Prologue - Dark October
<<STOP! have you read Dark Water & the Maiden AND Riverwood: Remembrance, which are Books I & II of this series, respectively? If not, it is advisable to read both of these novels first, also on Inkitt. If yes, happy reading!>>
Prologue - Dark October
Saturday, October 7, 2007 – Banta Earth
Jenna brushed her long, blond hair, her eyes focused not on her own image in her vanity mirror but on some distant point in space. She suddenly realized she’d been brushing her hair for some time, quite more than necessary. She stopped and zeroed in on two photos wedged between her mirror and the inside left edge of the frame. The first picture, her high school senior picture, had been taken toward the end of the summer. In the photo, Jenna smiled wistfully, and her golden hair, which glowed softly, fell behind her bare, well-tanned shoulders.
The second photo, about seven years old, pre-9/11, had faded. Her father, mother, Mike, and she clung to each other in a pumpkin field. The happy pumpkin pickers stood ankle deep in mud—hanging onto each other, cradling bright orange globes, and laughing.
She pondered the gathering: ‘So young. So happy. No thought of crashing planes, acrid smoke, or flames. No gravesite in mind. No emptiness for days, months, years afterwards. No thought that there would only be three of us left.’
“I wish I’d brought back a picture of me and him,” she said aloud to nobody.
Unexpectedly, her door opened. The young man swaggered in, plopped himself onto her bed next to her vanity. His pointy chin belied his ruggedly handsome face. His hawkish, dark brown eyes bore into her.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing in here? How’d you get in my house?”
He smiled, a ‘go sue me’ smile. Then he leaned over toward her vanity and kissed her on the cheek. Jenna wrinkled her nose a bit and gently pushed him away. He grinned again. “Mike must have left your front door open. You all should really be more careful who you let in the house.”
Jenna rolled her eyes. “My mom’s going to be home soon. You and I aren’t supposed to hook up until tonight anyway. You should go. Come back later.”
He stared at her for a long moment. “You know your mom’s in Virginia with—what’s his name—Bob? He’s the corporate attorney, her latest boyfriend, right? Your mom is so distracted lately. You and I both know she’s not coming back until late.”
‘How the hell did he know where she is? Or who she’s with?’
He produced a worn, brown paper bag from inside his letter jacket, and from within the crinkled wrapping he pulled out a full bottle of bourbon. “Besides, Jenna, I’ve never been in your room. You’re always…” He paused. “Holding me off with one arm. So, why don’t we make today the day! It’s a sunny fall day, and you promised to celebrate my sixteenth birthday with me, even if it is two days late.”
She sighed. “I have to study for the SAT today. The test is next weekend. It’s the third time I’m taking it, and I need to do better.”
“Uh, please, give me a break. You did great last time. Just take a break for once, you big geek.” He unscrewed the cap of the bottle, took a deep swig of the dark amber liquid, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Then, shoving the cap into his pocket, he placed the open bottle on her vanity, as if offering her some.
“It’s so easy for you to tell me to take it easy. You’re only a sophomore, and you’ve already got Virginia Tech and Iowa calling you on the phone, promising you full scholarships for wrestling. I’ve got to get an academic scholarship if I want to go to my school of choice. I’m not sure how much financial aid my mom’s going to get. So, don’t tell me what to do, Mr. Everything-Comes-Easy-for-Me. I’m a senior. It’s my last chance to get a better score.”
Jenna furrowed her brow. Then she stood, walked across the room toward her bedroom door, and turned on the clock radio on her dresser, as if to shut down the conversation.
Jenna cocked her head and pointed at the bottle of bourbon. “How can you drink that garbage and still stay in shape?”
A close-lipped smile stretched across his face, and he raised his eyebrows as if to say: ‘My secret!’
He burst out, “Hey, Jenna. Did you know the Olympic Training Center asked me to train with them this year, to move to Colorado and go to school there?” He knew she had no idea.
Her heart skipped. She often felt like throttling him, perhaps as much as she felt like cuddling with him. But the truth was she didn’t want to lose him too. “Are you—are you going out there?”
‘Are you leaving me too?’
He sniffed and smiled, nodding slightly as if he had just won a victory over her somehow. “Nah. I’m going to finish out high school at Riverwood Academy. I’ll win a few more prep school national championships. Then…hmmm…who knows.”
He picked up the bottle from the vanity and took another swig. Then he again reached into his jacket, this time pulling out a tightly-rolled joint. “You got a lighter? And, by the way, what the hell is this fucking music?”
