I hate parties. They are the worst. I hate getting together with family I barely recognize and having to pretend I know them. What makes it even worse is that they sometimes recognize me. I know that sounds odd to you, but it usually makes me feel worse when they remember everything about me and I can't even recall their names.

I hate parties. Mainly any type at all, even if they are for me. Well, I don't really mind if it is just my immediate family attending. Any other time, I don't like them. I do my best to avoid them at all costs.

In this case, though, my mom caught me by surprise, and I wasn't able to react quickly enough to dodge around it. And so here I am, at my "aunt's" house, in my own personal hell. The room is very crowded, as, in most cases, it usually is when I can be dragged to a get-together. It always seems that when I go to a party, I either don't know anyone there, or I hate them all. This particular party is a mixture of both.

I sigh heavily to myself in my private corner against a wall. No one seems to notice me, and I'm just fine with that. I'm not what you would call a 'people person,' and I like it best when they don't bother me.

So while everyone is leaving me alone, I'm here being all gloomy, thinking about how much I'd rather be at home right now. I'm getting really irritated, though, because the pitter-patter of the rain outside, with the occasional roar of thunder and flash of lightning, are breaking into my thoughts. Back in Massachusetts, where I'm from, it rains a lot, too. It seems odd that this rain is bothering me so much, but I could just blame it on being somewhere I don't want to be.

I'm just standing here, minding my own business, when someone has the nerve to bother me. He starts wandering in my direction, pretending he doesn't see me, and then sits down in a chair near me. I just roll my eyes and ignore him right back. Well, I guess I do pay attention to him, just to make sure he isn't going to do anything funny. A few moments later, he looks around, all casual like, and then seems to notice me for the first time. He smiles slightly and meanders over. He leans against the wall right next to me and looks out at the crowd for a minute. Then he turns towards me and says, "Hey, isn't this party great?"

"Yeah, it's awesome. With all the terrible music, guests that I very much dislike, and the disgusting food, this is totally off the hook," I reply sarcastically.

"Hmm, so you aren't having fun?"

"Whoa, how long did it take for you to find that out, Sherlock?"

He frowns at me. "So, I guess I can't convince you to take a dance with me?"

I look at him like I think he's crazy. Which I do. "Sorry, but no. I don't dance, and even if I did, you'd be the last person I do it with."

"Why is that?" He actually seems surprised by my hostility. How long has he been watching me? Not very long, apparently.

"I don't like you. Simple as that."

"There's nothing simple about that!" he exclaims, exasperated. "I don't see any reason why you shouldn't like me."

"You keep pestering me."

"I thought we were having a nice conversation."

"Call it what you want. It makes no difference to me."

"Seriously, why don't you want to dance?" he asks again.

"Seriously, why do you want to know?" I ask in the same tone he used.

He shrugs. "Just curious."

"Well, I don't know how to dance," I say indifferently.

"Really?" He sounds amazed.

"Yep. So... why did you get it into your head that I wanted to dance?"

He smiles at me before he answers. "Well, when I saw you standing over here, I wondered, 'What's a cute girl like that doing all by herself?' So then I just decided to come over and keep you company. And then I decided that I would like a dance with you."

"Why did you decide that?"

"Well, despite your open hostility, I think you would very much like to dance with me."



I scowl at nothing in particular. Oh, so he's a flirt, is he? Well, he's not going to win me over like that. I know better than to fall for that.

"Sorry, bro, you're just going to have to dance with the imaginary friend who you abandoned to have this wonderful chat with me. Better hurry along now, before it's too late to apologize and you have to do the chicken dance by yourself." I shove off the wall and immerse myself into the mob of guests before he can stop me.

