not letting the screaming that was going on inside me come out.
We had to walk all the way through the room. Then we went through a door that led to one of those rooms that look like the ones you see on Law & Order: SVU where awesome Mariska Hargitay interrogates the bad guys.
It had given me a jolt to realize that what I had done had made me one of the bad guys.
There was a door at the far end of the room that led to a little hallway. Marx turned left. He’d paused to swipe his ID card, and a massively thick steel door opened. On the other side of the door, the hall dead-ended in just a few feet. There was another metal door on our right, which was open. The bottom was solid, but about shoulder high bars started. Thick, black bars. That was where Detective Marx stopped. I glanced inside. The room was a tomb. I suddenly had trouble breathing, and my eyes skittered away from the horrible place to find Marx’s familiar face.
“With the power you have, I imagine you could break out of here.” He’d spoken quietly, as if he thought someone might be listening to us.
“I left the Seer Stone at the House of Night. That’s what gave me the power to kill those two men.”
“So you didn’t kill them by yourself?”
“I got mad and threw my anger at them. The Seer Stone just gave me a boost. Detective Marx, it was my fault. Period, the end.” I’d tried to sound tough and sure of myself, but my voice had gone all soft and shaky.
“Can you break out of here, Zoey?”
“I honestly don’t know, but I promise I’m not going to try.” I’d drawn a deep breath and let it out in a rush, telling him the absolute truth. “Because of what I did, I belong here, and no matter what happens to me, I deserve it.”
“Well, I promise you that no one can bother you here. You’ll be safe,” he’d said kindly. “I made sure of that. So whatever is going to happen to you, it won’t be because a lynch mob got to you.”
“Thank you.” My voice had broken, but I’d gotten the words out.
He took off my handcuffs.
I hadn’t been able to move.
“You have to go in the cell now.”
I’d made my feet move. When I was inside, I turned, and just before he closed the door I’d said, “I don’t want to see anyone, especially not anyone from the House of Night.”
“Are you sure?”
“You understand what you’re saying, don’t you?” he said.
I’d nodded. “I know what happens to a fledgling who isn’t around vampyres.”
“So basically, you’re sentencing yourself.”
He hadn’t phrased it as a question, but I’d answered him anyway. “What I’m doing is taking responsibility for my actions.”
He’d hesitated, and it seemed like he had something else he wanted to say, but Marx had ended up shrugging, sighing, and saying, “Okay, then. Good luck, Zoey. I’m sorry that it has come to this.”
The door closed as if sealing a coffin.
There was no window, no outside light except for what peeked in from the hallway between the bars on the door. At the end of the cell there was a bed—a thin mattress on a slab of something hard attached to the wall. There was an aluminum toilet sticking out of the middle of a parallel wall, not far from the bed. It didn’t have any lid. The floor was black concrete. The walls were gray. The blanket on the bed was gray. Feeling like I was in a waking nightmare, I walked to the bed.
Six steps. That’s how long the cell was. Six steps.
I went to the side wall and walked across the cell. Five steps. It was five steps across.
I’d been right. If you didn’t count the distance to the ceiling, I was locked in a tomb the size of a coffin.
I sat on the bed, drew my knees up to my chest, and hugged them. My body shook and shook and shook.
I was going to die.
I couldn’t remember if Oklahoma was a death penalty state. Like I’d actually paid attention in history class while Coach Fitz played movie after movie? But that didn’t matter anyway. I had left the House of Night. Alone. With no vampyres. Even Detective Marx understood what that meant. It was only a matter of time before my body began rejecting the Change.
Like I’d hit a rewind button in my head, images of dying fledglings played against the screen of my closed eyes: Elliott, Stevie Rae, Stark, Erin …
I squeezed my eyes shut even tighter.
It happens fast. Really, really fast, I promised myself.
Then another death scene flashed through my memory. Two men—homeless, obnoxious, but alive until I’d lost control of my temper. I remembered how I’d thrown my anger at them … how they’d crashed against the stone wall beside the little grotto at Woodward Park … how they’d lay there, crumpled, broken …
But they’d been moving! I didn’t think I’d killed them! I hadn’t meant to kill them! It really had just been a terrible accident! My mind shouted.
“No!” I spoke sharply to the selfish part of me that wanted to make excuses, wanted to run away from consequences. “People convulse when they’re dying. They are dead because I killed them. It won’t make up for what I did, but I deserve to die.”
I curled up under the scratchy gray blanket and faced the wall. I ignored the dinner tray they slid through a slat in the door. I wasn’t hungry anyway, but whatever that was on that tray definitely didn’t tempt me.
And for some reason, the bad food smell reminded me of the last most awesome food smell I’d experienced—psaghetti at the House of Night, surrounded by my friends.
