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Chapter One, Prophecy of the Most Beautiful



I. Chloe

Chloe hated to be stared at. She found that people's eyes said so much more than their lips ever could, and she didn't particularly like what either had to say. Staring eyes made her feel invaded, like her deepest secrets were being revealed, and as she walked through the student parking lot of Cook High School that cold, January morning, the invasion was unbearable. No one tried to hide the fact that they were staring at her. Most stared in huddled groups. Some even pointed. And then the whispering began.

Maybe it was because she had just returned to school from another week long suspension––her fourth that year, setting a record for most suspensions for any student currently attending Cook. Maybe they were discussing whether she'd taken her medication that morning before coming to school––she hadn't, but she would lie if questioned about it. Or maybe it was the fact that she was dressed more for a blizzard in Antarctica than a rather cold day in Adel, Georgia that made her attendance that day so gossip worthy. Jeans, a thick gray sweater, an even thicker black coat, black skull cap, purple earmuffs, gloves, a colorful scarf, and her favorite purple snow boots––she could admit to herself that she was a bit overdressed. There wasn't even any snow, but she had been hoping the overcast sky and unusual chill meant snow might at least be on its way and she had dressed for the occasion. 

As she stalked past a group of snickering teenagers––she noticed one of her biggest arch enemies and old track and field rival, Stacey Crew among the group––she hiked up the collar of her coat and buried her chin deeper into her scarf. She heard Stacey make a comment that included the word "psycho" and a bunch of laughter followed. She walked faster, blaming herself. She had given her fellow students all the ammunition they needed to make her life a living hell. Four suspensions in one year––she wished she could start over and try again. She wished there was a way to make herself invisible, fade away in front of their eyes like an apparition and never be heard from again. She wished her hair that stuck out of the bottom of her cap like a bundle of bristle wasn't so wild, or so red. Oh, how the other girls loved to give her grief about that. 

More than anything though, she wished she could run away to a place and time where her life could be different, where she was destined for something other than being the object of constant ridicule and scorn. She wished a lot of things that were never granted.

The stares Chloe got from the athletes bothered her the most. The way the cheerleaders turned their noses up at her. The way the football players looked disgusted by her. The way her former track mates looked down on her as if they couldn't understand how she could have ever been a part of them. Even though she had been the best sprinter their school had ever seen, they still had never considered her part of their crowd. Their eyes had always held the same opinion of her that everyone else's did: Chloe is a freak.

You're not a freak, Chloe, a voice in her head said.

"I am. I am a freak," She mumbled. "Look at me. I'm talking to myself."

The voice giggled. No you're not. You're talking to me. 

She didn't respond to that.
"
Morning, Chloe Clever!"

She often found herself startled by the voices that weren't inside her head––the voices belonging to actual people. So after her heart skipped a beat, she turned to look at the short girl keeping pace beside her––her only kind-of friend in the world. 

"Oh. Hi, Smurfey." Usually she attempted a more enthusiastic greeting for the girl whose real name was Christina, but that day, just the thought of the effort it would take to fake happiness exhausted her.

"Hey! How's it go––" They both leapt out of the way of a line of rowdy skateboarders. Derrick Fisherman and his heathen clan of skater cronies, wearing short-sleeved shirts and scarves, as if that made any sense. Smurfey shot them the finger and shouted, "Just because my name is Smurfey doesn't mean I'm so small you can just run me over, you morons!" Chloe only buried her face deeper into her scarf and forged ahead. Smurfey had said all that needed to be.

"Now where were we? Oh yeah," Smurfey continued, catching up, "How's it going, Chloe Clever? Warm enough?" She yanked on the sleeve of Chloe's coat. Even Smurfey thought she was overdressed.

"I thought I told you to stop calling me by my full name." They had reached the school entrance and she hurried inside, leaving Smurfey to fight with the door that was almost heavier than she was.