I scan the crowd, looking for my oh-so-brilliant mother. And there she is, standing by the concession stand, talking with an old, shriveled up woman. I can't really make out her face, what with all of the wrinkles covering it. The old woman is wearing a pale pink shawl, with an off-white dress on under it. Her white wisps of hair are limp and untidy; it is as if it's all she can do to stay awake right here and now. It looks sort of like her heart is going to give out at any time. She is kind of depressing to look at, but I have more urgent matters right now, and after I talk to my mom about them, the old woman can have her for as long as she wants. I move forward before my pity can get the best of me.

I go up to the two and grab my mom's arm. "Hey, I'm sorry if I'm interrupting your conversation," not really, "but can I borrow my mom for a minute? Yeah? Thanks." I drag my mom away from the old lady, who stares after us blankly until she is swallowed by the crowd.

"Excuse me, but what is so important that you have to take me away from your aunt?" My mom plants her feet down so that I can't take her any farther, but that's okay, because right in the middle of the throng of guests is about as private as it's going to get without getting soaked.

So that old lady is my aunt, the lucky woman whose birthday it is today. Wow.

"Well, I was just wondering if we were leaving soon." This is maybe about the 20th time I have asked within the hour.

"No," Mom answers yet again. Shocker.

"Why not?"

"It's your aunt's birthday, and we have to stay for the whole thing to celebrate."

"Celebrate what? The way she can't seem to die? Honestly, that lady's, like, 150 or something like that. She should have croaked a long time ago." As soon as I say this, I regret it. I really don't know what brought it on. But then I remember. Oh yea, maybe it's because I've been stuck here, in a place I don't even want to be in, for hours and I'm tired and cranky and… well, I guess just a naturally bitter person when it comes to this kinda thing.

My mom glares at me with her piercing light brown eyes. "That is no way to talk about your aunt, young lady." Her voice is low and full of authority. It's exactly that type of voice that gets on my nerves, that makes me cough up an attitude. I hate being bossed around, and I don't take it too well, either.

"Yeah? Well, she probably isn't my aunt. She's not even your aunt. She's more like your great-grandma's aunt. Even if she was, why would we need to stay? I don't know anyone here, and they don't know me. They probably can't even remember you."

Mom aims a slap towards my face, but I see it coming and dodge it. I sprint to my corner and retrieve my jacket. "I'm going out! It's too crowded for me in here!" I shout so she can hear me as I open the door and slip on my jacket.

"Darcy Teresa Graves! You come here right now!" Mom screams at the top of her lungs; or, at least, that's what I think she says, because right at this moment a lightning bolt lights the sky and thunder booms almost simultaneously. It's so close it is deafening. The wind howls and very nearly blows me away; but, luckily, there are some trees around here and they take the brunt of the blows. The clouds overhead pelt me with rain so hard that if I don't see it myself I would think they were rocks.

Thunder rumbles in the night and shakes me all the way to the core. Rain splatters on and all around me, drenching my hair, skin, and clothes. The rain is piercingly cold, causing me to shiver uncontrollably, even though I'm dressed in the thick jacket. The smell of mud fills the air, the sickly sweet scent making me gag slightly. The storm clouds in the sky are a dark, angry purple color, glaring down at me from high above. Water is coming together in deep puddles in the ground where the dirt doesn't drink it up fast enough. I splash quickly through these puddles and attempt to ignore the storm around me without much success. The rain starts coming down even harder than before, and I try to seek refuge under a pine tree. The storm clouds bark their laughter as I scramble to hide under the tree and assault me with rain all the harder; the sound of the droplets remind me of millions of pebbles being thrown at a window all at the same time. Rivulets of rain stream down my face and trickle into my mouth, which is open as I fight to catch my breath.

I continue on into the forest, deeper and deeper into the dark. Lightning flashes in the sky, and comes down to strike a tree that's directly in front of me. It would probably catch on fire, but because the rain is coming down extra hard just for me, what sparks that might be set off are quickly put out. I jumped really high when it happened, and I take a quick turn to avoid being turned into a big pile of ash.

