Negative Zero (Book 1)

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Chapter 5: Dark Knight

Chapter Five Dark Knight

Brittonia was there in the morning, as promised, and came in with a pair of my old jeans and a t-shirt for me to change into. I was so happy to get out of that hospital gown. I was finally discharged around noon, but even then, it still took forever to say goodbyes to all of the staff before leaving.

By the time I was wheeled down to the main lobby to wait for Brittonia to get the car, I was starving, so we drove to the nearest Denny’s. I hadn’t realized how much my stomach had shrunk, and I probably shouldn’t have ordered the Grand American Slam breakfast for my first meal out of the hospital, but as always, my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

I was so happy to hear that Brittonia had a great date with Christian the night before. She told me all about it. I listened intently, but I was also just watching her talk and enjoying how taken she was with him. I don’t think I stopped smiling about that the whole time. I was fascinated with the change in her. It was refreshing.

After we gorged ourselves, she dropped me off at my apartment. It was nice to be home, and it was even nicer not to have to worry about my overdue rent. I was still befuddled about that, wondering who would have paid it. When I walked into my place, it was neat and tidy and my fridge was stocked with various foods that Ms. Makerov said she would give me. She placed a few recipes and a handwritten note on the counter that read: “Welcome Home.”

I was happy to be out of the hospital, but it was so empty at home. After talking with the firm, they were letting me have my old job back, but I wouldn’t start for another week. They wanted to be sure I had all my ducks in a row before coming back, which meant even more time to kill. I was starting to get antsy after being home for only two days. Ms. Makerov had flown back to Moscow for a wedding, and I didn’t want to play helpless to Brittonia when things were really going well for her and the new guy. Joel’s phone was still not working and the only means of communication I had with him was email. My Internet having been shut off for quite some time made communication from home impossible, so I set off for the library one evening. I figured a long walk would do me some good. Fresh air. A nice breeze from the lake. It was on the cusp of getting chilly, but only cold enough that I had to wear my light army jacket. I’d been at the library for over an hour emailing Joel before the library closed. I was satisfied that I’d given Joel a good enough email, one that he could read and know that I was okay.

I took a shortcut through the alley between the courthouse and the Renaissance. The city was dead, but it was eight o’clock on a Wednesday night, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to me. Most of the congestion would have been over by the university. I kept to the shortcuts to get back to my apartment quicker so I’d be able to catch the new episode of Ghost Hunters until I realized, not only did I not have Internet, I didn’t have cable either. I sighed, but sent out a silent “thank you” to the mystery person who covered my rent while I was away. That was the most important thing, and I realized that, so I took my time walking back home.

I felt something cold and wet hit my ear and stopped to look up, holding out my hand. A light rain was starting to fall. I closed my eyes and welcomed the light drops on my face. Then I heard the sudden roar of an engine behind me. I even felt the vibrations of it under my feet. There was a loud screech from the braking tires which, I’d imagined, had left a ten foot skid mark in the blacktop road. I turned to find him sitting on the massive Harley letting the engine idle. It was him. The one I’d been having dreams about. He was in that worn, black leather jacket, cupping a black helmet under his arm, his dark hair slicked back from the windy ride. His gorgeous, green eyes stared into mine as I waited for him to say something like, “Come with me if you want to live,” but I came to realize my expectations were way off.

“Get on,” he commanded.

My eyebrow automatically raised. “Excuse me?” My hand went to my hip. Pushy.

He let out a loud sigh, dropping his shoulders in frustration. “Listen,” he said. “We don’t have time for you to fight me on this.” He held out the helmet in my direction. “Please, get on.”

Hmm. The “please” was a little better, but what the hell? Was he crazy? Did he think I was crazy? I mean, seriously, I know I knew of him from some dreams for some reason, but I’m not some dumb girl who’d get on a bike with a stranger and ride off into the sunset. I honestly didn’t feel like he would be the type who would chop me up into little pieces, eat me, and then throw my bones into a West Virginia ditch or anything. However, good feeling or not, his approach irked me.

“So, is this some new pick-up line for the girl-impaired I’ve missed out on in my four months of comatose? I’ll break it to ya now, you come on a little too strong for my taste, but I’m sure you’ll get it just right with the next girl.”

I started to walk away. I had to walk away. There was no way my curiosity was going to outweigh my sensibility, no matter how much I wanted to know about why I’d been dreaming of him, until he said, “You’ve already met me in your dreams, so why are you giving me so much trouble?”

I froze in my tracks and slowly turned toward him. “What? How do you---”

“You’ll just have to trust me on this, Evika. You’re not safe. We have to go now!” He slammed the helmet down on the back of the bike and reached inside his jacket, pulling out some sort of weapon. It was black and had a barrel like a gun. He pointed it in my direction, and panic surged through me. Oh my God, is he the enemy? Were those dreams warning me that he would be the death of me?

