- Prologue -

Annabelle

"Damn you, Seth."

Ah, damnation. The barrel rotated with a horrible ease, silver metal smirking in the moonlight. A menacing click ensued as the bullet slotted into place. Seth's eyes, cat-like under the night-time sky, found mine. His lip twisted up into his face, revealing rows of teeth glinting in a grin. His fingers flexed on the trigger, but obviously they were not to pull back. At least, not yet.

"I have to say, I'm gonna miss you. Belle," he said, sighing in mocking disappointment. The gun dropped slightly.

I hated the way he paused before saying my name. I hated the way he even said my name. I hated the fact that he used my nickname, the one I only allowed my dear ones to use, and the fact that he rolled it around those horrible teeth of his before whispering it to me. I hated that he called me by my name in the first place. Annabelle.

"Pull the bloody trigger, Seth," I snapped back, "End it. Stop playing with me."

Those eyes again. They flashed.

"Oh?" he said teasingly, another cruel smile taunting with the corners of his mouth, "I'm afraid I didn't quite hear you."

"Finally going deaf are we?" I retorted, but I was too scared to seem malicious.

Yeah, I was scared. Like, shaking in my skinny jeans scared. He knew it. It was the only reason he was taunting me, 'cause I was bloody terrified and he liked having me at his mercy. Me. Annabelle. Him. Seth. Seth add Annabelle equals death. Seth add Annabelle equals minus Annabelle. I could never beat him. I knew that, somewhere in the deepest regions of my flipping heart.

"You know," he continued, repositioning the barrel with monstrous precision, "I hear that when you're about to die, your life replays in your head. What are you seeing? Joy? Friends? Family life? Not a lot, right … Belle."

Shut up shut up shut up shut UP. When will it end, Seth? When will you get tired of playtime? You're just a little kid, Seth. A little kid with big toys.

"Shoot me," I said emotionlessly.

He smiled. He aimed again. His accuracy was already perfect.

"Shoot me," I repeated.

"Sure," he said slowly, drawing it out, "Should be fun."

"Shoot me."

Was he really going to shoot? Or would he stand here forever, mocking me? That would be worse. Worse than whatever hell I was going to. I was proud. The jeering would kill me internally. Crumble my pillars of dignity. Hack through the stubborn brambles. Slash my castle gates of self-esteem. Murder the guards of poise. Maybe, just maybe, he'd reach the Sleeping Beauty inside.

And slit her throat while she dreamt of freedom.

"Shoot me … please."

Okay. Okay. God damn … was I begging? Was I pleading … with Seth? No. No! NO!

The look on his face was utter astonishment. Perhaps it was just the light of day seeping in, but his whole face softened. Like from cutting slate to candlewax.

"Manners maketh," he said chidingly. I noticed the gun was a little off.

"Shoot!" I screamed, fear swallowing me up, my hands snatching out to get the gun off him, "SHOOT!"

I grabbed the pistol, nudging it into the side of my head. My heartbeat hammered a thousand broken promises into my empty heart. Seth stared, shocked. And impressed. I couldn't help noticing that, and a flare of pride blossomed inside. Then I remembered that it was Seth's astonishment, and readjusted the barrel. Stupid crying. Hadn't done anything to my reputation, had it? Cowardly dying. Shooting myself instead of the enemy doing it. Stupid, cowardly me. Coward. Coward! Annabelle dying a dogs death, tail between legs, whining pathetical-

"No …"

I gulped down bile, shakily pushing the revolver into Seth's chest.

"You do it," I said in a voice scarce more than a whisper, "It's … it's better that way."

He raised one slender eyebrow.

"Hey, maybe you were made of more than you looked. Belle."

Gritting my teeth, I fluttered my eyelids open. I was going to die, aware of everything around me. No cowardly death for me. Not long now. Torture would cease … for me, anyway.

"Good. This is far better playtime than anyone else has ever given me."

Seth fingered the trigger for a few seconds, then carefully eased the barrel into the middle of my forehead.

Bye-bye, planet Earth.

… Was I dead yet?

Apparently not.

"Oh … just before I shoot you, one last question. Was that you? At Church, the other day?"

Huh?

"Yeah … that was me. Why?" I said, confused.

He shook his head.

"Thought you were there for forgiveness or something," he replied, also confused.

"What does it matter?"

"It doesn't. Well. Okay, I just thought you were a stubborn ass who would never ask forgiveness in her life. Maybe not."

"It wasn't for me. You know I'm not religious."

Seth's eyes narrowed. I didn't comprehend. Excuse me, but I had a gun at my head, and the bullet was but for a few inches away. No wonder I felt quite ill.

"So who was it for?" he said, staring coldly at me.

I stopped, chest heaving. I wasn't sure if I could say it aloud.

"I kind of have a gun at my head, Seth," I muttered, "And I feel rather nauseous. Possibly to do with the fact that-"

"WHO WERE YOU BLOODY PRAYING FOR?!" he roared, bashing my head against the brick wall behind.

Pain exploded in a multitude of colours behind my eyes. I groaned, my brain swirling a tempest in my head. Now, I could barely see even Seth in front of me. Seth. Breathing heavily, wide-eyed. Alarmed at his own actions.

"I … not saying …" I murmured, knees threatening to buckle beneath me, "Just … kill me …"

"NO!" he yelled again, smashing my forehead with the gun, "TELL ME, OR I'LL DO WORSE THAN DEATH!"

Shock barely made a fingerprint on my conscience. I was far too groggy, and Seth was far too close. Seth gripped my neck, about to strangle me. But then he gritted his teeth, hands loosening. I couldn't see too clearly, but he was reaching down for something on the road. Right: the gun I had kicked out of his grasp before. He was gonna … shoot me with a better gun. Ha. I knew he liked me. Well. 'Ish'. At least I might die with style. But … what was he doing? He … was shaking out the bullets! What was he gonna do to me?! He pocketed the bullets. Raised the gun by the nose. Smiled. Almost sadly.

He smote me with the barrel and I collapsed.