Chapter 1: Catarina
It always showed up at the oddest times, and it always manifested in her back. Cat curled into a ball on her bed in the shadowy attic. The burning blistered through her back again, making her feel as if she was boiling from the inside out. She bit her lip, digging her nails into her palms. The pain pricked like needles all over her skin and tore into her like the cords of a whip ripping into her back. She gritted her teeth and whimpered. Must stay quiet.
Sweat dripped down her palms, making them slick as time ticked by. She bit down on her lip too hard, and the tang of iron and copper filled her mouth. Tears coursed down her cheeks, but she clamped her hands over her mouth and held in the sobs. Black and yellow spots danced in her vision, and she felt the strange dropping sensation in the pit of her stomach that indicated another of the odd visions was coming on. If they are visions and not just hallucinations. But I quite taking the anti-depressants. So how could they be hallucinations?
Her tear-filled eyes squeezed shut when the shadowed attic began to undulate, pieces of furniture rippling and dancing in her vision. Unless there’s something wrong in my brain. I heard that could cause weird stuff like this. What will I see this time? When the light-headed sensation and the pain faded, she opened her eyes again.
Cool rays of light and a darkening sky met her gaze. The cold, powdery sensation of fine sand seeped through her thin nightgown and eased any lingering burning sensation in her back. She lay there for a moment, letting her eyes shut and appreciating the peacefulness of the scene. It’s not often I get this kind of quietness.
She eased her sore body into a sitting position. Moonlight glittered over the surface of an open expanse of water, illuminating waves as they crested and crashed into the sand that stretched down the coastline as far as she could see. The moon’s ghost-white rays lit the water in a mix of deep blue and black hues. She curled her toes in the sand, her nightdress fluttering around her.
What is this place? Her gaze wandered across the empty expanse to fix on the cliffs looming in the distance and the castle perched on top, dark and silent. So familiar. But why? As she turned back to watch the waves, a dark shape blurred past.
She gasped, scooting back. What was that? It almost looked like an angel. She pinched herself. An angel. She slumped down onto the damp sand, digging her fingers into it. I’m not dreaming, so how do I explain this? A high-pitched laugh bubbled out of her. “It’s official. I survived everything Uncle Levin threw at me, but now…” She laughed again, the sound carrying across the empty beach. “Now, I’m going crazy. How stupid is that?” She clenched fistfuls of sand, and her gaze shifted to the night sky, up to the twinkling stars. The moon presided over her surroundings, adding peace to the scene despite the turmoil she felt. “What is happening to me?” she whispered.
Sunlight streamed in through the window, falling across Cat’s face and forcing her heavy lids to flicker open for a moment before she shut them tight. She moaned and threw an arm over her face. A hiss of pain escaped her, and she wished she hadn’t moved. Places she hadn’t known could ache did, and her back felt like someone had taken a cheese grater to it. Rolling over, she eased off the bed and limped across the room to where a floor-length mirror had been propped against the wall.
Tugging up her shirt, she looked over her shoulder. Twin stripes slashed down her back between her shoulder blades, puffy and red. What had started out as an insatiable itch had turned into a mild rash a few weeks ago. The last couple of nights, however, she’d been having the strange visions again and the rash had worsened to these weeping gashes. “Not again!” She glared at the injuries. I wish I knew how I got these stupid things and why they’re showing up now. She slid out of the old shirt and slipped into a new one. Her fingers ran over a particularly fresh bruise on her lower right side. A hiss escaped her. I’m going to be walking funny most of the day. Better avoid town so no one gets any weird ideas. Man, Mrs. Sandora is going to kill me if child services asks questions again. She glowered at her reflection. If only glaring could scare away all her troubles. “There’s never anything to find anyway,” she mumbled. No wonder the doctors ask so many questions.
A glance at her face revealed slight splotches of blood on her lip and a raw scab where she’d bit herself last night. She ran her tongue over the injury. The stale taste of iron lingered on her lips. Looking down at her palms, she sighed at the sight of crescent-moon shaped scabs. Lovely. Add that to the list of things I’ll have to hide. Well, until they heal too, anyway.
With a huff, she limped to the dresser beside the mirror and began tearing through her clothes for something suitable. Despite the summer heat, she opted for long sleeves just so she could hide the scabs on her palms. After a few moments of struggling to get the shirt on over her injuries without exacerbating them, she took a last look in the mirror and grunted. It’ll have to do.