Looking past me, he jerked his head and widened his eyes. I held my breath and froze in fear, trying to calculate my next move. I watched the weapon fire in his hand, slightly jerking his arm, but he kept it steady. The sound of whatever exited the barrel shot past my ear like a speeding bullet. My breathing and heart rate tripled. Did he miss? Then I heard snarling down the dark alley behind me. It sounded like it belonged to something big, gross and awful, something only the worst kind of nightmare could produce.

I managed to unfreeze enough to turn toward the bone-chilling shrieking coming from the end of the alley. I heard the weapon fire once again, and this time, I noticed the object at which it was aimed. The massive creature standing on two legs was holding one of its hands over the wound on its arm. It took in a deep breath and blew out an even louder, ear-piercing sound. The creature beamed its glowing, yellow eyes at me and unfurled its wings which covered the entire width of the alley. Shock hit me as I watched its movements. It gracefully dropped itself to all fours and began to sprint toward me. Its terrible snarling became louder and louder, and I could make out its features even more clearly. Not only were its eyes yellow, but so were its fangs. A horrid saliva glistened in the street light as it dripped from its parting teeth and gums. I was staring at its eyes when it got close and screaming internally to get myself to move, but I just couldn’t budge. I was utterly terrified when my eyes saw its swinging claw. Just then, my body folded in half over something that hit me from my side and curled around under my stomach. The wind was knocked out of me as I was flung into the air. I squeezed my eyes shut and thought, oh no! I’m dead! I’m dead! I screamed inside. Then I learned it was the inhuman strength of my dark knight’s arm that embraced me, placing me snuggly in front of him on the speeding Harley.

The rain fell harder, stinging my face as we sped down the street. When we turned the corner, I shot a look down the street to find the creature grow smaller as we drove further away. I could still feel its beady, glowing eyes staring after me from a distance. It seemed to have been full of rage at that point, bellowing a long shriek and snapping its jaws. It crouched lower, as if ready to sprint after us again, then expanded its black wings, shooting itself into the dark sky above with bullet speed. My stomach dropped. What the hell just happened?

Even though I was riding on the motorcycle with Jerkboy, I felt safe. (Surprise, surprise.) I looked to the direction in which we were heading. He was driving us down my street. Great. He knew my name, that I’d been dreaming about him, and where I lived? The revealing facts were getting better and better.

I looked down to see that not only was his arm still around my waist holding me in place, but my hands were clutching his lower thighs. I was holding them so tightly I had probably rung the rain right out of his wet jeans. I didn’t have time to think of my embarrassment, so I just resorted to being demanding. He obviously had some sort of soft spot for me if he saved me from that thing.

“Okay! Okay!” I finally shouted. “What the hell is going on?” I remembered to release my tight grip.

He slowed his speed as we came up to the corner of the street where my apartment stood. He calmly shut off the engine at the curb, leaned to the side, and removed his arm from my waist. His movements were cautious and slow, clashing with my panicky jerks and racing heart. Cautious movements were not my forte at the moment.

“We need to talk,” he said calmly.

“Ya think?” I immediately hopped off of the bike and shoved myself away from him.

“Evika, there are more dangers out there now. More than you know. I have a lot of explaining to do.” Despite his words of urgency, he was in a state of repose. It baffled me. What kind of chaos was I getting into? Or rather, what kind of chaos was I thrown into? Was it even the real world anymore? I started shaking.

“Oh shit!” He jumped off his bike, heading toward me with his arms out. “Evika, your neck!”

“What?” I hadn’t noticed until he’d mentioned it, but I felt a sharp pain, a piercing, like a bad paper-cut getting sliced and re-sliced over and over. I held my hand to it and checked my fingers. Sure enough, there was blood. Well, that was just about enough for me right there and then. I blacked out right after my dark knight scooped me up off the curb. I remember admiring how effortlessly he lifted me in his arms, and then the pain was gone.

I woke up in my bed, my hair wet. I smelled of Caress soap. God, that was my favorite. It was the same soap my mother used to bath me when I was little. Hoping that the comfort I felt would continue, I opened my eyes slowly to find him sitting in my red bean bag next to the side of the bed as he looked through one of my journals along with one of my recent sketchbooks. I felt somewhat insulted that he’d made himself at home and was getting into my personal things, but before I opened my big mouth, I replayed the events in my head. The guy did save me from some kind of monster, so I guess I had to be nice in my approach...which reminded me of my neck. I shuddered at the thought of touching the wound again, but when I felt around with my fingers I’d discovered a puffy bandage placed over it.