But I’d been too stressed out by my Aurox/Heath/Stark problem. I hadn’t appreciated the psaghetti, not really. Just like I hadn’t appreciated my friends. Or Stark. Not really.
I hadn’t stopped to consider the fact that I was lucky to have two such amazing guys love me. Instead I’d been pissed and frustrated.
I thought about Aphrodite. I remembered how I’d heard her talking to Shaylin about watching me. I remembered how I’d stormed in and shoved Shaylin with the power of my anger focused through the Seer Stone.
The memory made me cringe in shame.
Aphrodite had been absolutely right. I had needed watching. It wasn’t like she’d been able to reason with me. Hell, when she’d tried, I hadn’t been anything close to reasonable.
I cringed again as I remembered how close I’d come to throwing my anger at Aphrodite.
“Ohmygoddess! If I had, I could have killed my friend.” I spoke into my palms as I covered my face with my hands in shame.
It didn’t matter that the Seer Stone somehow, without me really asking it to, amplified my powers. I’d had plenty of warning. All those times I was annoyed and the stone got hotter and hotter. Why hadn’t I stopped and thought through what was going on? Why hadn’t I asked someone for help? I’d asked Lenobia for boyfriend advice. Boyfriend advice! I should have been asking for an anger intervention!
But I hadn’t asked for any help with anything except what my tunnel vision had been focused on: me.
I’d been a self-absorbed bitch.
I deserved to be where I was. I deserved my consequences.
The lights in the hallway went out. I had no idea what time it was. It seemed like years instead of months since I’d been a human—a normal teenager who had to go to bed too darn early on school nights.
I wished, with everything inside me, that I could call Superman and have him fly backward around the earth until time turned back to yesterday. Then I’d be home, at the House of Night, with my friends. I’d run straight into Stark’s arms and tell him how much I love and appreciate him. I’d tell him I was sorry about the Aurox/Heath mess, and that we’d figure it out—all two point five of us—but that I was going to appreciate the love that surrounded me no matter what. Then I’d yank that damn Seer Stone off, find Aphrodite, and give it to her to keep it safe like she was my Frodo.
But it was too late for wishes. Turning back time is only a fantasy. Superman isn’t real.
I didn’t sleep. It was night, and night had become my day. Right now I should be at school with my friends, living my life, having what was (for me) a normal “day.” Instead I lay there, hugging myself. I should have been smarter. I should have been stronger. I should have been anything except a selfish brat.
Hours later I heard the slot in the door open again, and when I turned over I saw that someone had taken away my untouched tray. Good. Maybe the smell would go away, too.
I had to pee, but I didn’t want to. Didn’t want to use the bare toilet sticking out of the wall in the middle of the room. I stared at the corners of the walls where they met the ceiling. Cameras.
Was it legal for wardens to watch prisoners pee?
Did the regular rules even count with me? I mean, I’d never heard of a fledgling or a vampyre being put on trial in human court, or going to human prison.
I don’t have to worry about that. I’ll drown in my own blood way before I go to trial.
Weirdly enough, that thought was a comfort, and as the light in the hallway came on, I fell into a restless, dreamless sleep.
It seemed like ten seconds later when the slot in the door banged open and another aluminum tray sloshed into my cell. The noise jolted me awake, but I was still groggy, still trying to fall back to sleep—until the scent of eggs and bacon had my mouth watering. How long had it been since I’d eaten anything? Ugh, I felt terrible. Blearily, I got up and walked the six steps to the door, picking up the tray and carrying it carefully back to my rumpled bed.
The eggs were scrambled and super runny. The bacon was beef jerky hard. There was coffee, a carton of milk, and dry toast.
I would have given almost anything for one bowl of Count Chocula and a can of brown pop.
I took a bite of the eggs, and they were so salty they almost made me choke.
But instead of choking, I began to cough. Within that terrible cough I tasted something, something metallic and slick and warm and weirdly wonderful.
It was my own blood.
Fear rocketed through me, making me weak and dizzy and nauseous. It’s happening so soon? I’m not ready! I’m not ready!
Trying to clear my throat, trying to breathe, I spit out the eggs, ignored the pink tinge in the runny yellow, put the tray on the floor, and curled up on the bed, wrapping my arms around myself and waiting for more coughing and more blood—a lot more blood. My hands were shaking as I wiped fresh wetness from my lips.
I was so scared!
Don’t be, I told myself as I tried to stifle a really awful cough. You’ll see Nyx soon. And Jack. And maybe even Dragon and Anastasia.
Mom … I suddenly wanted my mother with a terrible, heartsick longing.
“I wish I wasn’t alone,” I whispered in a gravelly voice into the hard, flat mattress.
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