"When have I ever listened to you? I like saying your name. Get over it." Smurfey was doing her best to keep up with Chloe's long stride as they weaved through the student-filled hallway. She changed the subject. "Guess what though?" She pulled her hood from over her short brunette hair and grinned with excitement.

Chloe rolled her eyes. "I don't feel like guessing today, Smurfey. So spare me the usual drama and just tell me."

Smurfey looked disappointed with the lost opportunity to play her daily game of twenty one million freaking questions, but exclaimed, "I got an 'A' on my giggle test yesterday!"

Chloe had made it to her locker, but stopped turning the lock to look down at Smurfey. "What in the world is a giggle test?"

"Aw, Chloe, you remember! The section I've been studying for my drama class for weeks now? You know, the art of laughing? Wait, let me show you." Smurfey broke out into a loud, very ridiculous giggle that drew many nasty glances from students meandering by.

Chloe slapped a gloved hand over Smurfey's mouth. "I know what giggling sounds like." She yanked the bit of her glove––the part Smurfey had bitten down on purposely––from between the girl's teeth to open her locker and began to take off her arctic wear. She peeled away her coat after stuffing her gloves into the pockets, then tossed her earmuffs into her backpack. She saved the dreaded unveiling of her hair for last, and when it had been revealed, she could tell by the look on Smurfey's face that, as usual, it was quite a sight to see.

"Really, double C?" She said standing on the tips of her toes, "It's wilder than usual today. What did you do, sleep with your head in a hole last night?" She mussed with Chloe's bushel of hair for a moment before returning to the flats of her feet. She shook her head as though her attempt at hair-wrangling had been unsuccessful.

"No. I slept at my desk." It was only a partial lie. She hadn't slept at all, but had sat by her window all night, staring up into an unusually starless sky, trying not to fall asleep. Whatever it took not to have anymore of those freaky nightmares again…the ones she always died in...

“So are you still going to run dialogues with me this afternoon?"

Chloe wanted to slam her head in her locker door for agreeing to help Smurfey with her dialogues the week before. Taking Drama as an elective was a waste of Smurfey's time, and running dialogues was a waste of hers.

"Sure. Why not?"

Smurfey responded in the worst British accent Chloe had ever heard. "Great! I can't wait to practice my brogue for next week's monologue." Chloe swallowed a laugh.

"So," Smurfey continued in her regular voice, "You know my birthday is next month, right? Anyway, my parents bought me these tickets to go see A Divinity's Stimuli in concert. You down?"

Chloe's head slammed into the top of her locker. It was pure luck that her wild hair cushioned the impact and saved her from injury. "A Divinity's Stimuli? Pretty cool." But her brain was on overload. A Divinity's Stimuli was by far the best rock band in the world, and the vocalist, L.A., was about as gorgeous as gorgeous could get. On top of that, his voice was amazing––she owned every record his vocals touched. Ask any person under the age of thirty who their favorite band was and A Divinity's Stimuli would be it––they were that huge. So was she down to see A.D.S in concert? Really? Of course she was.

"Um, Earth to Chloe!" Smurfey waved her hand in front of Chloe's eyes. She frowned.

"What Smurfey? Stop that." She swatted at the girl's hand.

"Do you want to go with me or not? It's in Atlanta. They're like seventh row or something like that." Smurfey shrugged like it was no big deal.

Seventh row?! She felt faint. "Uh, sure. I'll go. Seventh row is pretty decent." If she didn't know that she would break her neck trying, she would have attempted a backflip.

"Awesome! I'll tell the parents I found someone to go with me. They'll be surprised. They don't even think I have any friends." Her expression was sour. "Christina," She mocked, "Why don't you ever invite any of the girls from school over for dinner?" She snorted. "Piss off, why don't ya?" 

Chloe just shrugged and stuck her head back into her locker. She was shivering with excitement, but wasn't going to let Smurfey see it. The girl would only think something was wrong with her since it was rare for her to be seen excited about anything except the thought of her upcoming graduation from this first level of hell. So she forced back the huge grin that was threatening to break free, pulled her head back out into the open and proceeded to pull out her books for her morning classes. World History, Calculus, Physics...