“You’re up,” he said, still staring into the pages of my journal.

“And you’re reading my stuff,” I pointed out.

He let out a burst of laughter. “So I am.” He shrugged. “I needed something to entertain me till you woke up.”

I felt the soft material touching my skin as I moved. I looked down to find myself in pajamas. Well, more like what I wear for pajamas: flannel pants and a cotton t-shirt. Then I sucked air, looking up at him. Obviously I’d gotten into them somehow, and it wasn’t with any help of my own.

He instantly grinned, obviously knowing I was about to flip out. “Relax, Evika. I had a female friend come in and clean you up.” He paused for a moment, assessing my neck. “But I did the bandage, just so you know.”

I looked at him, incredulously. “That’s supposed to make me feel better?”

“I thought it would.” He smirked. “I’m good with wounds.”

I looked him over. I took in his dark hair and deep, green eyes, the ones I felt I knew already.

“Quite fascinating, by the way.” He closed the book and placed it on the shelf.

“What, my journal or the fact that I’m not decking you for getting into my personal things?” I snapped at him.

He let out a deep laugh again. I glowered, resenting that he found my question amusing. “Neither of those options, actually,” he answered. “I was referring to the fact that you had no idea you were injured until I told you at the curb.”

I was surprised. “Oh. Well, I have a high threshold for pain. It runs in the family from what I’ve been told.” I was quite smug.

“Well, that’s a pretty high threshold. There’s no way that your shirt can be salvaged now due to all that blood.” He went to the far corner of the room and picked up my gray shamrock t-shirt. He held it up by the shoulders to display the evidence to me. Sure enough, it was ruined. It was my favorite shirt and I hardly recognized it anymore, let alone, myself. Since when was I okay with some strange male in my apartment? Something in me was okay with it though, like that intuition I’ve always had about the good in people. For some reason, I had not one ounce of reluctance with this stranger of mine, and to me, that had to mean something.

I examined the shirt one last time, and that was when I lost it. I rolled off the bed and let my feet hit the cold, hardwood floor. I needed an explanation. “Okay, what the hell is going on? What kind of monster was that back there that tried to kill me...eat me? Whatever. And who are you!?”

“You’re pretty demanding, Evika.” He immediately put his hands up in surrender to stop me when I opened my mouth ready to retort. “And you have a right to be. I said I have a lot of explaining to do, and I meant it. I also have no doubt that you’ll hold me to that. However, I want to do this process the right way. You’ve already been hurt, so I’ve already screwed up, and I’m sorry for that.”

“I’m fine,” I said impatiently. “Now, what do you mean you screwed up? Is that freakish animal your pet or something? If it is, I sure didn’t see it on a leash!”

“Listen to me!” His voice rumbled through the room with such force. I felt the power he’d been holding back. It was as if he’d been reserving it to put me in my place, which made me take a few steps back to plop myself on the edge of the bed. I really was kind of being ungrateful. I guess I owed him a little bit of respect, so I shut up and let him talk.

Satisfied, he took a deep breath and exhaled, relieved. “My name is Hayden. I was appointed as your Guardian since the day you were born. I was sent to protect you because you’ve finally acquired your gift. You’ve been having dreams for a while now, yes?”

I nodded slowly. I was already aware that he knew of the dreams, but at that moment I had wondered if he knew the details or my feelings toward him in those dreams. I wanted to be angry at him just for even knowing about them, but I was more curious than anything. Why was I so drawn to him?

“The creature from which we barely escaped tonight is called a Drone. Drones are only one of the dangers from which I am here to protect you.”

He paused to evaluate my expression. I guess he wanted to give me time to take it all in after realizing my mouth had been agape for a while and it was widening the more he spoke to me.

I decided to take the opportunity to check if I could still speak. “Gift,” I inquired. “You said I have a gift?”

“Months ago, when you fell from your building. That fall would have killed anybody, but you’re still here.”

“So, that’s my gift? I can withstand falling from nine-story buildings?” I rolled my eyes.

“No, Evika. When you became coherent at the hospital, weren’t you the least bit curious as to how you were still alive?”

“Well, yes, of course I was....along with the rest of the hospital.” I thought about that day and the trauma I tried to keep from remembering. “The doctors said there was no way anyone could have survived that fall, but for some reason, I did. My injuries were everything they would have been for any other person, but I healed quickly.” I clenched my fists in frustration as I had a flashback of arguing with them. “They thought I jumped,” I said quietly.

“You managed to convince them otherwise,” he declared.

I looked into Hayden’s eyes and hoped he could give me some answers. “I was nothing more than drunk and angry, not suicidal, okay?” I howled. Aside from my hoping, I still half-expected him to disagree with me. I stared long and hard into his beautiful eyes and waited for him to speak.