“No, I don’t have a lighter or matches. And this is George Washington University Radio.” She paused. “It’s a song called Starlight by Muse. They’ve been playing it a lot lately. And just so you know, I like this song.”
“You like this trash?”
She stopped, considered offering him an explanation, knowing not every truth needs to be told. She decided to tell him anyway. “I like this song because it makes me think of him.”
“Him who? Your dad?”
“No, not my dad. Him. You know who. From over there.”
He sniffed again, sneering. “You know if you miss HIM so much, you could have dated my brother instead of me. He’d be sort of like the same thing, right?”
She shook her head. “Not really. I could never substitute for Jacob like that. Besides, I like you, not your brother.” Jenna still stood beside her dresser, across the room from him, and she backed herself against the bedroom door. “Don’t ask me why I like you though.”
“You like me, huh?” He stood, walked toward her a few steps and then shoved his hands in his jeans’ pockets. “Maybe you like robbing the cradle.”
“Whatever. You’re sixteen now. And I’m not even eighteen until April. It’s OK.”
He moved even closer, placed his hands on the outsides of her arms, leaned in, and kissed her lips softly. “It’s been three months since you told me it’s OK. So, I figure, since I’ve never been up here in your room, why don’t we lock the door today? Make sure your brother doesn’t barge in.”
Jenna stood still, her hands clasped around his waist. She stared over his shoulder at the photo of her family among the pumpkins.
A recent memory danced in her head. ‘Should I tell him why it is I’m dating him? Should I tell him I saw Jake—my Jacob—last spring? Would he believe me if I let him know that while I was at a junior class dance, I somehow stepped into the other world, Jacob’s world, for a few minutes, and that then, just as quickly, something yanked me back? Should I let him know how much it hurt, how I promised myself I couldn’t go through that pain again? Should I let him know that I started dating him this summer because I gave up? Would he really want to know how absolutely empty I feel inside? Or would he care, even? No. No, I guess not.’
Instead she moved away from him and said, flatly: “Everyone I know goes away eventually. I’ll never see Jacob again. And you’ll go away too, my dear, near-Evan. You’ll leave suddenly. Or you’ll fade away like everybody else.”
He chuckled, although a hint of irritation crossed his face. “I’m not near-Evan. I’m from this world, in case you don’t recall. I’m the real Evan. I’m not that other chump.”
She reflected, ‘The other Evan is the real Evan. He was like a little brother to me. He was sweet and kind.’ Jenna sighed.
An ambulance’s siren wailed outside, so unusual for a quiet Saturday morning in her cul-de-sac. ‘Where could that siren be coming from?’
Then a helicopter’s blades chopped the air directly overhead. Thumpa, thumpa, thumpa…
‘So strange. Something weird going on out there,’ she mused, looking at her ceiling as if she could see the chopper.
‘Everybody goes away. Everybody goes away. Everybody goes away.’
As if in a trance, Jenna reached around the back of her neck and undid the clasp on her necklace. She pulled it off, her left hand holding both the silver chain and a small, white plastic ring that was strung through it. She walked to the vanity and laid the chain and ring on the table.
Her back to near-Evan, a tear trickled from her left eye and rolled down her cheek. She quickly wiped it away.
The siren wailed again outside. A voice in her head flitted about, whispering, ‘No. No. No.’
Yet she ignored every sign. She disregarded every hushed word.
Jenna made a choice that would carry her far away and haunt her over multiple lifetimes, follow her across a vast span of time, for well over a hundred years.
Her head buzzing with self-pity, her eyes red with a loathing for meddling demi-gods and wizards alike, and her compacted heart so MAD, MAD, MAD at the entire world, Jenna grabbed his bottle from her vanity. She downed a huge gulp of burning liquid. The sharp, earthy smell of the bourbon rose into her nostrils, reminding her of mud.
She walked slowly toward her bedroom door, closed it, and pressed down the lock on the knob.
Then, not caring if she lived or died, believing she would never see her beloved Jacob again, and so weary that she did not notice the faint, greenish-yellow aura surrounding near-Evan, Jenna April stepped forward and sank into his warm embrace.
The two of them pulled her shade on the crisp autumn morning.
Infused with an eerie stillness and sporting a perfect sky that stretched out forever, the clear October day outside could have made you believe déjà vu was real.
But not now.
Now Jenna’s bedroom was dark, almost pitch black.
And, truly, everything that happened that day, and every day before and every day after, only ever happened once.