Chapter One


Waking up almost seems to be hated by every child. No one ever wants to pull the covers off of them and break the warm refuge of the blankets just to face the sunlight. Children are like vampires, up all night and asleep all day. Of course, there's always the odd child who wakes up early as the sun. I am pretty much this child. I know that most twelve- I'm sorry, thirteen year olds prefer to wake up at sun high; when the river is warm and the temperature is unbearable unless under a tree or in the creek. Why they can't just wake up early so at sun high they are cold enough from the river to survive a few hours of the sweltering heat, which kills flies by sizzling them to a crisp when they get out of the shade of the fruit trees they inhabit, is a mystery to me.

I open my eyes this morning and see two green eyes staring at me. I squeal and Fireball, my orange kitten, hisses, turning on his back legs to protect me from the evil that made me squeak. Little will he know that he is the "evil." I scoop him up and force him over to the window with me. The sunrise mixes with my hair color until I can't really tell where the sun ends and my fiery hair begins. This brings up thoughts of my family and how I don't really look like them. They are all blond haired and gray eyed, while my red hair and bronzy eyes are different. They resemble the sun at sun high, while I am fiery in every which way. I am fiery tempered, hot-natured, and warm hearted. They, on the other hand, have a quiet, calm nature that resembles the sun.

A crash downstairs informs me that my sister, Ella, is awake. She always bumps into things when she is half-asleep. We have always teased her about this, seeing as how she has always managed to bump into a chair and knock it over when she gets a drink of water.

"Morning, Shorty." I greet her as I walk in the kitchen. She turns and smiles.

"You're so nice, Ember." She says. I'm only an inch taller than her. I don't like this because she's a year younger than me. "what's for breakfast?"

"Wait and see. Want to go to the river with me? I'll bring us some breakfast. Maybe some strawberries." I tempt her with the berries because I know that they are her favorite.

"Umm. Do you think we should? This being the ceremony and all." Dang it. I forgot about the ceremony. The ceremony is question is a celebration for all children turning hte age of thirteen. As it is my birthday today, I am a part of that and I will get my starting job, if I make it there in time for them to call my name.

"We probably can. I'll leave a note for Mom and Dad. Jay will probably figure out where we are by himself and come along. Please?" I resort to begging. "This might be the only day I can go for a while." I watch her emotions travel her face. That's another difference between me and my family. My emotions don't use my face as a stage to dance about upon.

"Okay, Ember. I'll go. Just let me get a hair tie." She scampers off. I start on the note for my parents. "hey. I'm gone. So is Ella. We are at lake. –ember" I think it looks fine.

Footsteps echo down the stairs and I look up expecting to see Ella's yellow locks. Instead, I'm greeted with white blond hair. Jay. Of course Jay would wake up when Ella went upstairs and come down. He always was a light sleeper. He looks at me, walks over to me, and reads the note I have in my hand. Before I can offer a spot with us at the lake, he takes the note. I reach over to him to grab it, but he pulls away. He presses it up against the wall where I can't reach and writes. Then, before I can hit him, he gives it back. At the bottom are the words: PS. Jay came too.

"Good morning, Ember." He smiles, smugly. No doubt he's remembering the time when he was shorter than me. That was a year ago. Now he's older, smarter (according to him), and taller. Jeez. Are all guys just like Jay? I mean, I love him and all, but he loves teasing me like an obnoxious pig. He smells like one, too.

Ella comes down the stairs, her hair tied back with a ribbon. "Morning, Jay. Ember, when are we going?"

"Now. Coming, Jay?" I answer and ask. "Read the note." He replies. That's my brother. Got to speak the obvious.

"Ella, it's going to be just us today. Jay can't make it." I have to struggle not to smile at this. Jay whops me on the head and as he pulls away, I grab his arm. We fake wrestle for a second. He pulls away and pretends to push me. I growl in mock anger and turn to Ella. "We need to go Ella."

"Okay, Ember. Coming, Blue Jay?" It's her name for him. It's really fitting, actually, because his eyes are the bluest of them all. They remind me of the deepest part of the lake, or of a sapphire; the deepest blue of them all.

"Yes, I'm coming, Ella." He says in mock exasperation, as if dealing with us is pure torture. You never know with guys. We walk outside and make the journey to the river, which lies a quarter mile from our house.

"Ember, can you do that thing you do? You know, with the river and the cold-to-warm change? Please!" Ella says. She hates being cold. I guess it's a blond thing, because I'm usually not really cold. I mean, in the winter, I stay curled in the fetal position under a blanket by the fire, just like everybody but the weird children who run around in the river. But that's about the only time I'm cold.