“There’s no need to try and prove anything to me, Evika. I already know what happened.” He ran his fingers through his hair, sighed, then walked over to me and held out his hand. “Will you come with me? I need to show you something.”

Curious and mesmerized, I reached out my hand to his and felt him close his fingers around mine so gently as I stood to my feet. His touch was warm. I couldn’t speak anymore. Bringing up my fall had evoked so many new questions since meeting Hayden. Then it hit me. He’d said he was my Guardian. Was he looking out for me that day? Is that what happens to people who survive the most horrific of accidents, people who aren’t supposed to die yet? Was there such thing as Guardian Angels? Is that what Hayden really was? Like he said in my dream?

“Here,” he handed me my jacket and my boots. “Put these on. The temperature’s dropped a bit.”

I slipped into my things and grasped his hand again, immediately contented by his touch. He led me out of my door and down the hall to the outer stairwell. I was curious as to why I didn’t feel the need to resist. There was something different when he was with me. In the dreams, I felt safe, but not knowing him at all and fully trusting him? I didn’t know what to make of it. My heart and my intuition won the battle over my brain, which was telling me to fight that urge and run. I just couldn’t. His touch energized me, entranced me, and kept me alert. I didn’t want to let go.

The clanking of the metal stairs beneath us brought me back to reality as we climbed. I felt the cool breeze hit my face as Hayden pushed open the Exit door.

He walked me to the very edge of the building from which I’d fallen. “It was here.”

I spoke quietly, trying to grasp what he was trying to convey as I looked at the cement on which he stood. “H-how do you know all of this?”

“Any normal being would have died instantly on that pavement below, but you are different, Evika. You were chosen to Cross.” I must have been wobbling, ready to faint again, because he steadied me, placing his hands on my shoulders. “Now, you will have many questions, and I will answer them all, but I need you to be strong for this moment while I explain some things to you, okay?”

I nodded, readying myself for whatever it was he wanted to tell me.

“Everything that happened that day really happened. You aren’t crazy. You fell from this building, but it was only your First Death. Your dreams of me were the warning that a change was coming.”

Still not understanding what it was he was trying to tell me, I looked desperately into his eyes and I remembered everywhere he took me, every memory he showed me. Then I found my voice once I recalled the events.

“It was you,” I gasped. “You were that light I saw after I hit. I-I felt you, and I heard you say you were going to take the pain away,” I said quietly. He nodded in approval while I spoke. “And after I fell, they said my heart stopped, but started back up on its own. It was like I died and came back.”

He smiled genuinely. “You remember.”

I nodded slowly. “Yes.” I kept my eyes locked on his.

Hayden looked away from me and looked over the edge of the building. He breathed deeply and kept his eyes focused on the ground below. “It’s starting.”

A strange shock waved through my spine as I wondered what could possibly be “starting.”

“Wh-what’s starting?” I could hardly whisper anymore, unable to get any of the questions out that were bouncing around like pinballs in my head. Reluctantly, I forced my eyes to follow where his were looking, nine stories down. A crowd of bodies stood together in the side parking lot. Calm and motionless. Forty? Fifty? Sixty? They were all looking up. At us. My stomach dropped with a sickening jolt, and fear pierced through me until his hands were on my shoulders again as he moved behind me. His touch relieved that instant sickness I felt, but I stared down at them without so much as a blink.

With nothing more than a whisper, I managed to get out a new question. “Hayden, what are they?” I awaited his calming voice to answer me.

“They are called Seekers, the lost souls you are meant to save. They can’t hurt you, and they won’t hurt you. They’ve been imprisoned by Alysto and have been waiting for you since the day you were reborn. There will be many more than this who will come. To them, you are all they have left to escape the hell in which they’ve been placed. They are drawn to you because you are the new Soldier of Light.”

I stared down at them, wanting so badly to turn away, but I couldn’t. My heartbeat sped. Dead people? My calling was to save dead people? I felt my throat close and my breathing become shallow. My head spun as I stared at the mass of bodies standing there. I couldn’t handle it. I wanted to run back to my apartment, curl under my polka-dot comforter, and hide from all of this. That very moment was the moment I thought I’d lost my sanity. It was an absolute derailing from the world of “normal” as I knew it; I didn’t want to see it anymore.

I backed away from the ledge once I became unfrozen. “Make them go away,” I heard my trembling voice demand.

He must have known it was best not to argue with me because I felt his gentle tug on my forearm pulling me further from the edge. “We’ll go inside now,” he said assuringly.

Relief set in, and the pounding in my head subsided when I saw the determination in his eyes. Somehow, my heart knew this dark knight would keep me safe.

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