Then over Smurfey's head, something caught her eye that made her forget all about concerts and boring high school lectures. A textbook slipped from her fingers and fell right on Smurfey's foot.

"OW!"

"Who is that?" She continued to peer over her friend and the heads of a large mass of students. She pretended not to notice Smurfey glaring at her.

"Who is who, Chloe? And did you notice that you just dropped your Calculus book on my foot?" Smurfey was standing on one leg, using the neighboring locker for balance as she massaged her sore extremity.

"You don't see him?" Chloe stepped out into the sea of students to get a better look. Several students frowned at her as she blocked a good portion of the walkway, but most avoided her all together. No one wanted to have a run-in with the school whack job.

Smurfey limped over to where Chloe was standing. "You know I can't see over these people. Hey!" A girl bumped hard into Smurfey and kept moving without a single word of apology. Smurfey looked blank for a moment, then started to limp after the girl. Chloe pulled her back.

"Aren't you tired of getting suspended yet?"

Smurfey snorted. "Are you tired of getting suspended lil' Miss Record Setter for most suspensions ever? Isn't that why they kicked you off the track team––for beating the crap out of people?" 

She glared at Smurfey. She hated being reminded of the most shameful period of her life. The coach had cited her as a danger to the other athletes, but she knew he just thought she was a whacko.

"Whatever. Tell me you don't see that guy. The one in all black holding the motorcycle helmet."

Smurfey hopped up and down on her good foot. "I don't see anybody that looks like that. Like I've said a million times before, I think those crazy blue eyes of yours can see things that no one else––Hey! Wait, where are you going? Come back!" But Chloe had already let herself be taken by the steady stream of students rushing to make locker stops and finish up last minute gossip sessions before the morning bell rang. She knew with her aching foot, Smurfey would hesitate to follow.

She had no idea what force was behind her sudden desire to approach the strange boy. Chloe usually went out of her way to avoid confrontations. The other times hadn't been her fault.

She had never seen him at school before, and she knew most of the students at Cook High since she had been going to school with the majority of them since kindergarten. He must have been one of the few she had failed to notice, though she wasn't sure how that could have even been possible. He might have been the only other person in the entire town that was more freaky than her. And maybe that was why she was so drawn to him.

No one else at Cook High had that many piercings in their face (nose, lip, and  both eyebrows) or were bold enough to tattoo teardrops under their eyes, though Derrick Fisherman did have a nose ring and a tattoo of a topless woman on his arm. But that was amateur compared to this guy, who also had a bunch of skull tattoos encircling his neck. No guy would dare wear black eye make-up and god forbid they ever think it's cool to wear a single feather earring. She had never seen hair so black. It hung like a greasy blanket down to his shoulders. His dark, tattered clothing and dismissive posture gave her the disturbing impression that he caused trouble wherever he went; His eerie smirk told her she was right. He didn't have that laid back southern quality that most boys in Adel had and Chloe came to the conclusion that it was because he wasn't from Adel, or even Georgia. Not even the south. He reeked of being from someplace else, someplace dark, someplace…creepy.

His dark eyes were watching her as she approached him. It was funny––no one else seemed to be paying him any attention. She almost appreciated it. The new freak was more of a pariah than she was.

"I knew you would come to me," He said in a grim tone that gave her a serious case of goosebumps. 

"All of you come to me…eventually." He glanced around at several of the students.

She had no idea what he meant and didn't try to figure it out. He continued to smirk and perched himself up against the lockers, propping one leg up behind him. He wasn't ugly but was far from cute. He was much too pale and creepy to be that.

She shivered and looked up towards the vent above her. Was the air conditioning on? Not in the middle of January. She rubbed her arms through her sweater. Why did she feel so cold then?

"Chilly?" He asked, his lips turned up in a steely smile.