I run on into the forest. I start to slowly realize that I'm getting lost; I can't remember from which direction it was that I came from. I think now that I have been running in circles the whole time, and that's why I can't figure out where to go. I'm so confused, and the cold from the icy rain is making my teeth chatter, causing everything to shake uncontrollably. I can only make myself go so far, and I begin thinking that I am eventually going to die from pneumonia when I look up into the sky to see it.

It comes from above, charging down right at me. I think it to be a lightning bolt, but after a moment, I change my mind. It looks more like a great, pale blue ball of fire. It comes at an amazing speed; I only have enough time to acknowledge its presence before it comes crashing down on my head. The moment it comes in contact with my head, blackness engulfs my vision.

When I open my eyes again, I don't know exactly where I am. It's really dark out, but the ground isn't really wet, so I don't think that I am still in the same forest. The whole place is covered in a thin layer of white mist, and there are trees, but their bare bone-like limbs are oddly foreboding, so I don't want to go near them.

I know it's funny and childish, but in this moment, I suddenly fear the dark and its secrets, monsters that hide in closets. I fear that there are spiders hiding in the trees and that there are all kinds of snakes slithering through the mist, invisible to my naked eye but still there, waiting until I'm not looking to come up and—

Quit it. There's nothing to be scared of. You're a big girl now, so act like it! I take a deep breath to clear my thoughts and look around.

There are black skies overhead, and there is still lightning, but no rain. No thunder. Time seems frozen in the forest. No matter how long I sit here, it still seems just as dark as before, maybe even darker, if that's possible. Sound seems to be nonexistent in here. I call out a few times, to see if there is anyone else there, but my voice just seems to be swallowed up by the darkness. I listen intently for any other noises, but all I can hear is my rapid breathing. As I panic, it gets faster and faster still. After a moment, I idly realize that I can't hear my heartbeat, and with the never-ending silence, I think that it would be even louder than my breathing. I absent-mindedly check my pulse and find that my heart has stopped.

My eyes widen and I feel for it again and again, but no matter how hard I want to, I can't find it. There is only one way to explain it. I don't want to put it into words, or even think it, for that matter. I decide to ignore the nagging thought and have a sudden, desperate urge try to call out again. I shout "Is there anyone there!?"

My voice finally makes a sound, shattering the quiet. It's unnaturally loud and hurts my ears to hear it. I wince and then, when my ears finally let up enough on the ringing to actually let me hear again, I swear I can hear someone else, faintly, in the distance. I feel lighter, with hope, and I lope in the direction of the sound, wariness enveloping me as I take care to avoid touching the trees. I feel weird. Walking seems awkward, as if I can't remember how to move right. I'm stumbling slightly as the trees clear up.

I enter a small clearing. The mist is still present, but for some strange reason, it seems a bit thicker here. The air becomes extremely chilly, and I find that I'm hugging myself as I glance around, trying to find the source of the voice. I scan the clearing almost for the second time when I detect someone. She is over at the very edge, and I didn't observe her at first because her form is so small, so slight. Her arms are wrapped about her legs as she hunches over on herself, and her back is to me, so she probably hasn't picked up on my presence yet. The smoke around her is a bit thinner, but those aren't the things that I first notice about her. The first things that I see are her wings.

It looks like she could have a wingspan of anywhere over twelve feet wide. The dark light from the forest makes her pure white feathers have a dark purplish tint to them. They are, at the moment, folded up on her back, so they completely cover her. They are ruffled up slightly, and they look so soft.

Yeah, I must have some sort of ADD kicking in right here, 'cause here I am, looking down on some girl with freakishly huge wings attached to her back in some dark, menacing forest filled with all kinds of creepy mist and who knows what else, and all I can think about is how much I want to touch her feathers. Wow.