She wobbled out down the stairs to the kitchen. Is it going to be obvious I passed out last night and had another weird vision? What if I look sick? She bit her lip, tangling her fingers in the hem of her shirt. It’ll be fine, Cat. Just fine.
Just before she reached the kitchen, she forced the limp out of her step and pasted a smile onto her face.
Her foster mother set her morning coffee down and fixed her with a squinty-eyed stare. “The fact that it’s summer doesn’t mean you get to slack off. I expect you up earlier from now on. Be thankful I bothered to feed you this morning.” She plopped a ladleful of lumpy oatmeal into a bowl and shoved it across the counter at Cat, who had settled onto a chair at the island. “You better take out the garbage and clean this house up by the time I get back home tonight!”
Cat hung her head, swirling her spoon around in her oatmeal. “Yes, Mrs. Sandora.”
“Useless child.” Her foster mother mumbled to herself while packing her own breakfast.
Eyeing the gray, congealing mess in her bowl, which didn’t even have sugar or milk, Cat choked down what she could handle. A whine and licking at her bare legs alerted her to their dog’s presence. Sandy perched beside her chair, ears perked and tail waving. Cat smiled, and when Mrs. Sandora rushed to the office, she lowered the bowl to the golden lab’s level. The dog gobbled up the remaining oatmeal, looking at her with big brown eyes when the meal was gone.
She patted the dog’s head and set the bowl down on the counter just as Mrs. Sandora returned with her laptop case.
“And while you’re at it, make sure you don’t touch the office this time! Last time Mr. Sandora was annoyed because he couldn’t find anything.”
He wasn’t annoyed, Cat thought. You were. He’s happy to ignore the entire world’s existence whenever he can. Annoyed isn’t in his dictionary. She ducked her head, hiding the scowl on her face from Mrs. Sandora. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll leave the study alone.”
“You’d better.” She shook her head. “I can’t wait until you go back to school. We should’ve shipped you off to boarding school this summer like every other year. I don’t know why my husband thought letting you stay here in a familiar place was a good idea this year.” She sniffed, snatching the empty oatmeal bowl away from Cat. Tossing it into the sink of dirty dishes, she grabbed her breakfast and headed to the door. Her heels clacked on the oak floor boards.
Cat gritted her teeth. “Yeah, at least boarding school gets me away from you.” she muttered.
The old bat heard and stopped in the archway to the dining hall. “What did you just say?”
Cat clenched her fists instead. “I said, at least it gets me away from you. You chose me, not the other way around. So don’t complain about it!”
Mrs. Sandora sniffed, her back straightening. “You’re an ungrateful brat, and I’m beginning to regret the kindness I showed you by taking you in.”
“You never did it out of kindness.” Cat snorted.
“Young lady, don’t you dare take that tone with me!” Mrs. Sandora finally whirled to face her.
“You’ve said yourself that you took me in for the sake of appearances. Although, God only knows why because everyone already thinks you’re perfect!” Tears welled in Cat’s eyes, but she gritted her teeth and refused to let them fall.
“How dare you suggest that I did it for such dreadful reasons?”
“I dare,” Cat spat.
“You’re such an arrogant brat.” Mrs. Sandora’s upper lip curled.
Cat shoved her chair back, and Sandy scrambled out of the way, nails scraping on the flooring. Stopping her feet on the floor, she stood and stormed past her foster mother.
Mrs. Sandora grabbed her arm. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Why do you care? I’m just in the way, right? I’ll be back to clean the whole freaking house later when I feel like being a maid!”
“Maybe I should give you back to the orphanage!” Mrs. Sandora’s grip tightened. “I could take in a more submissive child who appreciates all I do for them.”
“You’re a hag.” Cat yanked her arm out of Mrs. Sandora’s clutches and marched toward the door.
Mrs. Sandora’s nasally voice stopped her in her tracks for a moment. “Don’t you dare look at me like you’re the victim here, young lady! It’s about time someone corrected your foul—”
She slammed the door, cutting off Mrs. Sandora’s screeching, and ran for the woods. She sprinted across the road, skidding to a stop as a moving truck blared its horn at her and swerved into the driveway next door. Then she was on her way again, rushing for her place of safety.