She eyed him with a suspicious curiosity. "A little…do you ride a motorcycle?" She nodded towards the helmet propped underneath his arm.

He drummed his fingers against it. "Would that impress you if I did?"

It was a weird question. "Not really. I mean, motorcycles are fab and all, but I asked because that would make you the only student here whose parents are cool enough to let you ride one."

"The only one? That would not surprise me. It seems everything I do only makes me more of an outcast." His expression darkened making Chloe shudder. “And my parents are far from being ‘cool’. I’d say they’re pretty hot at the moment.”

Uh...okay. "Are you new here at school? I've never seen you before."

His laugh was like nails to a chalkboard. "I cannot remember a time when anything was new to me. I only ever see the tattered remains of what once was."

Chloe frowned. "So you're not new then?"

He gave her a look that said he had done enough explaining. He was finished with that subject.
"I've come here to invite you to join my side, Chloe Clever. Before it's too late."

She froze. "How do you know my name?" It's not like he couldn't have found out from one of the other students. Everyone knew "Whack Job Chloe". But still...

"What is a name really? Once you're dead, who will remember it? Do not be a fool and think your family will. They will be the first to forget you." Once again, a shade of bitter darkness swept over his face.

Chloe took a step backwards. "Um, okay. On that note, I think I'm going to go ahead and get to class early…Nice meeting you..."

"Do you decline me, Chloe?" His dark gaze was holding her there even though she knew she wanted to leave. It was like she was being hypnotized. She couldn't seem to make her feet move any further.

"Look, dude. I don't know what you're talking about––"

"I'm talking about freedom, Chloe. Freedom from the life you are about to become entrapped in. I can save you from the clutches of your great destiny." His grin was wicked. "They will all fear you and I can make sure that never changes." 

All right. It was official. The guy was a psycho.

"Okay, crazy dude. I'm leaving now." She felt the hold on her release and she was able to turn away from him.

"How about your little brother, Benjamin? Or your pretty mother, Beth, maybe? Could they persuade you?" Chloe twirled back around to face the young man. He smiled. "I thought that might get your attention."

"How do you know my family? What do they have to do with whatever you're talking about?" He noticed her clenched fists and laughed.

"Oh, they have everything to do with it. But they don't have to be…not if you cooperate."

"I don't know who you are guy, but you had better leave my mom and brother out of this!" She snapped, wishing she knew what this was.

"That is up to you, sweetheart." He pushed away from the lockers with his booted foot, and a bone––one that looked very much like a human bone––fell out of his leather jacket. He picked it up and tucked it back inside. "Wouldn't want to leave that behind. Russy loves his bones." He patted his pocket. 

"Now, if you wish to keep your family alive, then I will expect your full cooperation, and soon. You'll know where to find me when the time is right." His expression darkened like the nighttime. "I will not wait forever. Your cooperation is required or else I take things into my own hands and your family's blood ends up on yours."

His last words made something snap inside of Chloe. She hated that snap. That snap meant trouble. Blood. Her family's blood. Benjy hurt. Her mother dead. She couldn't comprehend these things. Who was this weirdo? Who was this lunatic to threaten her and her family? He was standing there smirking at her like he thought it was all a big joke. Was that what this was––a cruel joke perpetrated by her classmates just to see if they could drive her into having another fit? If so, it was working. She could feel it rising inside of her. That feeling of losing control. Someone always got hurt when this happened and maybe that's what they wanted. They didn't call her "Whack Job Chloe" for nothing…

She couldn't keep the feeling buried. And she tried, she tried so hard. Why had she approached him at all? She had been so stupid. She had thought that if she could just hang on until May when she graduated without having anymore fits……well, that was over now.

She wondered how long she would be suspended for this time. Her lips frowned, but her eyes smiled. It would be worth it. Joke or no joke, no one threatened to hurt her family. No one.

She didn't think anymore about it. 

She lunged for his throat.

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