Suddenly, the girl turns to look up at me with an angelic smile on her face. It is so bright that it seems to lighten up the whole forest. Metaphorically, I mean. Her face is so pretty, I'm struck by the beauty of it. Her skin is very pale, but that doesn't affect anything. She has a long, sculpted nose, full pale rose-colored lips, and artfully thin eyebrows that are the same color of chestnut brown as the hair that frames her face. Her long, dark eyelashes cast a slight shadow on her eyes, which are a shocking electric blue, and they seem to be able to penetrate right into the core of things. She has long legs and a slender body. Mainly, she is probably everything a guy looks for in a girl, appearance-wise. She is the kind of girl that other girls are always jealous of in school. The kind of girl that makes other girls wish that they were her. The kind of girl who always has a perfect life. Before she turned around, I was about to say something to get her attention, and now I realize my mouth is still hanging open from amazement. I shut it closed with an audible snap. That girl is beautiful; even I have to admit that. But behind all of that beauty, there is a dark aura, so strong that it feels almost tangible, surrounding her like a force field. I didn't notice it at first because I was distracted.

I take a deep breath and ask, "What are you doing?" She probably doesn't comprehend it, but I'm slightly intimidated by her. Strangely, I don't feel worthy of being in her presence, so my voice comes out as a whisper.

She doesn't answer and just continues to stare up at me.

I clear my throat and try again. "I won't hurt you, I swear. I was just wondering why you're just sitting here, how we got here, and how we get out."

She still doesn't answer, and that starts to get me a little frustrated. I'm opening my mouth again to say something bitingly sarcastic, but I'm interrupted.

"She can't talk," a low, musical voice cuts in. He comes out of nowhere. At one moment, there is only me and the girl with wings, and then, so suddenly that I jump about two feet, there is someone next to me. The new-comer is just as beautiful as the girl, even though he's a guy. They look some much alike that they can be considered brother and sister. He has pale skin, like the girl, and the same eyebrows and nose. He is lean, and very long, in just about everything. Long fingers, long arms, and long legs. Oh, yeah, and he has wings like the girl. These wings are pitch black, rather than the soft, pure white hers are, and his seem impossibly larger. I also notice he has that same dark aura around him, except maybe that his isn't as strong. They are both around my age: fifteen, sixteen, maybe even seventeen. The main difference between the two is the hair. His dark brown hair is slightly shorter than chin length, and, even in the darkness, it seems to shimmer a little. Their eyes are different, also. Instead of that electric blue that the girl has, he has a strange shade of amber. Almost like a cat's, I think dizzily as I study him.

I realize after a moment that he is waiting for me to answer. I shake my head. "Um, what?"

He chuckles slightly. "I said, 'She can't talk.'"

"Oh. I'm sorry... Uh, I don't want to sound impolite or anything, but why is that?"

"I don't think you'd believe me if I told you."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Well, we have been watching you for a while now, and I've found that you're not a very trusting person, and, even though you have a very active imagination, you're not really open-minded."

"Uh-huh," I respond slowly. That sure doesn't creep me out at all.

"And the reason why my sister and I are out here is because we were banished here, to this world of never-ending darkness. My sister can't speak because her voice was taken away as part of her punishment."

"So... why do you guys have wings?"

"Oh, so you've noticed them?" The corner of his mouth lifts in a small half-smile.

"No freakin' duh."

"Well, we have wings because..." he trails off.


"Because... we're angels."

I suddenly get it. Where I am, how these guys have wings, how they seem to know me. I am dreaming. I'm probably out in the forest lying in a puddle at right now. If the whole thing last night even happened. That could be part of this nightmare. None of that stuff ever happened. The storm didn't happen, the fight with my mom didn't happen, the party didn't happen. Wow... that… sucks. That means that I will have to suffer that horror all over again. Bummer. And here I thought I left all of that behind me.

While I'm going over that in my head, the boy is looking at my face intently. Just after I think that last thought, he seems to grasp that I don't believe him, just as he predicted. He sighs. "The ones we need are always the hardest to convince," he mutters to himself.

"So you want to convince me that you're an angel," I cut into his musing. "Give me one good reason to believe in you, and maybe I'll consider being a bit more open."