"Looks I have no choice, Shorty. I can't help it that I'm so hot." I giggle, flipping my hair, which I assure you I never do unless I'm joking around with Ella, who is the only one that makes me act like this, besides Jay.

"Lying is wrong, Ember." Jay shoots out.

"Watch yourself, Jay. Who lied about Fireball leaving the huge scratches in the table legs?" I watch his face flush red.

Ella is shocked. "That was you? How'd you do it? Was it a knife? Mom told you to quit throwing knives in the house, Jay! What if -" she rambles.

"I thought you said you wouldn't tell anyone, Ember! We had an agreement! You don't tell Mom I sliced the table legs, I don't tell Dad that you burned the back yard!" Jay yells. I choke. Ella is right here, listening to us. I double over, half feigning for time, half because I'm hyperventilating, which has never happened before. "Grow up, Ember. Faking choking won't stop you from having to face me at some time." He runs off. I know, not because I can see him, but because his shadow disappears, following my knife-juggling brother.

I fall to my knees. I can still breathe but barely. Breath is painful to force in and out of my lungs. Ella runs over by me and starts poking me, like I'm a dead frog. I take a deep breath and force it out, my breath coming a little more easily now. All I have to do is talk to Ella.

"We won't speak of this, okay?" Ella nods.

"Are we still going to the river?" she asks, her voice almost as if she doesn't think we will.
"Of course we are! You think that I'm just going to wimp out and cry at home because of an argument? Who do you think I am?" I pose and she giggles. That's how it is with Ella. She's giggly. She's forgiving. She's pretty much the opposite of me.

We start again to the river. Judging by the sun, we have been gone ten minutes. Whoa. Busy ten minutes. This is the effect of time in my mind when I argue. It always happens. Time slows down.

We walk down the soft grass that is beside the hard pebble path. The lush grass tickles my feet and I look down, expecting my feet to be the dark green of the grass, but only see the lightly tanned skin that I have.

The river is close now, I can hear the rush of the crystalline, cool water. I see a silhouette of a tall person who stands by the creek. Another silhouette is on the other side of the river. The figures appear to be arguing. As we walk closer, I see it's Jay. He shakes his head and the figure gestures wildly. I hear a glimpse of Jay's part of the argument.

"No! You can't have her! It's not the solstice!" what? Solstice? The only solstice I know of is the summer solstice, which is two months away. Why is Jay arguing with this strange figure and what about the HER they spoke of?

"Jay!" I yell. He turns, jerkily. I realize I've startled him.

"Get out of here! Go!" he is scared. He wouldn't be like this if he wasn't. I have a flashback.

A long time ago, three or four years at least, he wasn't scared when me and Ella hid in the closet. Our parents were gone, and we had been playing board games and chess. I had been playing both; and when I was about to win by moving my queen to where Jay's king was trapped to where he didn't know it, a shadow crossed over the window, stopped half-way. I jumped and knocked over my remaining knight.

"What's wrong with you, E?" He had asked. I had shakily replied that there was someone outside and Jay had checked, more for me than for us all at the time. He must have seen it, for he picked up Ella and pushed me into the hall closet, the one with the tornado shelter in the back. We were corralled into the shelter and told not to come out until he uttered the safe words, which we all knew. The words were harmless, but all the same loaded with power. "Falling star." Were the safe words, suggested by me, when we all denied Ella's suggestion of Unicorn Princess.

I remember him locking the door, then he went to the door. I heard him shatter a bottle then stomping around, as if insane. He stormed to the door and opened it.

"Listen up, I got a knife in here. I enjoy stabbing stalkers, ya hear? I wanna see you leave!" I heard a soft, yet angry and hard voice say some things. His voice shook and another object fell. Jay had asked for five years. I remember, and the other voice agreeing, regretfully. Jay had afterwards unlocked us and restarted the games, as if nothing had happened. But I know it had. This was the same voice. That night was five years ago, I suddenly see with clarity. They are here for us.

"Ember! Run! Now! They won't hurt us! They-" he cuts off when a small rock hits his head. Another rock, bigger this time, comes through the air, catching him on the temple. He grasps it in the few seconds before the damage is done. His knees fall out from under him. This wouldn't be as bad, but he is on the bank of the river. He plunges in with a splash. I realize what's going to happen and I scream. Ella, who I have completely forgotten until this moment, joins the sounds of horror. I let out a cry, just a cry before I come to my senses, but that doesn't stop me from yelling a single word.


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