"You want a reason? Okay, here's one: you can't get out of here without my help."

I don't say anything for a minute as I go over what he said in my head. Then I reply reluctantly, "Alright, that's a pretty legit reason. Is there anything else you want to tell me right now, while I'm still being objective about this whole bizarre subject?"

He smiles and answers, "Why, yes, there actually is something I would like to ask you. I was wondering if you would help us—my sister and I—escape this unbearable sentence. We've been waiting for you for a while now, and we'd like to get this over with."

I wait a second for him to go on. When it's apparent that he isn't going to offer anything more, I ask, "Um, that's great and all, but how exactly would I be able to help you? I don't know anything about you, other than the obvious and what you just told me. I don't even know your names, for crying out loud!" I don't know why I threw in the last part. I guess I was just slightly curious and just felt like arguing about something as trivial as names at a time like this.

He raises one of his perfect eyebrows as I pause for a second. Just as I open my mouth to go on, he says quietly, "Damon."

I freeze, and then my eyebrows shoot up in confusion. "What?"

"My name's Damon, and my sister's name is Charlotte," he enunciates slowly for me.

"Oh. Well, those are… nice names," I state for his sake. I really think they are weird, old people names. Especially Charlotte. That name is especially horrible. I never met one decent Charlotte in my life.

He shoots me an odd look, then merely shrugs his shoulders and asks, "So, will you help us? You know our names now."

"Yeah, but I still don't know what I'm supposed to do," I point out.

He purses his lips. "You're on a need to know basis, and that's not something you need to know right now."

"The heck it isn't! If you want me to help you with… whatever you want, then I need to know what I'm actually doing, don't I? If you don't tell me, then I won't be able to help you."

"Well, actually, you will be helping us, whether you like it or not. It's just a tad less painful for you if you decide to help us willingly, on your own. If not, then I have ways to make you willing, and, believe me, most of them are highly unpleasant."

"So now you're threatening me? You know, I hope that after I help you out with your little problem here that I don't have to see you too often, 'cause our relationship isn't off to a good start."

"So you're helping us out then?" An amused smirk appears on his face. I blanch as I realize what I just said.

"No. I don't see how this will work if I don't know what's going on. And since you refuse to tell me and insist on keeping your goddamn secrets, then I guess I must refuse to assist you in whatever the hell you crazies want."

"Just think about it, though," Damon speaks suddenly, looking at me intensely as his eyes become hypnotic. "I would reward you for your help, of course. I could give you something beyond your wildest dreams, beyond your imagining. I could give you power, or all of the riches in the world. I could give you anything your little heart desired. If you help us, with no more questions asked."

Whoa. Weird, mesmerizing eye effect with lame offer starting to work here. I wrench my gaze away and close my eyes for a moment to actually imagine what it would be like. I can have anything I ever wanted, anything I can ever dream of... if I do this one little thing for them. The idea is so tempting, but yet impossible to accept. It's too good to be true, and a bit cheesy; there has to be a catch. I have seen this in all of the movies before. The hero makes a deal with some stranger about something along the lines of this. They do what the stranger wants, and then one of three things happen: 1) They get killed. 2) They get what they want but go through all kinds of grief because they got what they wanted. 3) They get what they want but it somehow gets taken away from them in the end. There is never a happy ending. Well... except maybe in those Disney movies that are rated G for the little kids who still believe in Santa.

I shake my head and hear an annoyed huff from beside me. I open my eyes to see my companion glaring at me with obvious impatience. His eyes glitter dangerously as he awaits my decision. I so badly want to say no, but it's impossible to do so while I'm ensnared by his brilliant, smoldering amber eyes. My mind suddenly becomes foggy, and I hear myself as if from a distance. "Yes, I'll do it."

He flashes me a bright, ultra-white grin as he takes a hold of my arm and pulls me deeper into the ever-darkening night.